The Leeds Creative Labs programme has funded collaborations between university academics and creative technologists. Sue Hayton reports.

Image of post-its from collaboration session
Notes from a Pararchive session

Many researchers at the University of Leeds have been working successfully with cultural and creative partners, but the introduction of research impact into the Research Excellence Framework, the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK universities, has been an additional driver. As is the Witty review, which outlines the responsibility of higher education institutions to contribute towards regional growth. This has opened doors for arts, cultural and creative organisations to work with academic researchers.

Cultural & Creative Industries (CCI) Exchange is the sector hub for the Faculties of Arts and Performance, Visual Arts and Communications at the University of Leeds. With support from Higher Education Innovation Funding, we have distributed about £120,000 over the past two years for researcher-led collaborative projects with artists, heritage professionals, third and public-sector organisations and public bodies.

From a small investment came high impact with three out of the four collaborations still active six months on

Through a match-making process in partnership with Caper Ltd, we ran Leeds Creative Labs, bringing together academics and technologists over three days to find new and innovative ways to showcase and amplify academic research. We wanted to work with partners in genuine co-production, to increase understanding of how technology can impact research, spark new collaborations, create new digital prototypes and explore new ways for research to be disseminated. Each of the technology partners received a grant of £1,000, working relationships were facilitated and were followed up with further support as needed.

The projects included:

  • Dr Kevin MacNish and digital artist Ben Eaton exploring the ethics of contemporary warfare using game platforms.
  • Dr Vlad Strukov and digital artist Dave Lynch exploring the nature of data by projecting it on to clouds.
  • Professor Martin Thomas, Dr Bognan Babych and Dr Drogan Ciabanu and the Bloom Agency working to improve collaborative translations.
  • Dr Simon Popple with Imran Ali, Tom Morgan and Dean Vipond collaborating around storytelling tools for large media archives.

The results exceeded expectations. A small investment produced high impact, with three out of the four collaborations still active six months on. There was positive feedback from all partners. Academics found the programme inspiring and generated material which enhanced their research, directly resulting in publications and conference presentations. Collaboration with partners provided a new perspective and the opportunity to generalise problems, and see the broader applicability of potential solutions. The businesses involved found the collaboration with academics valuable. They said it had an impact on the way they will approach future processes by providing them with an opportunity to review and readjust their approach to research, development and innovation.

One of the successes is the Pararchive collaboration between digital technology experts and Dr Simon Popple, Senior Lecturer in Cinema. The project looked into developing intuitive software that will allow users to create their own stories from personal and archive material. Simon has recently received a grant of £477,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to further his research with the team, and to work with community partners, the BBC and Science Museum Group to fully develop the Pararchive software. The project also includes a facility for local SMEs to tender for £140,000 worth of new business.

We have provided a model which can be scaled up for innovation work with SMEs and micro-businesses. It also forms one of the strands of the university’s SME engagement programme.

The second Leeds Creative Labs programme will be launched later this year.

Sue Hayton is Business Development Manager, Cultural & Creative Industries Exchange at the University of Leeds.

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