The successes of Milton Keynes International Festival 2023, the most ambitious Festival yet
The seventh edition of IF: Milton Keynes International Festival took place this July, delivering its most ambitious programme since it was established in 2010. The Festival used the city as a stage to present new commissions and premieres, performances, exhibitions, free family events plus community participation and engagement sessions - with 83% of the programme free to attend.
Companies and performers from all over the UK were joined by artists from France, Catalonia, The Netherlands and Belgium to create a memorable 10-day celebration.
56,000 people attended the programme of events in centre:mk, Fred Roche Gardens, Campbell Park, The MK Rose and other locations around the city centre and further afield. A further 180,000 people are estimated to have experienced the Festival through casual engagement as they passed exhibitions and performances taking place in the public realm.
The Festival’s commissions and premieres attracted significant national and international media coverage. Visitors attended from as far afield as Dorset, Manchester, Kent, Dumfries, Felixstowe, Lancaster, Leeds, London, Newquay, County Cork, Southampton and York with overseas visitors coming from New Zealand, The Netherlands, Germany, Hong Kong, Spain and Dubai.
Festival highlights included the World Premiere of Forever? composed by Roderick Williams with text by Rommi Smith and performed by the Chineke! Chamber Ensemble at The Stables to mark the 250th anniversary of the hymn Amazing Grace. It involved the participation of 40 local singers who auditioned to be part of the Sweet Sounds Choir, specially assembled for the project. Participation was also a feature of a special commission by centre:mk in collaboration with the Festival, The Place Between, a large-scale installation of dried flowers and plant material by Rebecca Louise Law with soundscapes by Jason Sigh.
Thousands of people donated flowers and helped to wire the garlands which were hung in Middleton Hall. The UK premiere of Alter by Catalonian theatre collective Kamchàtka performed in a secret woodland location was an extraordinary experience. In addition, the pop-up improvised performances by Kamchàtka challenged day-to-day norms in the city centre in a creative and thoughtful way. The UK premiere of Carnivale at Festival Central was a huge hit with family audiences enjoying the hand-crafted fairground of giant Galapagos tortoises and other fantasy creatures. And Gratte Ciel from France provided a fitting Festival finale with a European exclusive of Place des Anges which saw audiences of all ages awestruck by the aerial antics of the angels overhead.
The Festival is extremely grateful to all of the staff and volunteers who didn’t allow the unseasonal weather to dampen spirts and who worked tirelessly to save a few events by moving them indoors.
The Festival would like to thank all of its Partners and the many individuals who supported this year’s Festival including Arts Council England, Milton Keynes City Council, Headline Partner centre:mk, Volunteer Partner MyMilton Keynes, Inclusion Partner Milton Keynes Community Foundation, Green Spaces Partner The Parks Trust, Knowledge Partner The Open University and Event Partners Cowper & Newton Museum, The Kingdom of The Netherlands, Macintyre Hudson, Midsummer Place, Xscape and Yamaha.
Monica Ferguson, Festival Director and Chief Executive of The Stables which founded and produces IF: Milton Keynes International Festival says: “It was a tremendous Festival with wonderful artists who made us laugh and cry, dance, play and think deeply about the world. We will carry these unforgettable memories with us and look forward to bringing the next edition of IF: Milton Keynes International Festival to life again in 2025. Thank you to everyone who came, took part and helped us deliver another 10 Amazing Days in Milton Keynes.”
Hazel Edwards, South East Area Director, Arts Council England said: "It's fantastic to see the continued success of IF: Milton Keynes International Festival. Everyone at Arts Council England wants to congratulate the team at The Stables and the partners that they have engaged with on executing another excellent festival this year, providing wonderful opportunities for the local community and those travelling from further afield to encounter great arts and culture.”
Kevin Duffy, centre:mk Director said: “Our ongoing partnership with the Festival enables us to bring incredible installations such as The Place Between into centre:mk, allowing us to showcase world class art in an everyday environment, delighting more than half a million visitors with an experience that was both breathtaking and emotionally charged. The installation, along with the fantastic performances around the building attracted international PR coverage and generated a fantastic response through social media.”
Cllr Robin Bradburn, Deputy Leader of MK City Council and Cabinet Member with responsibility for Culture said: “Since the last International Festival, Milton Keynes has become a city and this year’s Festival was of a calibre than any city would be delighted by, with an inventive programme of work and a host of friendly volunteers who represent MK so well. Many of the volunteers have been the face of the Festival since its very start, and I’d like to thank everyone who gets involved. We’re proud that our support helps as many events as possible remain free or low cost, which is especially important during these difficult times.”