Practise-led research in culture

Art can make a world worth living in. After shelter, equality, equity and a healthy planet, there is art. It is a place for collective imagination – to have collective experiences that ask us to imagine who we want to be and how we want to live together.

A thriving arts and culture sector, in the 21st century, should be confident in using – and refusing – new tools and possibilities so it can confidently move forward. Exploring new technologies and putting them in service of good ideas will be key to the sector's capacity to keep contributing to the wellbeing of local and global communities and helping us all to imagine beautiful and powerful ways forward.

At Audience Labs, we are interested in expanding where culture takes place and broadening who it is for, who gets to make it and how it interacts with other agents of connection and change in the world. We are interested in building a more economically resilient sector that provides space for ideas to flourish. To achieve this, we need to separate research and development from the agendas of individual projects and individual organisations.

Exploration and failure are an intrinsic part of doing things anew. When you are trying to break open established paths of making and thinking and explore new forms, you need to create spaces where the unexpected can happen. 

Derisking investment 

It takes time to develop and test ideas. R&D can feel like a luxury. However, in the long run it is a strategy that accelerates new ideas, produces commercially viable outcomes and derisks investment. Innovation is inherently risky and unpredictable. Creating space for R&D allows new ideas and partnerships to mature and to be tested for their quality before the leap into production .By working in stages, starting small and slowly scaling up to full production you reduce the investment risk necessary for large-scale productions. 

Often, at the start of a development process, it is difficult to anticipate the budget lines needed later in the project. Staging development allows the budget to iterate together with the artistic and technological developments and complexities as the project grows. Different partners, funders, philanthropists and sponsors have different appetites for risk. Working iteratively also allows the more adventurous to come on board in the early stages and the more apprehensive to join once the end product is more defined. 

Generating value beyond profit

In culture, the value generated goes beyond simple profit. Arts and creativity have a public and civic function: to find imaginative new ways of creating meaning for audiences and insight into desirable futures for society. 

But incorporating a broader definition of value means a complex set of questions needs to be addressed in the R&D phase of any project. How do we make work that creates value in the broadest sense? How do we combine ideas of value that are less standardised with traditional measures of value? How do we align the success measures of partners with different expectations?  

And what if, instead of working towards solutions on a project-by-project basis, we had the space to explore these questions in a way that would benefit all our future work?


Working practice-led 

R&D means different things in different industries. It is establishing hypotheses and testing them, and it is sketching, rehearsing, exploring. It is scientists and engineers in their laboratories and workshops, and it is combining cross-disciplinary knowledge and creative technologies for innovative ends. 

At Audience Labs, we bring those definitions together, borrowing from many and adhering to none.  We use tools from other artistic mediums and the technology sector, along with innovation and future forecasting methodologies, to push forward ideas that have the richness of human exploration of arts and culture and the forward drive of engineering and technology. 

Our work is practice-led. We learn through doing, through active exploration of what really works. Uniting the approaches of our partners across industries, we are systematic, structured and knowledge-based, and we are imaginative, iterative and free. 

Onwards & upwards

In May, we will conduct a series of round tables looking at ways of working together to build a thriving creative ecology – including exploring the role of collaborative, practical research in accelerating innovation and impact. 

We don’t have all the answers yet. We are in the foothills of rapid change: social, economical, technological and climate-related.The role of Audience Labs is as a place that combines conversations with practical artistic production; a place of  intersection and collaboration. We aim to provide a sandbox for imagination, exploring and researching how culture can help us understand the ethical side of technology and push the envelope towards something better. 

Image credit: Eva Quantica by Maf’j Alvarez (2021) - part of The Rules Do Not Apply - a series of micro comissions - Audience Labs at the Royal Opera House in collaboration with National Gallery X