I’m just over the midway point of a series of conversations and consultations exploring the ecology of innovation and collaboration for creative technologies, performance and culture. So many people have shown an interest in the work so I’ve written this overview in an attempt to pull together the different strands of work I’m doing. A connection of ideas, observations and connections that together are forming a direction of travel.
What went before
After 3.5 years at the Royal Opera House, the financial pressures of the pandemic made it hard to continue the work there. The main function of Audience Labs was to be a hub of artistic exploration. Introducing the creative practices of opera and ballet to immersive technologies provided a unique opportunity to look, not just at new types of performance, but new ways of working. Our shows combined the stagecraft and emotional power that theatre makers have iterated over hundreds of years with the possibilities of contemporary technologies that extend or create new realities.
We worked with a diverse range of partners to explore together through R&D and prototyping, and to demonstrate what might come next. It was a magical, highly productive time, involving collaborations with an amazing array of artists from Wayne MacGregor to HAM the illustrator, with partners from GUAP to the National Ballet of Canada, and with technology companies from Google to Figment. Always aiming to make great art that shows the artistic potential of technology and how we can use technology to extend traditional stages, finding new audiences.
You can explore the work and the methodologies in this publication https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61b612188a3caf90b37ccbc6/61b6b1455774776fe74b6d1e_AUDIENCE%20LABS%20%E2%80%94%20PUBLICATION_compressed.pdf
Between the projects, I always made time for conversations with peers, funders, and partners about the future of culture and the role art and culture can play in shaping our relationship with the world. This year I’m deliberately stepping away from active production and instead focusing on these conversations about the underlying questions emerging around these new forms. In November 2021, Audience Labs moved to King’s College to explore in collaboration with AHRC what kind of interventions can be made to help a healthy ecology making meaningful work emerge. I wanted to spend some time outside the constraints of an individual organisational agenda. To create a more neutral space to hold these conversations.
So I decided to spend 10 months, till the end of August, focussing on hosting conversations and freelancing with organisations that are looking beyond the horizon of possibilities for new technologies and culture.
The disruption of business as usual that resulted from the pandemic gave many people, institutions and creatives a moment to reflect and reconnect with their purpose. Art and culture offer us spaces to come together and reimagine ourselves and the world. To laugh and cry together - to connect to each other and our collective humanity. So the question is really; what could that look like in our particular era? We are living through a rise of new digital technologies, big socio-economical change, in the face of climate change and a time when we really need to look at more equitable, diverse and accessible futures.
With so much uncertainty and change happening in our society, culture can be a space for collective imagination and transformation learning. I strongly believe that a thriving arts and culture sector can contribute to the well-being of local and global communities and help us all imagine beautiful and powerful ways forward.
The first 5 months were all about discovery - talking with 50+ people from across industries - including performance and wider culture, technology and digital production, broadcast media, policy, and academia - to map the landscape and defining key challenges. The goal is to design interventions that could and should be made to enable transformational innovation in our industry. I began by conducting interviews and holding a dinner that brought together thinkers and makers across fields and we commissioned some research to look at change-making in other industries; including the non-profit sector, activism and the climate-sector.
A few themes have emerged. Sporadic project grants and efforts to scale individual organisations are insufficient. What is required is meaningful, intentional coordination to create and maintain a healthy ecology of collaboration for culture and technology to work together to look at long-term challenges. Although the field is disparate, there is vast practical knowledge in the industry. What is needed is R&D space to bring the specialisms together in long-term explorations that are not tied to individual projects. We need a human-centric approach to making those connections, where collectively we can map the space beyond the walls of organisations and sectors, identify the right infrastructure and support for coordination and collaboration, and unlock meaningful impact.
The next phase is going to be about synthesising the conversations. We have identified 4 themes for conversation.
These will be explored in a series of online round tables and a cross-industry event in London. We will dive deeper into the solutions, key drivers and areas of opportunity identified in Phase 1, seeking to capture both short-term needs and longer-term goals.
Ethics, equity and climate - Exploring how we define our role in these turbulent times, make sure culture remains a public space for collective imagination. How do we create with purpose and how do we think about and measure value and impact? How do we expand the impact of culture in this technological age?
Field building - exploring what intervention, infrastructure and support is needed to start building a healthy ecology of collaboration on long-term challenges that can grow over time.
I’ve written about our approach to field building here: https://www.audiencelabs.org/blog-posts/field-building-as-a-practise
Practice-led research - Exploring what would be needed to set up successful cross-sector practical research spaces and projects that would accelerate innovation and impact.
I’ve written about Practise led research and creative R&D here: https://www.audiencelabs.org/blog-posts/practise-led-research-in-culture
Funding and distribution - Exploring the shared landscape of value generation and collaborative ways of creating and distributing work.
Next to that I’m starting to look at a foundational research project - a project that brings together culture and technology with experts in climate, ethics, equity and change to create a project that actively starts to investigate how we bring these practices together. An interdisciplinary project that starts to imagine how we do things differently. New ways of doing things are not only needed but possible, and culture is a fantastic place to start shaping alternatives.
I’m interested in these new forms of culture functioning as a lab for imagination https://www.audiencelabs.org/blog-posts/laboratory-for-collective-imagination