The Vital North Partnership’s work will be continuing – there are lots of interesting projects coming up this autumn which my Newcastle University and Seven Stories colleagues will be working on. And there are lots of exciting plans in the pipeline. I’ll be keeping a close eye on developments!
For now, I’m signing off the Vital North Partnership blog and I imagine there will be a period of time when this blog won’t be updated. All of the posts on this blog will be backed up on the Children’s Literature in Newcastle blog, which is being actively maintained. Do have a look at their posts to keep up to date!
Air pollution has a particularly damaging effect on children. They’re still growing and breathe faster than adults do. They also live closer to the ground, where the most polluting gases from vehicles accumulate. Pollution from traffic has been linked to problems with brain development, stunted growth, respiratory conditions, cancers and 300,000 child deaths worldwide.
Children themselves are far from oblivious to all this. The school climate strikes show that young people are forcing air pollution and the climate crisis to the top of the political agenda. The strikes tell us that children demand a platform to challenge pollution in their environment. Unable to voice their concerns in school, they are forced to take radical action. What if instead there was a way to work with children in tackling air pollution and climate change?
Through my research, I look for ways that we can give children the tools, the skills and the confidence to affect change in the cities they live in. With the help of teachers and my colleagues in Open Lab, we’ve come up with Sense Explorers, a toolkit of activities and resources to involve young people in transforming places and the environment.
And this summer, I’ll be delivering four free Sense Explorers workshops with Seven Stories! As part of each workshop, we’ll be exploring spaces around the Ouseburn. Using some digital tools we’ll be collecting data about air pollution, and we’ll also be asking young people to think about what their own five senses are telling them. Can they see or hear what may be causing pollution?
Then looking at this data, we’ll be asking our Sense Explorers to think about what they would do to make the Ouseburn better. I can’t wait to see what ideas they come up with!
Here’s a video about our Sense Explorers workshops at Seven Stories:
Sessions like Sense Explorers help children to learn about the future, what it holds for them, and how they can make it better. We should be showing them what they can – and should – do to make their cities less polluted places.
Urban planners and politicians are often hesitant to work with children, but they shouldn’t be – we need to embrace their creativity and passion to take radical action on air pollution and climate change. More now than ever, we need the original ideas that only children can bring.
Thanks Sean, and to The Conversation for allowing us to republish this content. The four Sense Explorers workshops are now fully booked. We are considering adding some extra sessions so do book on our waiting list (available on the event booking page) and we will let you know if spaces become available.
How can cultural organisations collaboratively develop immersive digital experiences? And how can ideas about space and place in magical realism inform more creative approaches to designing augmented reality technologies?
Many organisations in the cultural sector recognise that expanding digital capacity is a priority, but they are limited by funding, time and staff expertise to support this. The #CultureIsDigital 2018 report advocates for design-orientated digital thinking ‘to unleash the creative potential of technology’ and collaborating with technology partners is often seen as a solution for a lack of in-house resources.
In late 2017, Google and Apple had released new augmented reality features that allowed much more complicated interactions with real space on mobile phones. We wanted to explore whether magical realism, a literary genre that plays with the boundaries between real and imaginary spaces, could inspire new creative approaches to these new technical developments.
Seven Stories had recently acquired David Almond’s literary archive. An award-winning author of children’s and young adult books, David’s work explores ambiguous and confusing crossovers between worlds; past and present, everyday and mythical. We used this as our starting point to explore how researchers, museum professionals, digital designers, children and young people could inform new kinds of spatial interactions for AR. We wanted to experiment with a sustainable and collaborative approach to digital R&D in the context of cultural organisations.
From June to December 2018, Tom and Kim worked with Diego Trujillo Pisanty, a researcher and media artist, and Seven Stories. We led six creative workshops, some as part of the 2018 Great Exhibition of the North programme, engaging around 80 participants. During the Great Exhibition, Seven Stories delivered an artistic trail around the Ouseburn Valley featuring new writing by David Almond, and a major exhibition, ‘Where Your Wings Were’ focusing on his archive.
In the workshops, we wanted to create open environments where people could explore experimental ideas. Each workshop had a separate focus, but aimed to explore creative analogies to immersive technology – ideas of other worlds, magic, the fantastic and interdimensional – to inform the design of the app, and enhance our understanding of the value of spaces and places within David Almond’s work.
From the creative ideas generated in the workshops, we designed and built a smartphone app, Magical Reality, which leads you on a trail to find AR objects around the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle. Research Associate Diego led the technical development and it’s now available on Android and iOS platforms. The app uses AR technology to embed digital artefacts, developed from archive materials held at Seven Stories. We used an experimental and collaborative design approach to see how the knowledge and imaginative ideas of the different parties involved in the project could inform the development.
Here’s a video of the app in action:
There were many interesting things we learnt from evaluating this project, which was supported by Research Associate Dr Gabi Arrigoni; not least that the stakeholders involved consider innovation very differently. For the research team, the creative process informing the app was seen as the most significant contribution to the field; Seven Stories valued new ways of engaging with their audiences and connecting archive material to places; whereas digital professionals were interested in digital innovation around the app’s use of AR.
As Vital North Partnership Manager, one of the things I found most fascinating was seeing different kinds of knowledge and experience being brought together through the four workshops I took part in, and the way in which the research team created open spaces for knowledge exchange. I also really valued the way that this project moved beyond transactional digital commissioning and towards more experimental and open-ended R&D within a museum setting, which mirrors some of the processes Seven Stories uses as we develop our programmes and exhibitions.
Since we finished our work on Children’s Magical Realism for New Spatial Interactions: AR and Archives in December, we’ve been busy! Firstly, Dr Tom Schofield and Professor Kim Reynolds have been busy working on academic outputs. Kim has given a paper on ‘Augmenting Almond’ at the University of Western Australia, and will be presenting this project in June in Berlin, and October at the University of Buckingham. Tom will be presenting a paper as part of Designing Interactive Systems 2019 in June in San Diego – as one of the most prestigious conferences for interaction design in the world, we’re very excited!
Secondly, Tom and Seven Stories were successful in a bid for AHRC Follow on Funding for an extension project, Embedding Magic: AR and Outreach. This will extend the work we began our original workshops by developing these into a programme that Seven Stories’ Creative Learning and Engagement team will be delivering with Research Associate Dr Miranda Iossifidis in the East End of Newcastle, empowering children and young people to connect with the places and spaces within their community. We’re also planning a short series of workshops for cultural and digital organisations to present this collaborative process in early summer. Watch this space!
Later that afternoon, join author and Lecturer in Creative Writing, Ann Coburn, for our creative writing workshop for adults, Undiscovered Land: Write Like David Almond. Start your own story incorporating elements of memory, history, magic and transformation. I can’t wait to see what our writers come up with!
On Sunday 18th November, come and take part in our Wavering Boundarieswalking tour, led by Dr Tom Schofield from Digital Cultures in Culture Lab. Magical realism, augmented reality and literary archives come together in this guided walk around the Ouseburn Valley, and you’ll be one of the very first to try out our Magical Reality app.
“My work explores the frontier between rationalism and superstition and the wavering boundary between the two.” David Almond
Seven Stories are also supporting Newcastle University’s final festival event, Songs from the Dam, with Kathryn Tickell, David Almond and Amy Thatcher. This special musical performance will present local songs and folk tales, and celebrates David Almond’s new book The Dam, beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold, which tells the story of the flooding of Kielder Water.
Children have fascinating insights into the places they live in, and Seven Stories are interested in how the families that visit them feel about their locality. Yet traditional approaches to urban planning are quite exclusive (and not massively creative) when it comes to consulting and involving children and young people. So what about new and alternative methods?
Today I’m exploring JigsAudio, a research project led by Alexander Wilson, a doctoral trainee in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Civics at Open Lab. Zander’s research interrogates the intersections between digital technology, design, human-computer interaction and town planning, with a focus on alternative tools and methods to participation.
From that initial conversation, Zander and his Digital Civics colleagues came up with JigsAudio. It combines drawing and colouring in jigsaw pieces, which the children and families visiting Seven Stories are familiar with, with something new: a device which allowed the children to record an audio message about their jigsaw piece. The pieces and their recordings are then combined to create a digital version of the jigsaw online.
JigsAudio’s first test was during the Big Draw in October 2016 and formed part of a range of drop in activities offered that weekend around Newcastle City Futures. Zander said, “A colourful puzzle came back with many varied visions of Newcastle and Gateshead. A five-hour barge trip along the Tyne and a colourful new bridge across the Tyne – painted in green, yellow, black, blue and purple – were just two of the ideas that emerged.”
Following that, Seven Stories also worked with Zander on a second JigsAudio activity for Summer 2017 around their Aliens Love Underpants exhibition, asking children to design and talk about alien planets and reflect on what they value about their own. For Zander: “I’m amazed at the effort the children put into their alien’s planet. It’s really interesting to see that they have such a strong sense of what is important to where they live. As well as a few aliens, we got something that’s really valuable and will hopefully lead to children getting more of a say in how places change. We’ve been underplaying their ability to understand some of the issues planning is facing and hearing their ideas has been an eye-opening exercise. It’s been a fantastic project.”
So what were Zander’s research findings? He found:
“That drawing and talking was effective at getting people to communicate complicated and elaborate visions that might not be easily communicated through a single media.”
“The initial low-tech appearance of the activity encouraged engagement with JigsAudio”. This was particularly important for Seven Stories’ youngest visitors, and they loved the tactile nature of the jigsaw itself. I noticed that the children really enjoyed adding their piece into the constellation of planets, for example!
“Participants were interested in how the JigsAudio device worked and wanted to take part in the activity.” This was backed up by Seven Stories Santander University Intern, Emma, who facilitated the Aliens Love Underpants JigsAudio activity: “You have to watch [the device] quite a lot because… it was quite an interesting thing for the kids; they were picking it up!”
For Seven Stories, using JigsAudio was an interesting way of finding out what their youngest visitors see and think about the place that they live in, and their visions of alternative spaces.
And for Zander, “I’m thinking about how we can use drawing and talking with other topics, and how we might put together a toolkit for children to make their own devices. If you’re interested in having a go with the device, or if you have your own project you’d like to use JigsAudio in, please do get in touch!”
Thanks to Zander for his help with this post! To find out more about JigsAudio, visit: http://jigsaudio.com/
Seven Stories believe that stories help children to understand the world around them, and that every child regardless of age, gender, background and ability should have the opportunity to enjoy this experience.
With this in mind and with the promise of 50% match funding from the Community Foundation Tyne and Wear, they decided to try crowdfunding for the first time to secure additional funding from their supporters and the public. Seven Stories will be using the money raised to fund a range of accessible events and experiences designed specifically for children with sensory and additional needs.
Launching the Life-changing Stories campaign, Kate Edwards, Seven Stories’ Chief Executive, said: “Our ambition is for Seven Stories to be a hub for parents and carers of children with disabilities to socialise, play and learn more about how to enrich their children’s lives through the wonderful world of children’s books.”
This campaign video was filmed and edited by PhD student Evripidis Karydis (or Evris, for short!), who produced two 4 minute trailer videos to support the communications. Evris is undertaking an NCL Internship through Newcastle University’s Careers Service. NCL Internships are open to all current Newcastle University students, and offer a placement of up to 100 hours during University terms and a student bursary of £750, made up of contributions from the business and the University.
Marketing and Communications Manager Victoria Sanderson, said of Evris’ work on the crowdfunding campaign: “Evris’ performance throughout the project was exceptional; he offered expert guidance when it was required, identified any risks prior to filming which increased efficiency, met deadlines, used his initiative when editing the videos and was accommodating with amends, even when they arrived after signing-off. Overall, Evris was professional and a delight to work with.”
This built on Evris’ previous internship with Seven Stories in the 2016/17 academic year, where he filmed Seven Stories’ Living Books project in early years settings, working with the Creative Learning and Engagement Team.
For Evris, “having already completed a NCL internship with Seven Stories during the 2016/17 academic year it was not difficult for me to decide to work with the foundation once again. The people at Seven Stories are true professionals and really helped me to produce high quality videos for their causes. Furthermore, the reason behind the crowdfunding campaign was another motivation for me to say yes and work once more with Seven Stories and I am pleased that my videos contributed in order to achieve the goal of raising £7000.”
“Being an aspiring filmmaker myself working through my internship I have managed again to practice my filmmaking craft and helped me develop my communication skills.”
“The highlight for me during my placement was when I got the chance to film a family for the crowdfunding campaign video as it gave me a good insight of the people who were going to be benefited by the campaign.”
“I truly believe that the work being done at Seven Stories is really important as it is making a massive difference in children’s lives and their families and I would really like to work with them again in the future.”
Take a look at Evris’ second video from the Life-changing Stories campaign:
And the results? Well, Seven Stories hit over 75% of their funding target in the first day of the crowdfunding campaign, which is amazing news! Thank you to Evris for helping to make this campaign such a success. But they still need a few more donations to hit their £7000 target before 2nd April 2018 – can you help Seven Stories to ensure that every child is part of their story?
The seminar was suggested by Sage Gateshead’sDave Camlin. It gave us the chance to reflect on our time working together on Northern Bridge so far, and “to explore some of the tensions and opportunities inherent in collaborative approaches to the generation of new knowledge.”
Of course, there are tensions; when you bring together any group of academic institutions, or cultural organisations, there is competition – for students, for audiences, for funding. And although learning is at the heart of what both universities and cultural venues do, the processes through which we generate knowledge are quite different. We speak different languages. We have different drivers. Working in collaboration requires negotiating all of these factors.
Another tension which formed a focus of conversation during the day was the inequality of engagement with the arts. The Warwick Commission’s Enriching Britain, Culture, Creative and Growth Report states that “the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment of all”. How to reach those beyond that 8% is certainly a challenge.
But democratising culture and knowledge is becoming increasingly important in both the higher education and cultural sectors. The Research Excellence Framework emphasises the impact of research ‘beyond academia’; Arts Council England encourages the organisations they fund to reach more demographically diverse audiences.
From my experience of working on the Vital North Partnership between Newcastle University and Seven Stories, collaboration holds exciting opportunities. Partnership helps to make our activities more interesting and diverse. At the intersections between universities, cultural organisations and communities, we can draw on our collective expertise to create new kinds of shared knowledge. And with increasing pressure on arts budgets, we can pool our resources and become more efficient.
I explored the Vital North Partnership’s unique ecology at the seminar, giving a Pecha Kucha presentation:
It was also interesting to reflect on what role Northern Bridge, as a Doctoral Training Partnership, has as part of our shared ecology. I think the ways in which universities and arts organisations collaborate is changing. We are asking different questions, and having new conversations. I work at this boundary – and I’m interested to see where we’re headed next.
The MA in Creative Arts Practice programme director, Dr Tom Schofield, suggested the collaboration as part of an existing module around Enterprise and Research Methods. Dr Schofield said: “In our programme, we think about professional practice in terms of the way that our work makes sense in public. What does it mean to work with others? What do you need to make your work work in this environment?” This fitted with Seven Stories’ commitment to supporting emerging arts professionals, and presenting art and engaging audiences are core activities for the organisation.
Following a successful application for Teaching Development Funding from the University, module leaders Dr Schofield, Tim Shaw and Professor John Bowers, the Seven Stories team and I discussed a programme of activities that would lead to the MA in Creative Arts Practice students presenting a new artwork for The Late Shows 2017, when Seven Stories offers free entry late into the evening and attracts a large and diverse audience. The starting point was collaborating to come up with a suitable commission brief for the students to respond to.
In March, the MA in Creative Arts Practice students came on a site visit to Seven Stories, where Seven Stories’ staff explained the commission brief, talked about our experience of The Late Shows, and the students had the opportunity to explore the different spaces at Seven Stories. They even took part in a story time!
The students had around a month to respond to the brief with a costed artistic proposal. All the proposals submitted showed creativity, and the students had clearly thought about Seven Stories as an organisation, and what might be suitable for our spaces and audiences.
Seven Stories chose to commission two of the students, Lewis Brown and Mike Hirst, to deliver new works. We worked closely with the students as they planned their Late Shows activity over the weeks leading up to Friday 19th May, so that all of the partners were fully prepared.
Lewis curated a series of pop-up musical and poetry performances around Seven Stories, which responded to the building’s spaces and themes. Lewis said: “With Seven Stories’ support, I was able to facilitate a diverse programme of local performers popping up throughout the venue for guests to discover. Working with Seven Stories has been a pleasure and a great opportunity to apply my creative practice on a larger scale than I ever had previously!”
Dr Schofield observed that “audiences formed naturally around the events and they gelled nicely with the spaces… the performers referenced parts of the exhibition around them, using props and standing in different places, which contributed significantly to the integrated feel of the performances.” From Seven Stories’ perspective, Lewis’ programme really brought the bookshop, café and galleries to life. Operations Manager Jayne Nicholson said: “It was all very well planned – the whole building was buzzing!”
Mike presented an interactive artwork in Seven Stories’ Studio space, inspired by early children’s books. Over the course of the evening, he pulled together social media posts about Seven Stories and The Late Shows to create new chapbooks, which he printed and constructed with visitors. For Mike, taking part in The Late Shows “allowed me to fuse contemporary experience with archive content to create new and exciting possibilities.”
Mike’s artwork was complemented by a display of historic chapbooks from Seven Stories’ Collection, led by Collections Officer, Paula Wride. Paula said: “Having the old and new chapbooks together really worked well – and it was the first time we’ve really explored chapbooks at Seven Stories.” Dr Schofield echoes that sentiment: “Mike’s work felt like a very natural complement to the Studio activities. The work took on a recursive aspect as people started to tweet pictures and descriptions of the chapbooks themselves which were then reincluded!”
From the perspective of the MA in Creative Arts Practice, this filled the programme’s objectives by encouraging the students to respond to the challenges of a space and event format. Dr Schofield said: “I thought they stage managed the evening extremely competently and really added to the event at Seven Stories. It was a great success.”
Over 800 people visited over the course of the evening and Seven Stories were very happy with how the event went. Chief Executive Kate Edwards said: “What a fab time we had at The Late Shows! Loads of happy visitors, a great atmosphere and something going on everywhere you looked. The MA in Creative Arts Practice students were great!”
Pecha Kuchas are short, visual presentations. As you talk, you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. Your slides change automatically. And they’re more than a little tricky to deliver…
The Vital North Partnership (+ 19 other ways Newcastle University and Seven Stories are collaborating) is exactly what the title suggests: a presentation about 20 current Partnership projects. And what are those projects? Well, watch the video and find out!
With thanks to Jeff Wilson from the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, who produced this video.
This digital age of ours poses a challenge to both museums and higher education. How can museums present physical collections digitally? And how can academic research into these collections engage the Google Cardboard generation?
The result? The Catherine Storr Experience explores the unsettling novel of Storr’s Marianne Dreams (1958), and the house that Marianne draws. Using the context of Marianne’s room, the augmented reality experience introduces a number of Storr’s books and illustrators, as well as some aspects of her life. The experience allows you to explore different objects, characters and settings by moving your smartphone or cursor.
It uses the very latest in WebVR technology. I haven’t seen anything like this yet in digital collections, so I asked Dan about the technological innovation:
“This is new and experimental technology, which is on the edge of a breakthrough into the mainstream. It has the ability to take information that has traditionally been displayed in a flat, 2D way and literally add another dimension to it!
Websites have the great advantage of allowing the viewer to navigate the information at their own pace. Video and TV captivate and engage the viewer. This sort of experience combines the best of both; I like to think of it as a guided tour with the ability for you to ‘ask’ questions along the way.”
From Seven Stories’ perspective, Kris commented that this partnership had brought a new dimension to their digital collections:
“It was interesting to see how a group of talented people from outside the museums and heritage sector were able to respond to the challenge of representing an archive in a new way; Kim was able to bring her expertise to write the content, and Dan and Tom were able to envision a unique platform to present it. It will be intriguing to see what people make of The Catherine Storr Experience and the additional content on our website.”
And I’ll leave it to Kim to have the final word:
“Working with colleagues in Culture Lab and Seven Stories made it possible to experiment with new ways of presenting archival mterial and reaching out to audiences all over the world. It required new ways of writing, and Dan and Tom approached the task in adventurous ways that re-engaged me with the material. It was an exciting and challenging – in the best possible ways – collaboration.”