For Watershed going digital is an ongoing story of exploration, says Dick Penny. It has led to new ways of working: adopting an approach which is R & D led; learning to operate in a networking framework; and critically, embracing change as the normal state.
There is no one event which put Watershed on the digital highway, more a series of events which we framed as opportunities for 21st century delivery of our moving image media mission - to extend audience choice and cultural diversity beyond the mainstream. Electric December (ED) was the breakthrough project (enjoy the work on www.electricdecember.org if you have broadband, but be prepared for a wait if you are connecting via a modem). It brings together people from the full spectrum of creative activity including artists, filmmakers, schools, Further Education, Higher Education, community groups and media companies. Electric December develops digital skills and content by working in partnership and reaches out to a huge international user group on the web. ?Watershed in Bristol has an especially lively and ambitious programme of new media,? said The Guardian as we built on the success of ED 1999. For 2001, the project was presented in partnership with Guardian Unlimited. The visitor numbers continue to grow with hundreds of thousands of page views from over 30 countries.
Our online projects were reaching new audiences and building new partnerships, but two issues held us back in our mission to convert everyone to the potential of the digital revolution. One was exclusion due to lack of connectivity, and the other was scepticism of the quality of the experience due to the inadequacy and newness of the technology.
In response to this we determined to provide the optimum digital experience for visitors to Watershed - at least then they would understand what we were getting so excited about. A high band width (155MB) R & D project (Bristol Creative Technology Network) gave us broadband connectivity at a fraction of the normal cost. We invested in top-end projection and authoring kit, and now have what is probably the best equipped digital projection exhibition facility anywhere. It includes a state of the art DLP (Digital Light Projection) projector in the cinema and two new flexible screening spaces with high end LCD projectors, one with large sofas to create a relaxed social Digital Cafe environment for engaging with new content. All this kit would be worthless without the capability to animate it and so we continue to invest in skills for our staff and our partners. This includes web-published learning resources and projects like www.12days.net which was listed as site of the week by key educational sites in both the UK and USA, delivering wide exposure for work by schools from Withywood, one of Bristol's most disadvantaged areas.
Online activity continues to expand through active networking and we expect online user numbers to overtake physical visitor numbers in the next couple of years as broadband gradually rolls out. Partnership spanning culture, commerce and community has been the key to developing our expertise in digital media and promoting access for, and to, independent voices. Watershed has become a hub for both physical and virtual networks. Creative ideas remain paramount, but risk-taking and the management of that risk has been at the heart of Watershed?s engagement with the challenge and opportunity of new technologies. We are constantly posing, and being asked, questions to which we do not have and, realistically, cannot expect an answer. We have entered a journey with uncertain outcomes, a journey which has opened up our programme and massively increased our active range of users and partners. I hope we can keep up with the pace of change.