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Cohort 1 - the first funded projects for the Digital R&D Fund for the arts in Wales

It’s with great pleasure that we can announce that the first four recipients of grants from the Digital Research and Development Fund for the Arts in Wales are NoFit State Circus and National Theatre Wales; Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru; TaikaBox; and UCAN Productions.

I’m really excited to be able to announce these first four projects; over the past few weeks we’ve been feverishly working away to complete grant agreements, sort logistics and start on research plans with each of the organisations involved.  Each of the projects has the potential to deliver both technological and process based innovation and learning  for the wider sector, something that’s really important for the Digital Research and Development Fund not just in Wales, but across the UK.

NoFit State Circus and National Theatre Wales, in collaboration with Joylab

As producing companies, both NoFit State Circus and National Theatre Wales have expressed frustration at the limited amount of data they hold about their audiences – a frustration that’s often echoed around the producing sector.  With data tied up in the ticketing systems of third-party organisations, bound by data protection or incompatibility it can be difficult for producing companies to understand who their audience is and how they can develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with them.  It's something that Arts Council England is taking steps to rectify, as discussed by Peter Bazalgette at the AMA’s recent Digital First event.

Working with Joylab, the partners’ research project will investigate ways in which audience data can be captured in more playful ways that are more appropriate to the event or performance that an audience member attends.  They will also look at how data can be better stored, accessed and analysed across a number of platforms, from ticketing and data capture to social media, to understand how audience journeys can be mapped and enhanced, developing the audience member’s relationship with the producing company and their work over time.

Sibrwd - Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, in collaboration with Galactig

With the welsh-speaking population of Wales numbering around 19% of the total population, companies producing work in Welsh can find potential audiences for a given production limited.  This is something that Sibrwd (Welsh for “whisper”), Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and Galactig's new project, attempts to overcome.

Sibrwd will do exactly what it says – whispering details, synopsis and dialogue about and from a given performance in another language, via audience members’ mobile devices and headphones.  It attempts to do away with surtitles, often seen as a distraction from what’s happening on the stage for both non-Welsh speakers and those fluent in the language.  As well as the potential for Welsh to English translation, We’re really excited to see how this technology might facilitate international touring.

Please Switch on Your Mobile Phones - TaikaBox, in collaboration with Moon

There’s often a preconception about contemporary dance that it’s difficult; that you need to understand the physical language that performers are using to enjoy a performance.  TaikaBox (John Collingswood and Tanja Råman) hope to be able to demystify this preconception through their new project – Please Switch on Your Mobile Phone.

Working with Moon, TaikaBox will create new digital tools to collect stories from audience members which will, in turn, be used to create a new piece of dance at each performance.  As well as collecting stories, the digital tools will allow audience members to influence a number of technical aspects of the production, from the lighting and sound to the projection.  Alongside this, all performances will be streamed live via the web, allowing audience members in remote locations to contribute in the same way as those in the auditorium.

UCAN Go - UCAN Productions, in collaboration with Calvium

Finally, we turn our attention away from the creative process and focus more directly on the visitor experience, specifically looking at how venues might be made more accessible for those with visual impairments, through the use of audio mapping.

UCAN and Calvium will be working with Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff and The Torch Theatre in Milford Haven, to research and develop a mobile application that can guide an audience member to various locations within a building.

Talking to two of UCAN’s members at interview and a recent workshop I got a real sense of the difficulties they face when visiting our arts venues – stairs with different gradients and tread depths, mirrors and exhibits that move on a regular basis being just some of them.  As well as making better use of technology to guide audience members around a venue, this project has the potential to help us all better understand how venues can be made more accessible by highlighting some of the common problems that visually impaired visitors face.

As with the projects recently announced in England, all four of these projects place the audience at their core. Whether it’s about understanding who our audiences are, improving their ability to access and understand performance or ensuring audiences and users are involved in the design process from the start, each project has the potential to add to the body of knowledge that we’re generating around the relationship between audiences and technology within the arts.

We’re encouraging each of these projects to be as open as possible as they undertake their projects; over the next few weeks, we’ll post details of project blogs and ongoing research that you can tap into and, hopefully, learn from over the next 12 months.  In the meantime, I've set up a twitter list so that you can follow each of the participants, as well as the three funding partners.

Finally, a quick reminder that the second call for submissions is now open!  The deadline for applications is noon, Friday 10th January 2014.  If you’d like to talk to me about your application, please feel free to drop me a line – [email protected] – or leave me a comment below!


Rob Ashelford

Rob Ashelford

Rob Ashelford

Pennaeth Nesta Cymru / Head of Nesta Cymru

Rob is Head of Nesta Cymru - responsible for the delivery of Nesta's strategy in Wales.

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