This first-of-a-kind collaboration between the region’s four universities - UWE Bristol, Bath Spa, the University of Bath and the University of Bristol - and digital creativity centre Watershed, aimed to break down the doors, connecting the worlds of university research and creative business to develop a shared vision for tomorrow’s creative industries.
The programme focused on making a real and lasting impact by attracting new talent and fostering the next generation of original, diverse, creative minds. We wanted Bristol and Bath to carry the torch for innovation, creating the most inventive, compelling new products, services and experiences. And we sought to achieve this in an inclusive and sustainable way, working as one to create a positive economic, social and cultural impact. Our work was delivered through pathfinders and other streams of activity.
Pathfinders were themed, creative R+D projects designed to lead the Bristol + Bath cluster into the future, engage with emergent technologies, and develop a diverse new talent base. What this meant in practice is that across the pathfinders we supported the production of at least 15 working prototypes, supported at least 60 fellows and/or scholars to conduct themed research over the year when the pathfinder they applied to ran, we held intermittent showcases to celebrate the work of each pathfinder, curated a ‘Hopeful Futures’ network and ran some panels during which we had really inspiring conversations, and we did some fantastic international work.
The five pathfinders were:
Digital Placemaking aimed to enhance and deepen the relationship between people and places. We believe the best examples of digital placemaking are co-designed by different kinds of communities, using digital technology and creative solutions to improve or enhance the public experience of place. Questions explored included: What experiences will interest the audiences of the future? How will those experiences — whether reading, listening, watching, performing or participating — enhance their lives? How might technology in public spaces affect our cities? Our region? And what can we do to make our cities better places to live?
Expanded Performance explored the concept of liveness and togetherness in the context of innovations in technology across the cluster’s twin strengths of theatre and live music. The pathfinder supported its cohort to connect with expertise and research facilities across programme partners exploring audience behaviour; intelligent visual technology (eg. motion tracking); embodiment; immersion; narrative; storytelling, the promotion of emerging technologies and commissioning world-leading performance.
Amplified Publishing explored future models of content creation, discovery and distribution. Questions explored included: What does ‘publishing’ mean in the 21st Century? How will the increased availability of seamless and synchronous visual and audio media enhance and expand traditional media, like books and magazines? What does personalisation offer to both content creators, their publishers, and their audiences? With the rise of visual storytelling, what is the future of reading? The pathfinder aimed to bring trade publishers, games and music publishers, web, online, video, audio and broadcast publishers together with tech sector innovators to see what kinds of responses to these challenges could be created.
Creative Ecologies explored creativity as a networked, connected practice, not something that happens in isolation in studios, offices, or labs. The team behind this pathfinder aimed to work with experts from across our region and the world to explore how we can make creative ecological networks more resilient, dynamic and inclusive, ensuring they are future-proofed to withstand systematic shocks, and can respond to the pressing emergencies of our time.
Here+There explored how being locally rooted also allows us to understand ourselves as part of an interconnected global network. The pandemic sharply threw into focus how we continue to foster both local and international communities, even when travel restrictions are in place. Here+There connected the creative clusters of Bristol and Bath to an international creative technology conversation through a programme of talent development, research exchange and business development.
In addition to the five pathfinders, we also recognized that some really valuable work within our ecology didn’t map directly onto any of our pathfinder timelines; this led to the establishment of the trailblazer fund, which supported new or existing ideas related to creative technology from individuals, companies or collaborations that create impact in Bristol or Bath. The trailblazer fund supported an array of 22 wonderful projects.
Importantly, Bristol+Bath Creative R+D also had two essential streams of work running alongside pathfinders. These were:
Inclusion Action Research: asking questions about how we can make our practices, governance, spaces, and communities more inclusive. This work began by trying to understand how the overall programme could be more inclusive by inviting everyone connected to the programme to participate in a ‘state of play’ survey (with publicly shared results.) This stream of work also led to a more inclusive and kinder recruitment process at Watershed, enabled us to commission action research and reflection blogs- via open calls- from community members, and led to the formation of an Inclusion Framework for Change.
Climate Action Research: as a programme we agree that we need profound systemic change and a zero-carbon society within our lifetimes to address the climate crisis. We need policy changes, investment in new technologies, innovative models, new products, manufacturing processes, services, skills and jobs. We need a cultural shift of the values, norms, beliefs and behaviours which underpin our society and economy, and new ideas, methods and tools to propel it. Launching a Creative Climate Action Toolkit, after a period of extensive action research, was just the beginning of the work we’ll continue to do towards climate action. This work stream also contributed to how Watershed engages in climate action.