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Supercritical Mass – International Residencies and innovation in the arts

5 Aug

Following our own positive experiences of residencies at the end of 2011 we started experimenting with a view to developing a Curated Place residency programme for artists wanting to work in the UK. Developing relationships with both venue and creative partners in Manchester we sought to introduce international talents to the North of England to both contribute to and learn from the strong arts sector here.

The Supercritical Mass projects of Australian artists Luke Jaaniste and Julian Day was a real highlight. Developed over two residency periods we initially hosted SuperCritical Mass for a mini-residency in November 2011. Working closely with the music department at the University of Salford and with the artists communities in Islington Mill we delivered a masterclass and artists talk to students before devising and delivering two performances in the University and in the nearby Peel Park.

This short 5 day residency was inspired by innovation development models of quick hit, low cost, managed risk projects and intended as a proof of concept performance. We very deliberately developed the format to develop the profile of the project for participants and funders alike. It worked.

Creating high quality documentation of the pilot which we could distribute widely and being able to very clearly state how we would scale the project up we received significant funding from Sound and Music to develop the second phase of the residency programme – hosting the artists for two weeks as part of the FutureEverything festival 2012 to deliver one of the most ambitious Supercritical Mass projects to date – a vocal performance at Manchester Cathedral.

A huge success for artists, participants and audiences alike we were able to learn a lot about how high-quality residency programmes can be delivered in the UK and we’re now in a position to expand our own residency programme to become a more formal international artist exchange – but with a twist. Rather than simply inviting artists to work in a creative vacuum we’ll be insisting that visiting artists work in collaboration with local participants who will then make a reciprocal residency visit to our international partners to develop the projects on an international platform.

Tomorrow we’ll be formally launching the new Curated Place site which will outline the programme and how it will work. If you’re a mid-career artist, with experience of exhibitions and commissions in the UK and interested in participating sign up to our Facebook and Twitter feeds for the latest and for ways to apply when we launch.


British Council Cultural Leadership International Programme – building international links and inspiring a new Curated Place residency programme

2 Aug

In October 2011 I was lucky enough to be taken to Istanbul by the British Council as part of their CLI programme.  From over 180 applications seven of us from the UK were taken to Turkey with the aim “to engage the new generation of cultural leaders around the world in the discussion and development of common strategies to tackle global cultural issues”.

The seven of us taken from the UK were Haidee Bell, Innovation Programmes Manager, Creative Economy, NESTADaniel Gorman, Director, Firefly InternationalRohan Gunatillake, Lead Producer, Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab, (now Sync) ; Karena Johnson, CEO/Artistic Director, The BroadwayLaura McDermott, Joint Artistic Director, Fierce FestivalElhum Shakerifar,  Creative Producer, Postcode Films; and me

The programme revolved around two key areas: management and leadership development. On the one hand the programme focussed on developing core cultural management skills of participants, through quite traditional seminars and workshops. However, where most people found most benefit was through the chance to get to know their peers – all emerging cultural leaders looking to develop their international exposure and experience.

Alongside my participation in the programme Curated Place also sent out a documentation crew to capture the ideas behind the events.  Again we sought not simply to capture digital footage that was relevant only to people around the immediate time of the events but to interrogate the experience and knowledge of those involved in the programme – both presenters and the remarkable CLI participants.

By filming more intimate discussions with interviewees, instead of simply capturing raw footage of scripted conference presentations, we wanted to get a personal insight into the professional worlds of those in and around the CLI programme – creating a resource that would give longer term insight into what connections could be made from the programme across international arts communities rather than just those within the room.  By ensuring these videos and that knowledge was available to anyone with an internet connection we aimed to dramatically increase the impact of the programme and the longevity of the investment made over the week of the programme.

Later this year as part of the programme I’ll be travelling to the middle east to establish new reciprocal residency programmes for UK artists and curators to develop collaborative projects with local artists at a similar point in their career – seeking to extend their creative horizons out of the regional and national to an international programme.  All of it building on the insight and relationships started by CLI in Istanbul.  More on this next week…but if you’re desperate to know follow us on Facebook and Twitter to hear the latest.

Timber Wave by Amanda Levete

2 Oct



“Inaugurated some days ago to London, this fleeting structure of drinks and of metal decorates l’entrée principal of the Victoria & Albert Museum.”

Stunning new public artwork conceived by l’architecte Amanda Levete in collaboration with the engineers d’ARUP

via Timber Wave by Amanda Levete | Muuuz – Webzine Architecture & Design.

Building digital capacity for the arts – ACE videos now available

8 Jul

Ooh… hasn’t it been quiet around here? Too much work on to put time aside to write about it recently. Will get back up to speed soon hopefully.

Anyway, the Arts Council have just released the second round of their Building Digital Capacity for the Arts seminar videos.

Full playlist on the Building digital capacity for the arts mini-site.

Videogame Nation exhibition hits the road

4 Feb

Videogame Nation lives!

Full marks to Pollyanna Clayton-Stamm ex of Urbis and co-curator David Crookes for keeping some of the work done there alive by successfully getting the Videogame Nation show on the road.

The exhibition has been retooled, reframed and rebuilt for the North East and opens on the 12th February until the 5th September at the Woodhorn Museum close to the fabulously named town of Newbiggin-by-the Sea in Northumbria.

If you’re in the area tickets are a snip at £2.95-£3.50.

Happy Birthday Mr Engels!

29 Nov

Happy Birthday Mr Engels

Friedrich Engels celebrated his 190th birthday yesterday, not bad for a man whose work in philosophy and political theory continues to be widely read and highly influential today.

Manchester served as inspiration for some of Engel’s writings on child labour, unsanitary conditions and working class life in the 19th century.  So, almost two centuries on, tonight the Urbis Research Forum will examine how the city is reflected in Engel’s work and how his Mancunian insights continue to be relevant in the 21st century.

This month’s contributors are: Dr. Leif Jerram (History, University of Manchester), Steve Hanson (Cultural Studies, Hereford College of Arts) and Mark Rainey (Urbis Research Forum).

Time: Monday, 29 November, 6.00 pm

Place: D07, Renold Building, off Sackville Street, Manchester

Free, No Booking Required.

That’s all folks! Urbis has (finally) left the building

30 Sep

Urbis.  Image © Julia Delvaux
Today effectively sees the end of Urbis in Manchester as the final members of the team that turned the building into a vibrant centre exploring the best in pop-culture make an exit from the giant greenhouse for the last time.

Since it opened in 2002 the building has seen its fair share of ups and downs however, while the original manifestation as “The Museum of City Life” fell foul to the burden of expectation that sank many a millennium project, the team that took the helm over the last six years made a significant impact on the cultural landscape.

Transforming the building from a static museum experience into a dynamic, democratic and convention defying space saw a team develop that deftly negotiated the fine lines between museum, gallery, community centre and educational establishment. While exhibitions covered everything from hidden spaces to hip hop, club culture to civil rights (developing a distinctive aesthetic in the process) a team of dedicated hosts ran one of the most wide ranging programmes of events and tours (now widely imitated) and the education and community programme established a new high-watermark for community engagement thanks to the ground-breaking RECLAIM programme. Even the front of house team defied gallery convention by being consistently attentive, friendly and genuinely interested in the exhibitions and events that they dutifully patrolled day in day out.

Urbis exhibition posters

It is sad to see the last vestiges of the organisation making final bows, however the talented, energetic and ambitious people that gave the organisation its heart and soul are going on to create new spaces and experiences building on their time spent in an environment that embraced risk-taking and experimentation.

Essentially Urbis became a crucible for a broad section of young creative Manchester that has allowed the RECLAIM project to take flight on its own; established the Urbis Research Forum as part of the University of Manchester (the latest instalment of which will be available here as a podcast soon); seen team members move on to the Whitworth, Manchester Art Gallery and Cornerhouse; and, of course, had a part to play in the launch of Curated Place.

So with a heavy heart it is finally time to say good-bye to Urbis and a time to start building the new creative places to play.

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