Bath

The image is from the current Fashioning Masculinities exhibition at the V&A, visited as part of research for a new project related to fashion and archive. The exhibition is a slice through gender identity via the medium of men’s fashion. Archive is used within in it primarily as expression of timeline, drawing parallels across the evolution of fashion styles and societal attitudes.

Bath Spa University is currently in discussion with Bath & NE Somerset Council and the Fashion Museum over the relocation of the Museum’s storage facilities to a new building near Bath Spa’s Locksbrook campus development. The Fashion Museum archive is a significant collection of over 100,000 items, spanning 17th Century to the present day, but a resource that everyone involved feels is not utilised to its best potential currently.

The movement of the collection offers an opportunity to increase its accessibility and re-think its relationship with both academia and industry – and generates opportunities for the new facility to actively engage in research, innovation, skills development and the future growth of the fashion sector in the West of England.

I am working with Bath Spa to help scope the potential vision for the relocated Fashion Museum collection and in particular its connection to industry at a regional, national and international level – across all elements of the fashion value chain and including wider linked sectors, for example technology and sustainability.

Whilst it’s refreshing to work with a different part of the creative economy to usual I keep finding echoes from the distant past, in particular my involvement in the restructure of the Granada TV archive which displayed the same tension between two entirely valid positions, conservation and curation vs accessibility and exploitation of assets.

There have been strong public statements of intent from all involved for the relocation of the Fashion Museum and collection to be a catalyst for a much wider strategic re-think of the creative geography of Bath – and to use this cultural asset as a means to surface a more active and contemporary dialogue around skills, growth and impact. My role is to help prompt and shape the direction of travel.

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Los Angeles / Virtual Production 2

As noted in the post below the review of the virtual production landscape in the UK and its emergence as a centre of excellence was launched in LA, at a joint DIT / Screen International event.

After my presentation of the Review we staged a fascinating panel, chaired by Chris Evans from Screen Daily / KFTV and featuring:

Connie Kennedy – Head of LA Lab Epic Games
Ryan Beagan – VP of Virtual Production, Warner Bros
Chris Ferriter – President, Halon
Lisa Gray – Executive Producer, Bild Studios

The conversation explored the changes in production planning, process, skills and workflow engendered by the technology – and of course the UK’s position in the global market. As Chris Ferriter noted, “I’m struggling to think of the last time we worked on a project that started in LA that didn’t end up going to the UK”

Upcoming work on virtual production for the British Film Commission will look to build on this momentum.

It was genuinely refreshing to be travelling again, a reminder of the quality of ideas and interaction and inspiration that you get from being in a new environment with new people

And also a change of scenery on the work front, with a project around fashion coming up.

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Los Angeles / Virtual Production

About 5 years ago I wrote a strategy entitled, “creativity meets technology” for DIT (subsequently shortened by others to Createch). And a project launching this week in Los Angeles is the latest validation of that strategy.

The exponential growth of virtual production in the UK is an exemplar of our ability to combine world class creative production skills and technology services at scale. 

The emergence of virtual production technologies has generated a fundamental change in process, production, roles and workflows. But the UK screen industries – across the whole value chain of hardware, software, creative and production services – has been able to rapidly innovate in response to become a global centre of excellence in virtual production.

The development of the VP ecosystem has demonstrated:

  • Fast scaling VP stage capacity
  • Responsive supply chains of creative and technology expertise
  • Strategic interventions in VP skills development
  • Catalytic investment in innovation
  • Collaborative Government and industry initiatives focused on growth

I wrote, produced and co-designed (with Bray Leino) the document above. It will be presented to a US exec audience and then widely circulated – highlighting a genuinely exciting, and internationally significant, evolution of the UK production landscape.

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And so it came to pass…

My New Year blog for 2020 talked about wanting to spend less time at my desk and being part of the original AZ trial (now at 2Bn+ vaccinations in 170 countries, an extraordinary achievement). But I’m still here and now have the new variant of Covid – albeit very mildly.

There was an interesting article in last week’s Economist (https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/12/18/the-new-normal-is-already-here-get-used-to-it) which explored the idea that the concept of “new normal” conveyed the fact that some of the changes of the past two years are irreversible, both positive and negative, including “today’s predictable unpredictability.”

From my perspective I have a similarly split feeling.

Access to people is so much easier when we all adopt a digital first perspective, for example earlier this month I chaired a session on new production technology which included participants in Tokyo, London and San Francisco. But a trip to Belfast reminded me of why I liked travelling, the stimulation in new environments and unexpected ideas.

Project management can be incredibly efficient, with all of the waste stripped out, but trying to creatively co-design over zoom is impossible (and the incidental time is where we exchange value and build collaboration).

So the Economist’s description of “predictable unpredictability” does feel like a crossed line. The resilience and adaptability which has been forced by the pandemic has been to an extent “baked in”, we now plan with an expectation (whether conscious or subconscious) that events may change rapidly and require an agile response – which feels like a positive shift in the art of the possible. Businesses in the Creative Scale Up / Creative Sector Growth Programme I’ve been part of managing demonstrate that, with extraordinary growth delivered through in some cases very radical business transformation.

2022 will see delivery of a new Virtual Production strategy for DIT and the first investments under the MyWorld Bristol programme, both in different ways exemplars of similarly radical transformation in the form of exciting imminent shifts in creative technologies within production, distribution and personal experience (don’t mention the metaverse..).  

But New Year will pass with me in self isolation, hoping for more days of escape in 2022 like the one below – a sparkling Lake Como.

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Createch

5 years ago I wrote a speculative strategy for the Department for International Trade. Focused on what the UK “offer” was to global inward investment in the Creative Industries, it identified a USP at the point where “creativity meets technology”.

With the rapid adoption of digital technologies generating fundamental changes in the production, distribution and consumption phases of nearly all industries (especially true where new technologies allow a direct communication with a customer) it was my contention that the UK has a competitive advantage due to its unique ability to combine four elements: creative excellence / established tech sector / innovation ecosystem / addressable scale market.

My hypothesis was that many markets were able to demonstrate 3 of the 4 circles of the Venn diagram but very few places could validate the presence of all four (NB: Innovation should probably read Innovation Support – a key distinction in the availability of strategic public investment in R&D).

Over time the strategy was adopted but the focus was shortened to “Createch”. Whilst I’m still not a fan of the term, its adoption by DCMS, Tech Nation, Creative Industries Council and others makes it unavoidable.

So, fast-forward to 2021 and I’ve been delighted to be a judge on the Createch 100 Ones to Watch (https://www.thecreativeindustries.co.uk/ones-to-watch/2021). And this week I’ve chaired a panel as part of London Tech Week exploring “export” with three of the Ones to Watch companies.

For me what’s most interesting is the impact of Covid, and how the traditional definition of Export has been replaced by a hybrid position – international reach being far more a digital than physical function (but with the adaptations of language and presentation and trust required by that shift).

My conversation with Dragonfly AI, Lost Horizon and Swamp Motel covers this territory from their own personal experiences – with agile business adaptation in a pandemic thrown in. The recording is here, an insightful conversation: https://app.swapcard.com/event/london-tech-week-2021/planning/UGxhbm5pbmdfNjc0MDE0

A final thought. I was quietly delighted that 20% of the Createch 100 were from Bristol / SW, reflecting the organisations and frameworks in the city which act as catalysts for that crossover (and I’ve put forward a proposal to explore as part of Bristol Technology Festival next month). The MyWorld initiative speaks directly to this strength.

The image is from the recent Charlotte Perriand exhibition at the Design Museum, a modular shelving system radical in its simplicity and use of (then) unconventional materials.

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Global Citizen

As part of an international strategy development project I’ve been looking at what might get retained in our processes and practices post-Covid. Personally I can’t see that I will ever return to the level of international business travel that characterised my pre-pandemic years. But a note I made in early 2020 about a sense of Global Citizenship revealed by those experiences has resonated in the current research, and in a clear emergent construct of the Global Citizen within an international policy environment.

In attempting a definition Ideas Forum reflects the idea that a shared personal responsibility exists which extends beyond our immediate location. Global Citizenship “recognises our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies. One in which our choices and actions may have repercussions for people and communities locally, nationally or internationally.”

Oxfam is also (perhaps obviously) a proponent of the principle of an interconnected global society, and describes a Global Citizen as “someone who:

  • is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen
  • respects and values diversity
  • has an understanding of how the world works
  • is outraged by social injustice
  • participates in the community at a range of levels, from the local to the global
  • is willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place
  • takes responsibility for their actions.

To be effective Global Citizens, young people need to be flexible, creative and proactive.”

As a personal manifesto this is a fairly compelling proposition.

There is a read across here to another interesting recent shift – the identification of the creative and cultural sector as an agent of change, an instrumental tool in seeking societal impacts beyond simple economic growth (c.f. my earlier work on the Cultural Compact).

For example, 2021 is the UNCTAD International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, recognising the Creative Economy as “an important tool for building a sustainable, inclusive and equitable future…. at a time when we need creative solutions for the world’s challenges.”

But looping back to the beginning these cultural exchanges are now more likely to be hybrid in nature – combined digital / physical initiatives – seeking to balance the digital benefits of efficiency and accessibility / inclusivity with the challenges of building complex relationships of trust and shared values at a distance.

With Watershed I’ve been exploring how a hybrid digital / physical production methodology could enable a distributed creative production team (spread across four continents) to explore global challenges simultaneously within multiple linked local contexts. More to come on this.

Other current projects include:

  • Inward investment / business development lead on the £50M MyWorld creative technology R&D programme, managed by University of Bristol
  • Model definition and delivery on the Creative Sector Growth Programme for WECA (via Watershed)
  • Inward investment strategy and campaign focused on Virtual Production for the Department of International Trade

Plus input to the Western Gateway concept and judging on the Createch 100 Ones to Watch.

The image at the top is from the current Ryoji Ikeda exhibition in London, his work starts from digital and data but always links back in concept to the physical.

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Creative Scale Up

Over the past year I have been working on the Creative Scale Up programme in the West of England – having co-designed and co-delivered a Peer-to-Peer support strand with Gill Wildman (via Watershed).

The P2P idea was in part inspired by a conversation with Sammy Payne, CEO of Open Bionics, who described how she and two other founders had created an important mutual self help group as their businesses rapidly grew.

60 businesses have now been through Creative Scale Up across three cohorts. Within that we created small peer groups who met regularly within a framework which prompted discussion around company structure and culture, growth and business development, investment and financing, and more. Although effectively what we did was provide a safe space and prompt for sharing experience. Our rules were Chatham House, be respectful, one idea at a time….

Many of the CEOs were experiencing the familiar difficulties of business expansion, but also the significant stresses of being the visible leader, having to confidently provide direction despite no prior experience. So, alongside the peer group meetings we had a series of more established CEOs come and tell their stories of lessons learned. More than one commented “this feels like a therapy session”.

Covid shifted all but the very first meeting in March 2020 online. And whilst this lost the physical networking dynamic, we still managed to curate the ability to connect people – it just required an attitude from the participants, one of deliberate openness.

At the last gathering the underlying theme was one of confidence, confidence in direction identified and decisions made, but also confidence derived from learning from the thoughts and actions of others – because even though the businesses may have been very varied (in size and subsector), there were relatable common themes and an ability to step into the shoes of others in a positive and impactful way.

We learned a lot on the way about how to foster and prompt a productive inter-personal collaboration. And now thoroughly road tested hope to produce a new programme soon – plus also get together a group of people who have shared a lot but only met each other on a screen.

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2021

Normally I start the year with a forward-looking post and a list of cities in my immediate workplan – unfortunately the start of this year has been a rollercoaster. This image is my desk, I’d like to spend less time here in 2021…

But there are positives, and some projects to look forward to:

MyWorld
Innovating into a visual future beyond screens, MyWorld is a £46M 5 year research project experimenting with the next wave of creative technologies in the production, distribution and consumption of content. Building on the existing strengths of the city MyWorld will create a globally significant R&D cluster in Bristol – I’m leading the development and investment workplan.

Hybrids
Through lockdown we have all developed new models of remote working and proved that adaptability and agility overcome the barriers of physical distances. This enforced change has revealed an opportunity to develop a post Covid global network of hybrid production, connected localities and distributed audience.

With Watershed, the Hybrids research will be a catalyst for the generation of a mechanic and model for sustained international collaboration, delivering partnership and impact at scale (and at distance).

Virtual Production
As flagged in the panel recording linked below, emerging virtual production technologies represent a fundamental shift in the relationship between the physical and digital elements in production. DIT in close partnership with DCMS has been looking at the implications for skills, R&D and investment as many of the major US studios plan VP builds in the UK in 2021 – how to future proof a currently highly successful creative sector?

In addition, I’m hopeful that the Global Partners collaborative R&D project, designed in partnership with Audience of the Future, will build on a successful pilot (with Discovery and WarnerMedia) and move on to an expanded programme.

And having delivered the West of England Cultural Compact framework, I’m interested to see how it develops in practice – there is great potential for a tangible impact.

But the final positive is the vaccine. The image below is of barcodes from all of the Covid tests I took as part of the (continuing) Oxford/AZ trial group. I still don’t know if I had the vaccine or placebo but volunteering to be part of the process feels now like the most impactful thing I did last year.

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Cultural Compact

“City Culture Compacts – a strategic partnership to co-design and deliver a vision for culture in the city” Arts Council Cultural Cities Enquiry – Jan 2019

A new piece of work for the West of England Combined Authority, helping to define a structure for a future Cultural Compact, but one that acts across a region, the West of England, rather than a city – a challenge in itself.

Without the clear animating context of a “city”, the WofE Cultural Compact must therefore find its purpose not in the generation of impact within a specific narrow geographic location, but in the alignment, amplification and prioritisation of actions across a broad range of diverse stakeholders.

In my mind there is also another important purpose for the Cultural Compact, to be the catalyst for new thinking on the role and value of culture, able to initiate strategy development and seek opportunity and support for new innovation at a regional (and/or national) level.

There is a simultaneous contradiction of both a growing awareness of the positive impact of the creative and cultural sectors and the current existential challenge to many of the underpinning institutions and business models. The ability to enable dynamic enquiry on the expansion of cultural inputs across a policy landscape, and the facilitation of new models of working has the potential to drive significant change.

As examples, exploring the capacity of culture and creativity to make a contribution to policy delivery related to Social Prescribing in the face of a major health crisis, or in community cohesion as related to the localising effects of the pandemic (and in some senses the “15 min city” thinking referred to in the blog below).

Other pandemic accelerated impacts include the strategic necessity for cultural institutions to become more “hybrid” as organisations (digital / physical / public realm), but also the opportunity implicit in that for increased access and inclusion as they think beyond the previous “walls” and seek a new model of engagement.

Underneath this is the challenge of measurement and evaluation – capturing the value of culture. This is clearly easier with some instrumental measures, e.g. generation of jobs or increased investment, but always much harder when related to influences on attitudes and behaviour change. And unfortunately (but correctly) this is a challenge which much be addressed in detail when translating recommended activity into actionable political policy.

It is my hope that the Cultural Compact becomes a mechanism for policy alignment and strategic input, politically literate and able to position culture within bigger picture economic and infrastructure development, in order to affect positive change for investment and creative opportunity in the West of England.

Pictures from a visit to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, a brief escape – and the utter emotional joy of being in a gallery again – before plunging back into another hard lockdown.

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Levelling down & the K shaped recovery

As we make faltering steps out of peak pandemic a theme which has been an underlying constant has come sharply to the foreground – reflected in differing public actions and attitudes. The asymmetric impact of Covid draws very fine lines between indifferent, inconvenient and catastrophic. On a personal level this tends to revolve around vulnerability of people in close orbit, age or age of children, structure of employment, and even access to outside space; on a commercial level, seen starkly in the ability to produce and distribute digitally versus the requirement for proximity or audience.

In recent weeks this has been embodied in the emergence of discussion around a K shaped economic recovery – as distinct from V (fast return), U (slow return) or L (no return)…

The K shaped graph indicates that some sectors, particularly white collar professional services, have rebounded strongly as the economy restarts. But others, especially blue collar manufacturing and retail/hospitality services, are struggling and increasingly threatened. Simplified it appears that employments which are digital in nature or can adapt easily to remote working can reinvent themselves, activity which is physical and/or requires human contact at scale does not have that flexibility.

These impacts are being visibly played out in our larger cities.

A couple of months back an Economist article on the “levelling down” of London took a different take on the desire to balance the economy away from the capital, suggesting that the pandemic would level London down rather than out-of-London up.

An enforced shift to working from home and limited travel has by definition created a huge emphasis on the local. In a larger city where the centre has become much less mixed use and dominated by retail and workplace – as London – the tangible visible impact models the K, where any positive economic returns have been shifted from a now denuded urban landscape.

As mentioned in a previous blog there is a sense that Covid has accelerated underlying trends. The vision of reinventing Paris as “the 15 minute city”, launched at the beginning of 2020 with an emphasis on hyper-locality, was driven by climate change not the pandemic – but the strategy towards live / work / shop / leisure all within a 15 minute radius has gained huge resonance during lockdown. If the “new normal” marks a shift from mass commuting then the centre of the city must be reinvented again to become a more culturally driven social space.

But, a reversion to smaller geographies must not act as a counter to global cultural connectivity.

This week saw the publication by Watershed of a report on their Creative Producers International programme. This project grew out of the success of Playable City and thought about the role of culture in citizen engagement and the design of the future city. Working with 15 producers across the globe Creative Producers International has created an active, and activist, network of creatives building projects which foresight positive city change – dynamically sharing insight, experience and learning across very different localities, with remarkably similar human problems.

As we emerge from an extraordinary global experience of fundamental economic and societal shutdowns the long term effects will not be universal but asymmetric. And whilst there are strategic gains from an increased focus on locality and community, the cultural positives of global connectivity, the network of human networks effect, must be protected and stimulated by proactive collaborations like Creative Producers International in order to share (remotely) solutions to differentiated international challenges.

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