Earlier in July Arts Council England and Innovate UK launched a £1m pilot art and technology innovation programme. Delivered through three organisations – Manchester Digital Laboratory, Broadway in Nottingham, and Makerversity in London – the programme will support the development of new talent and ideas at the intersection of art and technology. Participants in the programme will be provided with the space, tools, networks and advice necessary to develop new practices, ideas, products and services. Lucy Sollitt, Creative Media Relationship Manager at Arts Council England, writes about the development of the pilot and her hopes for it.
The explosion of new technologies and online platforms has brought an expansion of creative practice at the intersection of art and technology, from bio-tech & data to gaming & networked performance. At the same time we’ve seen the growth of the much-hyped tech start up scene and the absorption of art – technologically enabled and otherwise – into popular culture, appropriation by brands and the emergence of new personalised creations. However, artists have a long history of experimenting with technology in ways that are collaborative and antagonistic, presciently exploring new uses and reflecting on potential impacts. Organisations like Watershed have also been hosting artists, creative companies, technologists to create work which does this for many years.
The context for the pilot is one of rapid change and expansion. It is vital that funders understand and support an expanded field of artistic practice while ensuring that the critical role of art is not subsumed or overlooked. It is also important to look at how artists and cultural programmers can better articulate and position their value in relation to current trends, empowering their role and exploring how they can generate income in order to continue and/or grow their work. I hope the art and technology innovation pilot will generate some insights into these points and enrich the existing eco-system of artistic and creative practice. It will provide R&D opportunities and build business acumen for around 30 artists. It will also test funding models informing how Arts Council England and Innovate UK can support this field to flourish in the future.
This pilot was made possible through a new partnership between Arts Council England and Innovate UK. It is part of a shift in thinking around Innovate UK’s creative industries strategy which recognises the role of art in generating innovation and economic benefit. At the Arts Council the pilot sits within our emerging Creative Industries agenda though there is strong synergy with our Creative Media strategy. Specifically it addresses our goals around talent development, the creation of new work and building resilience across the arts.
The principles of the pilot were informed by feedback from a series of workshops bringing together a wide range of artists, technologists, makers, designers and producers during autumn 2014. Governing principles include: placing an emphasis on people through backing individuals and building cohorts of collaborative activity; creating a rolling, open, flexible process to support these activities working in partnership with selected arts organisations; building business acumen and supporting the development of appropriate business models; enabling multiple development routes and growth from artistic, to social and commercial. Madlab, Broadway and Makerversity are all taking different approaches to devising programmes which realise these principles informed by their expertise and networks.
Broadway in Nottingham will evolve its Near Now Fellowship to develop an arts and technology studio, adopting best practice from human-centred design to critically explore emerging markets within the collaborative economy. Manchester Digital Laboratory (MadLab) will run a structured ‘accelerator’ programme for artists working with new and emerging technologies, connecting to an international network of expert digital makers, technologists and creative entrepreneurs. Building on its workspace and facilities at Somerset House in London, Makerversity will bring together a broad group of designers, makers and artists working with technology to support them in developing specific areas of innovative work.
Arts Council England and Innovate UK are currently devising a learning and evaluation programme to be realised by the Knowledge Transfer Network in partnership with the three pilot organisations. There will be opportunities to be involved in activities and conversations emerging out of the programme and related practice.
Broadway, Madlab and Makerversity are posed to begin implementing their initiatives, so please keep an eye out for open calls for participants issued from the three pilot organisations.
Arts Council England is a Creativeworks London partner. A full list of CWL partners can be found here.