The potential of immersive in the arts and cultural sector

 17 April 2019

New emerging technologies will transform entertainment, employment and skills needs in the future. We offered NSA leadership colleges the chance to find out more at an interactive event in PROTO Gateshead, in March 2019. Melanie Shee, Partnership Manager for the North East, writes about what happened on the day.

Attendees had the chance to try out the technologies and consider how they could be used in their colleges
Attendees had the chance to try out the technologies and consider how they could be used in their colleges

It is now widely acknowledged that new emerging technologies will transform entertainment, employment and skills needs in the future. As the UK Government's #CultureisDigital policy paper says "The UK’s future will be built at the nexus of our artistic and cultural creativity and our technical brilliance."

Digital advances now demand new skills for creation and production, new technical skills, and the capability to invent new business models. Teaching staff in further and higher education will need to keep up-to-date with these developments so that learners can understand the skills which will be required of them in the workplace.

We need to ensure that the UK’s creative workforce has world-leading skills in the use of virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies. Responding to these changes the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural (NSA) welcomed Leadership Colleges from across the UK to PROTO, to Gateshead in March 2019.

We need to ensure that the UK’s creative workforce has world-leading skills in the use of virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies.

There we hosted a Continuing Personal Development (CPD) event looking at ‘The application and potential of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) in the arts and cultural sector and how it can be applied in further and higher education’.  

The event was intended to allow colleges to explore the use of emerging tech in their institutions and to hear from those in the arts and cultural sector about how they have applied VR/AR/MR in their work. It was a chance to consider if there is potential demand which could inform future curriculum development and feed into the talent pipeline. 

For the arts and cultural organisations and businesses it was an opportunity to share innovative work in the sector to a new audience, make new contacts and explore future joint working.

Industry insight

The session began with Jenny Lang, Innovation Manager for Digital Catapult North East & Tees Valley and Rob Currie, Digital Skills and Technology Specialist from Sunderland Software City. They provided an overview of the work of Digital Catapult nationally and in the North East and offered a detailed definition of what the terms VR, AR, MR, XR and Haptics actually means:   

  • Virtual Reality (VR): Closed and fully immersive, allowing users to be put into virtual worlds.
  • Augmented Reality (AR): Open and partially immersive, allowing virtual assets to enter the real world.
  • Mixed Reality (MR): Open and partially immersive, allowing virtual assets to enter the real world and interact with the real world and real-world objects.
  • Cross Reality (XR): An umbrella term for all types of reality capability.
  • Haptics: Applying touch (tactile) sensation and control to interaction with computer applications.

They then moved onto looking at how the digital experiences are transforming how audiences engage with culture and are driving new forms of cultural participation and practice.

Digital experiences are transforming how audiences engage with culture and are driving new forms of cultural participation and practice.

Speakers from several arts and cultural organisations and businesses working in this area locally, nationally and internationally then shared with us their insights and experience of working in immersive tech.

One such artist, Adam Godwin of the Occasion Collective, presented a film of his work and talked about his interactive exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery. It was developed in partnership with The NewBridge Project and experimented with notions of reality and the natural and artificial worlds, bringing together art and technology.

The interactive installation of sound, image, object and digital experience entitled ‘The Bottomless Pit of Outros’ was complemented with a virtual reality rendering of the Laing’s grand Edwardian gallery suites. Works from his collection were reimagined in an ever-changing virtual display.

Using immersive tech to create more inclusivity

Jonathan Suffolk, Technical Director from the National Theatre gave an inspiring presentation on how innovative development around screen capture glasses allows audiences with hearing impairment to read subtitles of its live performances.

Developed in partnership with Epson and Accenture, Open Access Smart Capture allows hearing-impaired people to attend any National Theatre performance they like, sit in any seat they wish and keep their focus more on the on-stage performance, thus making their performances more inclusive than ever.

Open Access Smart Capture allows hearing-impaired people to attend any National Theatre performance they like, sit in any seat they wish and keep their focus more on the on-stage performance

Northumberland National Parks Digital Officer, Andrew Mitchell and his colleague, Ed Hudspeth, shared with us their exciting work on Digital Landscapes. Working with Digital Catapult, who supported them in finding partners to work with, they developed an immersive experience for its audience and future potential audiences.

The film captured eight different areas of the National Park; from waterfalls to hay meadows, and created an experience that enabled more people to reach difficult to access areas of the Park. The firm created a bespoke menu system immersing the user in the Digital Landscape exhibit, with each of the different experiences selected by gaze without hand controls.

Take a look at this video to see what was created. 

Lessons in engagement

Carolyn Ball, Discovery Museum and Archives Manager of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums and Shaun Allen, Chief XR Officer, from Hedgehog Lab shared with us their insight into using a mixture of VR and AR to recreate a fully immersive and memorable experience of the original Rocket.

They shared the lessons they learnt along the way when delivering an VR project in a museum. For instance, they found that as two and half minutes was the ideal length of a VR experience opposed to the five minutes they had originally developed.

Dave Black of Pitch Black Productions, spoke about his work using the latest 'reality changing' technologies to develop an understanding of the human senses and provide audiences with highly immersive, engaging and emotive experiences.  

He shared with the group some of the recent projects he had been involved in and discussed how applying various innovate technologies and techniques has been able to increase the belief and feeling of presence in virtual environments.

The session ended with Gateshead College, an NSA Leadership College, sharing their experience of their feasibility study which explored the creation of an incubation studio as a transitional stage for students progressing into the creative tech industries, and the positive impacts it has had to date.

Students will take on commissions from companies to give them valuable experience of finding solutions to real-life digital industry challenges

Funded by the Education and Training Foundation and managed by the Association of Colleges, the project will also seek to provide meaningful work placements for young people, including those with autism, who have traditionally found it difficult to secure placements in local digital firms. Students will take on commissions from companies to give them valuable experience of finding solutions to real-life digital industry challenges, as well as gaining key employability skills, such as how to work effectively as part of a team.

After the sessions from industry and education, there was an opportunity for delegates to get hands-on in at Digital Catapult's NETV Immersive Lab. They heard about the ins and outs of the kit available in this area and future developments in this area.

Evaluation

Evaluation and feedback of the event was very positive from both the colleges and the organisations involved.

One of, if not THE, best CPD events I have attended.

Alex Henderson from New Gen Creative, a successful start-up and former Gateshead College student, commented on LinkedIn

“Thank you for inviting me to share the amazing things we are doing at NewGen Creative LTD to bridge the gap between education and industry and to talk a little bit about my thoughts on Education 4.0 at the Creative & Cultural Skills Event at PROTO! Had a really valuable time and started some great conversations over the future of XR!”

Colin Seabook, Head of Construction & Building Services Engineering, Havering College, said

“One of, if not THE, best CPD events I have attended. I took a lot away from this and will be using it in my new Hub. The staff were accommodating, the communication before the event was excellent, the speakers/presenters were professional and obviously very much into their fields.  All in all an outstanding event and I would highly recommend anyone from any vocational area to take a visit if they can." 

Find out more about what the NSA can offer members. 


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