Radical new programme set to boost region's lagging arts engagement



While the creative industries have moved into first place to be the fastest growing economic sector(1) in the UK, large areas of the East of England are in danger of missing out. Parts of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough area have some of the lowest engagement in the arts: Peterborough and Wisbech are in the bottom 20% of national average and King's Lynn in the bottom 33%.


To help tackle this, the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) announces today it is giving a grant to a ground-breaking arts project, in_collusion, that aims to bring a step change to the cultural scene in many parts of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough area over the next two and a half years.

This is the first time the GCGP LEP, which receives some funds from central government, has supported an arts programme. This is thanks to the project’s strong connections across the arts and technology sectors. Its grant of £325,000 matches pound for pound an ‘Ambition for Excellence’ grant from Arts Council England of £325,000.

The project is being run by Collusion, an experimental, not-for-profit agency based in Cambridge that works at the intersection of arts, technology and human interaction. “At Collusion we bring together artists, technologists and academics to create ambitious, disruptive, immersive works that engage the public,” said Collusion Directors Rachel Drury and Simon Poulter.

Their latest project in_collusion will fund individuals, groups and events, and will:

  • commission excellent art, rich in ideas about the impact of emerging technology on society, focusing on: 1) virtual/augmented reality, 2) artificial intelligence, 3) data culture. Technology will not only be a focus of the content of the art, but will also be the means through which the art is produced.
  • generate ideas by bringing together people from different backgrounds – technologists, artists, designers and academics and more – to create clusters of new activity. Six clusters will be created across the LEP area, building on the existing arts and creative industries in that area. The clusters are Cambridge, Huntingdon, Peterborough, King’s Lynn, Bury St Edmunds and Wisbech.
  • develop new talent in creative technology skills that are home-grown and fit for demand. Participants will be equipped to develop ideas into products and services through talks, hands-on demos and workshops by leaders in their field. While not a traditional business support package, in_collusion is a specialist programme to inspire creative people to gain entry-level and advanced skills in both art and technology.
  • fund a huge programme of activities to deliver the above: 13 major projects, (eg artist commissions); 30 small-scale R&D projects (eg advancing ideas and developing prototypes); 80 events (eg technical workshops, labs, seminars); 10 public events.
  • participants might, for example, explore how to use augmented reality to animate our towns and cities; create an augmented reality city hacking programme (‘Hack your city’); develop new narratives around issues such as city planning, perhaps taking city data and reframing it; or play with city space in the game Minecraft.

in_collusion kicked off the Peterborough cluster last week during a consultation session with a range of artists, creative businesses – from sound designers to visual effects designers – plus stakeholders such as Peterborough County Council, Opportunity Peterborough, Metal, Peterborough Presents and Vivacity. This was the first of five consultation sessions across the GCGP area and explored the opportunities the project offers.

A professional artist, Lee Mason, attending, said: “Creative businesses in Peterborough aren’t used to having opportunities presented to us, so Collusion’s offer of help and guidance is invaluable. Their very open, inclusive and unpredictable approach is very exciting. This programme could be the building blocks for an infrastructure that doesn’t yet exist."

The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP’s Chief Executive, Neil Darwin, said: “The Creative Digital sector is one of our key sectors in the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP area, and an area we are keen to nurture and grow further. The in_collusion project presented a unique opportunity to support growth in our creative industries by bringing emerging technology to immersive events that will spark creativity and generate a new cluster of activity that will develop creative technology skills, and build new creative technology practices for the future.”

Executive Director, Innovation and Enterprise, at Arts Council England, Francis Runacres,  said: “Arts Council England is pleased to support Collusion's innovative in_collusion programme. The organisation’s deep connections with the technology sector has enabled the team to bring together the arts and technology sectors in a really powerful creative partnership. We look forward to seeing the range of ideas about the role of technology in society that emerge from it.”

Image: Simon Poulter, Co-Director at Collusion,  has his 'Data Shadow' drawn from his personal data during a previous Collusion project

(1)  The creative industries are growing at almost three times the rate of the wider economy (up by 19.5% since 2011 compared to a 6.3% increase in the economy as a whole in the same period) and worth a staggering £133 billion, 8.2% of the UK economy. The creative economy accounts for 9% of all UK jobs (one in 11 jobs), a figure which has increased yearly since 1997.
SOURCE: Reports from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport entitled Creative Industries: Focus on Employment, published June 2016, and Creative Industries: Economic Estimates, published January 2016.


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