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Posted on Wed 11 Nov 2015
The Rooms by Paul Blakemore

What a weekend. We opened the doors to The Rooms, a huge festival on Silver Street that showcased the inventions that have come out of REACT, one of four Arts and Humanities Research Council creative economy hubs, and were overwhelmed with the response from you, the good people of Bristol, the South West and Wales.

We created 23 installations for The Rooms that ranged from a bedroom where you could explore the future of sex and intimacy, to a library that considered how books and print could be reimagined for the future. We set out to create a playground for new ideas; to showcase the 53 new products and prototypes developed by four years of collaboration, cultural experimentation and creative innovation between University Researchers and Creative Businesses. We wanted to create a free event that was open to all, and were delighted when everyone turned up to play.

6,000 of you came to explore, and at times the queues were stretching around the block. Thank you so much for your patience... once in the Rooms you spent an average of 90 minutes exploring the innovation projects. You came to discover, play, watch, create, build and talk with us and we are so grateful for your participation, contribution and enthusiasm.

The Rooms by Paul Blakemore

The feedback was great – we heard it was a rich, textured, beautiful experience that showcased research and creativity at its best. Academic research has never been so cool. And that academic research on show was certainly diverse – from death to future books, social activism to sex toys, giant sculptures, teeny cinemas, bio-activated mazes, interactive light swings, den building and toy hacking – you soaked it all up.

REACT didn’t do this alone. The Rooms was a brilliant example of how Bristol’s creative networks could be brought together to do something a bit new and a bit different. We were so pleased to have been able to work across the old Bridewell stations site, bringing together The Station, The Island, The Kitchen and The Old Crown Courts for the first time to create this experience. Our Laboratory lived within the Victorian Prison Cell system, we created a Newsroom in the entrance to The Old Crown Courts, Magistrates Court 3 became our Library. We worked closely with the venues to reveal some of the beautiful heritage features, from polishing up the old iridescent tiles, to revealing again some of the old fireplaces around the buildings.

"This makes me feel nostalgic for times gone by. Books and buildings lost to the past. It also served as a reminder that maybe, just maybe, the future could and can be as beautiful" (Audience Member)

The production and organisation was also a massive team effort. The amazing crew behind it were drawn not only from Watershed and the REACT network, but also from National Theatre Wales, Wildworks, The Invisible Circus, The Island and Shangri-La and indeed it was a homecoming of sorts: many of the crew had lived and worked in the space when it was first acquired and had created the amazing Carny Ville back in 2008.

The Rooms would not have been possible without the support of our funders the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Arts Council England - and their funding also meant we could invite you all in for free.

Katherine Jewkes, The Rooms’ Creative Producer, said:

"We have been so thrilled (and a little overwhelmed) by the response to The Rooms this weekend. Over 6,000 people attended across the three days, and it was a pleasure to see audiences of all ages and backgrounds coming to the Festival to explore the future of subjects ranging from books to death."

All in all it was an incredible weekend – we kept hearing that many of you were also heading to or from Sanctum, Situation’s free art installation at Temple Church – just another example of Bristol's appetite for all things new, which our Managing Director Dick Penny has recently celebrated in an article for City Metric, saying: "The city is alive with people doing stuff, together, combining creativity and technology in public, in the lab, at work, at play."

How true this is - you amaze us constantly. Thank you for taking a chance on something new and exploring the unknown with us. Don’t forget that there’s still time to play with a dolphin, a kangaroo, a beetle and a rabbit courtesy of The Playable City Award 2015… now what was all that talk about Bristol and its creative community pulling rabbits out of hats?

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), REACT (Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technology) is one of four UK Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy and is a collaboration between UWE Bristol (the University of the West of England), Watershed and the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.