Milton Keynes, a British New Town established in 1967, has struggled with the same problems that often plague the post-war generation of master-planned communities. Establishing a strong identity and challenging a uniform demographic can become major feats for New Towns that were planned in (and for) a specific period of time. And as young families grow up, a wave of teenagers can wreck havoc on even the most liberal communities.
From the beginning, however, this New Town set itself apart with a dedication to modern architecture, public art and creative expression. That commitment continues today. In fact, the New Town is now home to the UK’s largest collection of contemporary art, with more than 200 public pieces. In an effort to engage its disaffected youth, Milton Keynes has also claimed a niche as a haven for the alternative art scene. Embracing street artists as legitimate forerunners of a “new media”, Milton Keynes Youth Service has even sponsored a scheme to grant young vandals legal access to public places and provide them with instruction from established spray can artists like David Fenton.
The annual Milton Keynes Festival Fringe is another example; this much-loved summer fair stages “new and experimental work including; street arts, performance, outdoor theatre, visual arts, music and dance.” MK Gallery, a critically acclaimed contemporary art gallery, has been pushing boundaries since its creation in 1999. A recent program included an outdoor screening of the Chemical Brothers’ Don’t Think, complete with an after-party featuring DJ Slyde. By activating its youth rather than ignoring them and engaging the public in the creative process of identity-creation, Milton Keynes has effectively transitioned from avant-garde New Town to established cultural destination.