Experimental innovation across arts and technology

The programmes being piloted by MadLab, Makerversity and NearNow are aiming to test an approach to the development and support of innovation across arts and technology. They are different takes on an ‘innovation-intensification’ process – providing space to develop and test new products and services, and guiding innovators towards a sustainable business model – including the potential for ongoing investment.

Arts and Tech ‘lab’

In many ways, what the Arts Council England and Innovate UK Arts and Tech programme is promoting are versions of already-existing programmes. Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol has been creating an environment for arts and tech innovation over a decade or more; while Fusebox 24 in Brighton is a more recent example of a programme dedicated to hot-housing arts and tech innovation, building on the ‘Fusion’ concept.

The aim of the Arts and Tech programme is not to replicate what’s already happening, but to create a ‘lab’ environment, within which different interventions can be tested and measured – with a view to both of the main funding partners developing a longer-term programme of support for creative innovation.


Research to support the development of the Arts and Technology programme – led by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) – set out to investigate the complex relationship between content innovation and technology R&D, aiming to take forward some of what had been highlighted in Innovate UK’s Creative Industries strategy which recognised that “innovation in the creative industries is driven by an intricate relationship between content and technology; the collaboration between artist and scientist…..”

Consultative workshops were held by the KTN in collaboration with creative partners around the country, and discussions took place with a broad range of artists and creatives, techies and tech companies.

Dynamic interaction between art and science

This research suggested that there is not an ‘overlap’ or ‘convergence’ of arts and technology so much as a dynamic interaction between quite different disciplines and perspectives – and those interactions between innovators from the arts and sciences were not just taking place in the creative industries.


Collaborations and interactions are happening across sectors and with emerging technologies, testing novel and innovative ideas and experimenting in pre-commercial settings. People, projects, businesses leapfrog across a dense eco-system of cross-disciplinary collaboration – in areas such as: connected products and devices (for example in the Internet of Things or Augmented Reality), new approaches to story-telling (in cross-platform production or in games), or ways of embedding technology (in wearables, or to assist visual effects).

Hybrid innovators

A new creature is emerging – a hybrid innovator, fusing arts and tech skillsets – coding and creating as part of the same practice of developing and testing novel ideas and products, involving sometimes very early stage experimentation.

Companies such as Holition, for example, experimenting with augmented reality in the retail sector; or The Unseen, mixing biological and chemical matter into fashion items; or Chomko and Rosier, the team behind Playable City’s Shadowing project, blending arts practice with emerging technologies to challenge our concept of the ‘smart city’.

Often driven by individuals operating outside of traditional silos and working with new business models, these are the innovators ACE and Innovate UK were keen to support. Unlike NESTA’s Digital R&D Fund which, in partnership with ACE and the AHRC, has supported arts organisations in their use of technology – to help reach new audiences or to establish new business models – the Arts and Tech programme aims to foster new types of creative practice.

Innovation intensification

The partners being supported through the ACE-Innovate UK Arts and Technology pilot are all testing different models aimed at deepening and intensifying this creative innovation process.

Our aim is to build a better understanding of how people and businesses are innovating across arts and technology, and what support they might require to strengthen that practice. An Evaluation tool has been developed which draws on learning from other sectors (some reference is made to this process here) and which aims to determine what interventions, in what contexts, can be developed and implemented to help support the development of technical, commercial or creative innovation and to build sustainable businesses. And, in so doing, to generate learning and ideas about how best to nurture and support the skills and capabilities of the innovators themselves.