In the rapidly changing world of tech, the best way to get ahead is to connect and share ideas and resources. It is this collaborative approach that has put the South West on the map for brave thinking and brilliant ideas in the field of art and technology.

With this in mind last year, Arts Council England South West has set up an external reference group around Art and Technology to help shape thinking, champion work and point artists at where they can get support.

Our first step was to commission a series of articles exploring art and emerging technologies in the region, written by Sammy Jones. From VR to digital writing, incubation to opportunity, the series will showcase the best of what we have and hopefully inspire others to get involved.

First up is a look at some of the places supporting art and emerging technologies. We would love to hear what articles and insight would be useful for you next...

Clare Reddington, Watershed

@clarered

Spaces for Art and technology
Sammy Jones, March 2019

Are you an artist who’s interested in designing an immersive app? How about a virtual reality experience? Or would you like to try your hand at creating a brand-new piece of tech, perhaps? Adding technology to your work can be daunting, and when you work by yourself, sometimes you can only get so far with it - be that down to funding, a lack of specialist tools, or you’re just plain stuck. That’s when tech-focussed spaces filled with helpful people are really useful. Luckily, if you do have art-tech aspirations, there’s equipment, community, mentoring, space, events, networking, tools and optimism available via a range of amazing venues across the South-West. Here’s an overview of just a few - read on to see how they could help you and your digital dreams.

Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol

The PM Studio is brilliantly located on the Bristol’s Harbourside – residents can pop to central hotspots Park Street or St Nick’s Market in minutes. That is, if they ever want to leave. With bags of kitted-out hotdesks, specialist equipment on-hand, tea and coffee on tap and Watershed’s café-bar and indie cinema just down the corridor, they may not ever want to.

The experienced studio management team have been running this inspiring space since 2008, and since then its attracted a dazzling array of over 100 artists, creative companies, technologists and academics who have chosen the Studio to work on their design and creative technology ideas - check out Studio Meineck’s Music Memory Box and Duncan Speakman’s tech-loaded compositional works for an idea of what grows there.

The Studio’s motto is ‘generous and interruptible,’ so naturally it has an open-arms attitude to newcomers. While it’s always going to be a bit intimidating because of the sheer number of envelope-pushing ideas pinging around the room, everyone is happy to lend a helping hand. Keen on a visit? We’d recommend attending a Lunchtime Talk then hot desking on a Friday, or popping studio@watershed.co.uk an email to arrange yourself a mini-tour of everything that’s bubbling away. Bit further along with your practice? Consider applying to be a resident.

Expect to see: VR headsets, loads of high-fives, and a massive hand-drawn mural.

Knowle West Media Centre, Bristol

This buzzing arts centre and charity holds unexpected wonders behind its unassuming frontage in deepest South Bristol. The mixture of producers, engagement workers and artists that run this brilliant building always endeavour to put community and sustainability at the core of everything they do, be that running a creative programme exploring the hidden heritage of Knowle West, helping young people to create their very own playable computer game, or putting their knowledgeable heads together to build the next generation of new homes.

As a tech-curious artist, you might be interested in their residencies at The Factory, which are based in Filwood - just up the road from their main hub. Using their futuristic gear and the hotdesking space, training, networking and mentoring opportunities they’re offering up, they’re hoping you could take your creative idea and shape it into a small business. They’re especially interested in equipping everyone with the means to make impressive stuff with digital tools - so if you’ve ever wanted to get to grips with a CNC machine, a laser cutter, or 3D printer, this is your chance. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, drop Ian Abbott-Stratford a line on ian@kwmc.org.uk - he’s the lead on The Factory and he’d love to hear your ideas.

Expect to see: heavy machinery, excitable people in goggles and a big building made out of straw.

Kaleider Studios, Exeter

Back in 2016, these studios were just a humble room in Exeter - albeit one packed to the rafters with potential thanks to the new owners. Top project facilitators Kaleider felt it was very important that they created space to grow alongside other projects, so they started inviting all sorts of creatives to join them. Rightly sensing that the studio was to transform into an important hub, artists, academics and scientists started flocking in.

Kaleider moved into their Preston Street base in 2017 and got to work on opening up the whole building. The launch of the new spaces was marked by free mini-festival Mikrofest earlier this year, and to get an idea of the kind of projects these guys back, all you have to do is look back on the programme. Mark Parry’s Lumiascope invited members of the public to become part of an kaleidoscopic artwork, Hilary O’Shaughnessy’s HAM played a game in which you find radio frequency foxes, and Hugh McCann and Cally Hayes explored male mental health through AV. If you have a similarly buzzy idea and would like some space, advice and resources to make it a goer, pop in for a chat or give admin@kaleider.com a shout.

Expect to see: a giant pig, lots of new space and a sprinkling of cement dust (for now).

Create Studios, Swindon

Don’t be blinded by this media hub’s shiny showreel that greets you on their website - dig a bit deeper, and you’ll see that this is a digital agency that cares. They have their own young people’s media development programme called MassMedia, they go into schools to raise digital aspirations with talks and workshops, and they’ve explored their local area of Swindon with sixty young people and a lot of heart.

If you’re a creative that’s been away studying at uni and are returning to Swindon, or the Wiltshire or Gloucester area, you could be offered one of six places per year that are offered up on their Create Futures programme, which aims to bridge the gap between studying and the industry. The programme includes amazing mentoring from industry legends, masterclasses from those in the know and top-class networking. They’re also very open to hearing from freelancers, too, and would be very excited to collaborate with you whatever your discipline, we reckon – they’re lovely like that.

If you’re interested in nosing into what Create could help you with, fill in this welcoming and straightforward contact page or send them a hello on info@createstudios.org.uk.

Expect to see: lots of camera equipment, young people, and plenty of star power.

Finally, Bath Spa University will be opening a town-centre innovation hub during the summer of 2019. Aimed at creative industries, in particular, creative technologies, the hub will have a mix of space for start-ups, freelancers and micro-businesses as well as a programme of residencies.  Watch this space for more news...