The government's so-called "Festival of Brexit" is to be investigated by the public spending watchdog after it was reported the £120m project attracted less than 1% of its targeted visitors.
The event, called Unboxed: Creativity in the UK, has been running across the country throughout the year, but has been criticised for costing more than four times the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, which was £28m.
Billed as a “celebration of creativity across all four nations of the United Kingdom”, its events were poorly attended, it was reported, with just 238,000 people turning up, a tiny fraction of the initial target of 66 million.
It has been claimed the event cost the taxpayer about £500 per visitor, leading one politician to brand it an "unadulterated shambles".
The plan was unveiled by then prime minister Theresa May in 2018, before Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg dubbed it the "Festival of Brexit".
Although that nickname was ditched in favour of Unboxed during Boris Johnson's premiership, the political connotations stuck, and this coupled with little to no public awareness of the project led to poor attendance.
And now a cross-party parliamentary committee has asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to look into how the £120m project was managed to “help get to the bottom of how so much taxpayer money could be frittered away for so little return”.
The government's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it did not agree with the committee.
But Conservative MP Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS select committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday: "This was an ethereal idea - it didn't mean anything and it wasn't pegged to anything.
"The most successful mass celebration events we've had in recent years - the centenary of the First World War and the Jubilee Celebrations - they're pegged to something that people can understand and get their head around.
"The idea was, 'Build it and they will come', but they built it, and according to the DCMS's own figures... they didn't come."
Knight described Unboxed as a "monumental waste of money".
He also questioned the idea of branding it the "Festival of Brexit", saying: "Within the artistic community there were several people who said you shouldn't politicise anything in this respect.
"It was a soundbite and a poorly chosen one."
The free event, which began in March and runs until next month, features 10 projects highlighting science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths.
In August, Politics Home reported that the festival had received 238,000 visitors compared with organisers’ initial “stretch target” of 66 million.
But the organisers say those figures “misrepresent the public engagement” and reflect attendance at only eight of 107 physical locations within the event’s programme.
Knight said: “That such an exorbitant amount of public cash has been spent on a so-called celebration of creativity that has barely failed to register in the public consciousness raises serious red flags about how the project has been managed from conception through to delivery.
“The NAO’s investigation will bring welcome and thorough scrutiny and help get to the bottom of how so much taxpayer money could be frittered away for so little return.”
Last month, he said the delivery of the festival “has been an unadulterated shambles”.
He added: “The paltry numbers attracted to the festival despite such a hefty investment highlight just what an excessive waste of money the whole project has been.”
The NAO’s comptroller and auditor general, Gareth Davies, has proposed a “short, focused report on Unboxed which could act as the basis for future questioning during a committee session with DCMS”.
He said the inquiry could be completed and his report published by the end of this year with the scope and exact timetable yet to be announced.
A DCMS spokesperson said: “We do not agree with the select committee’s views.
“Unboxed has helped open up access to arts and culture across the country with an inclusive and groundbreaking programme of live and digital events, designed to bring people together and delivered in partnership with the devolved nations of the UK.
“More than four million people have engaged in Unboxed programming so far and these numbers are set to rise further.”
A spokesperson for Unboxed: Creativity in the UK said: “The numbers reported misrepresent the public engagement with Unboxed and reflect attendance at only eight of the 107 physical locations within the programme.
“Unboxed’s art, science and tech commissions have been presented in over 100 towns, cities and villages, engaged millions across live and digital and employed thousands of creatives around the UK.
“The Unboxed programme continues until the end of the year.”
The 10 'Unboxed' projects in full:
1. About Us: 'A live show and multimedia installation celebrating our connections to everything around us - past, present and future.'
2. Dandelion: 'A maw-your-own food initiative taking place across Scotland'
3. Dreamachine: 'A magical journey exploring the extraordinary potential of your mind.'
4. Galwad: 'A story from our future is a multiplatform, multilingual story set in a possible future world of 2052 – on TV, on digital and on location across Wales.'
5. Green Space Dark Skies: 'Thousands of people will come together to create outdoor artworks in beautiful countryside locations, as part of a UK-wide celebration of the great outdoors.'
6. Our Place In Space: 'An astonishing journey through our solar system – recreated as an epic 8.5km sculpture trail exploring what it means to live life on Earth.'
7. Polinations: 'A magical garden of epic proportions taking over Birmingham City centre.'
8. See Monster: 'An extraordinary act of collective creativity – a decommissioned North Sea offshore platform regenerated as a major new art installation in Weston-super-Mare.'
9. Storytrails: 'A deep dive into our collective history – a magical AR and VR immersion in the hidden histories that have shaped 15 UK towns and cities.'
10. Tour De Moon: 'A cosmic journey into the possibilities of tomorrow: live shows, nightlife, digital experiences and more created in collaboration with the Moon.
Watch: 35m art See Monster installation opens in Weston-super-Mare