The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is today bringing together the arts, technology and research sectors at a forum in Manchester to discuss the nature of collaborative technology relationships, risk taking and knowledge sharing in the arts.

The Fund is a partnership between Arts Council England, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta to support innovative digital projects that enable new audience experiences and sustainable business models for the arts.

Chaired by Dr Paul Gerhardt, Managing Director, Archives for Creativity, the Forum's speakers include James Davis from Google's Cultural Institute and arts organisations who will be sharing their experiences of exploring the opportunities of technology.

At the Forum today findings from the pilot programme will be published and the first nine successful applicants to the £7 million Fund will be announced. 

Over the last year eight pilot projects, each with very different approaches, have received funding to look at how they could use digital technology, combined with research, to extend their reach and/or offering. From a ticketing app for students to social networking for artists to share ideas, each pilot project approached the integration of technology and research in an individual way, and with varied results. 

The findings from the pilot programme are being published today to emphasise the need for the industry to share successes and failings as it works together to find sustainable models for arts into the future. The reports are available here and the findings include:

  • The power of digital technology to change the roles and boundaries between audiences and organisations through creating new platforms for dialogue
  • The value of risk taking in informing future innovations
  • The unexpected outcomes, such as new ways of commissioning work, which arose from trying something new

Skinder Hundal, CEO of New Art Exchange and Creative Producer for Culture Cloud - one of the pilot projects - said: "At a time of uncertainty to experiment and take risks seems like a luxury, I disagree. This is the moment to be brave and bold and invest, power up ideas and resources, especially in the medium of digital communications and technology. The digital in the case of Culture Cloud, a crowd curation project, has accelerated interactions between artist, audience, curator and the gallery. It introduced talents unseen, now known, opportunities to distribute wealth and also allowed for the power dynamics in decision making to be shared, as roles, expectations and choices drifted like clouds in the sky"

Following on from the pilot phase, the Digital R&D Fund's first nine successful applicants1, who are being announced today will also be exploring new approaches to audience interaction and diversifying their business models. They are each developing different digital initiatives- from 'crowd curating' to measuring audience responses through social networks.   

Carolyn Royston, Head of Digital Media, Imperial War Museums - one of the successful applicants as part of a joint proposal with Historypin and University of Edinburgh - said: "Imperial War Museums will ask the public to augment curatorial content in our First World War Art collection. Using specially developed metadata crowdsourcing tools for artworks created by Historypin, they will view artworks, locate them on the map, add dates, link them to contextual sources, tag emotional responses and 'facts' such as people, battles, military units, objects; and discuss them. 

"A series of live events will kickstart this process, generating social capital through community engagement with our digital tool. We will then merge public and curatorial voices on the IWM website and, later, in an online exhibition on Google Cultural Institute (CGI). Research and evaluation will be undertaken by the University of Edinburgh. The R&D fund will support the project by enabling more meaningful models of engagement with over 1,000 IWM artworks."

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said: "Creating excellent art should be about taking risks, trying something new and learning from your mistakes. The Digital R&D fund provides the logistical and financial support to help organisations get really creative and push boundaries by diving in to the digital world, which for many is uncharted waters. Not only does the Fund give arts organisations the chance to find out how digital projects can really revolutionise the way that they inter-act with their audiences but it is also generating a wealth of learning from which the whole arts and culture sector can benefit." 

Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive, Nesta, said: "Digital technologies can look like competitive threats to theatres, galleries and other arts organisations. But experience suggests that they can be helps - routes to new audiences, new revenue streams and new ways of thinking about art forms themselves. At a time of acute pressure on resources, innovation and risk are more essential than ever, but also harder to finance. Our hope is that this fund will provide the freedom to experiment.  Not everything will work first time - but more vigorous and systematic experimentation will deliver a huge benefit to the arts, just as it has to so many other fields."

Professor Rick Rylance, Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, commented, "The development of digital technology has opened new horizons for the arts and cultural sector to discover the opportunities presented by digital platforms. These contribute not only new forms of art and modes of communication and display, but also enhance the ways in which arts organisations operate which are vital to their development as thriving organisations. So far the Digital R&D Fund projects have successfully identified key relationships between arts organisations and technology providers and research has been essential to discover the effects of these and the possibilities they release. The next phase of development will push this further. It is an exciting moment."

The Fund is open for expressions of interest and applications until 30 December 2013. More information on the application process, including key eligibility criteria, is available here.


Notes to editor 

For more information contact: Sarah Reardon at Nesta on 020 7438 2606 or email [email protected] 

1 First round awardees - summaries of reports available at:

  • Cheltenham Festivals in partnership with I-Dat and Warwick University
  • The Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP) in partnership with Adaptive Technologies and University of Brighton
  • Imperial War Museums in partnership with Historypin and University of Edinburgh
  • Unlimited Theatre in partnership with Storythings and Jon Rogers and Product Research Studio at the University of Dundee
  • Script in partnership with Agency Mobile and Dr Rob Toulson
  • The Royal Opera House in partnership with Combined Arts and Kings College London
  • Knowle West Media Centre in partnership with IBM and University of West of England
  • Live at LICA in partnership with Transpennine Games Cooperative and Imagination Lancaster
  • Pavilion Dance in partnership with Mobile Pie and Dr Seth Giddings, Digital Cultures Research Centre, UWE 

About the Digital R&D fund

The Digital R&D fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund to support collaboration between organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers. It is a partnership between Arts Council England, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta.

We want to see projects that use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or develop new business models for the arts sector. With a dedicated researcher or research team as part of the three-way collaboration, learning from the project can be captured and disseminated to the wider arts sector.

Every project needs to identify a particular question or problem that can be tested. Importantly this question needs to generate knowledge for other arts organisations that they can apply to their own digital strategies.