NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, is the UK?s first and only national endowment.
The £200m fund, set up with proceeds from the National Lottery, was created by Act of Parliament in 1998 and generates £10m a year in interest. NESTA?s mission is to support and promote talent, innovation and creativity in science, technology and the arts; to seek out people and ideas that push at the frontiers, recognising that inventive thinking and entrepreneurial ideas help boost the economy, benefit society and enrich our cultural life.
To find the fairest and most effective ways of providing support, NESTA consulted widely with people in the arts, science and technology communities. The result was a funding approach which concentrates on the individual?s needs and focuses on projects that cross the disciplines of science, technology and the arts, or break down barriers between them. Three programmes emerged:
Invention and Innovation: helping UK innovators turn ideas into new products and services. Awards, normally in the range of £5,000 - £50,000, are given to private individuals or micro-businesses to help them develop ideas at a very early stage. It?s a combination of practical help and business advice that fills a gap in existing support. NESTA takes a significant stake in new products or ideas, and if these prove successful, the return on the investment is ploughed back into NESTA?s support programmes.
Fellowships: awards of up to £75,000 are made to help people pursue creative ideas and fulfil their potential. NESTA supports these individuals to do anything that helps them work freely and take a leap in their creative development. This could enable them to have time off from work, have a mentor, travel, showcase work, carry out research, seek training, advice or a combination of these. To find these individuals, NESTA currently has 150 nominators across the country - experts and leaders in a broad range of fields, who are in daily contact with new talent and thinking. They represent all parts of the UK and all communities and each one gets the chance to recommend two people. After that, new nominators replace them, so the pool is constantly renewed.
Education: this programme aims to increase the quality, depth and breadth of UK talent, innovation and creativity, helping people of all ages to explore and engage in science, technology and the arts. NESTA hopes to achieve this by pioneering innovative approaches to nurture individual creativity, approaches that could provide models for others to follow.
The range of awards made in the latest round, being announced this week, is nothing if not eclectic. A chemist, together with a specialist in hair biology, has been funded to research a new product that restores grey hair to its natural colour; A professional ski-instructor is being supported to develop a device to improve ski performance amongst recreational skiers; and a group in Wigan has been given a grant to develop a new approach to removing chewing gum from the streets.
A range of cutting edge arts projects is being funded. A microcomputer music research officer at the University of Bradford will be developing a high-tech computer organ which accurately simulates the sound of a classical pipe organ without compromising quality. A film maker and her team are to create computer software which will combine real dancers and virtual dancers with location footage and 2-D graphics. Two leading dance artists and teachers in contemporary dance, have been awarded a joint-three-year Fellowship to study the interaction between the mind and the body; and a four-year Fellowship will enable an opera director to explore the use of film, moving imagery and electronic visual media to radically change the way opera is presented.
Heritage Theatre, led by TV producer Robert Marshall and award-winning director Robin Lough, are to develop their work to preserve theatre performances on video and DVD. The company will produce multi-camera recordings of British theatre, filmed during live performances, for sale to the public. The videos will generate a new source of revenue that will flow back to theatre companies, directors, designers and actors. The aim is to build a cultural archive, from theatres across the country. Arts education work is also recognised. Muzantiks, an interactive music composition and performance website for children aged 8 to 11 years, is to be supported to develop and prototype this educational tool, which introduces music, science and new technology to children in an uncomplicated and fun way.
For more information, see the NESTA website w: http://www.nesta.org.uk