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Celebrating the Fusion: Creative Fuse North East Cultural Sector Showcase

The Cultural Sector Showcase was an exciting ‘carousel’ of lively presentations that demonstrated how innovation and business support have been thriving through Creative Fuse and its collaboration across the five North East universities. The event on 27th September – hosted by the Fuse Cultural Sector Engagement Programme delivery partner, Tyneside Cinema – spread a certain vibrancy as a result of the positive atmosphere which has been generated from the inspiring people who attended the celebration of fused experiences.

The Tyneside cinema provided Creative Fuse with an inclusive and cultural venue, the Electra cinema and Gallery were the ideal stage to bring together researchers, freelancers from the cultural sector, micro-businesses, SMEs, charity organisations and anyone who was interested in discovering Creative Fuse reality.  This showcase showed the impact of Creative Fuse on the Cultural sector and proved that a fused approach can lead to a range of benefits and unexpected results.

Before the presentation of opportunities and success stories, the Chief Executive of Tyneside Cinema, Holli Keeble, welcomed all the participants and outlined the role of Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues and Tyneside Cinema in enabling the cultural sector to get involved with Creative Fuse.  Declan Baharini, Broker for the Creative Fuse NE Cultural Sector Engagement Programme, hosted the afternoon session and gave an overview of how the cultural sector had embraced the opportunities available through Creative Fuse and the range of ways SMEs and freelancers had been working with the universities and Creative, Digital and IT sectors as part of the programme.

Eric Cross – principal investigator of Creative Fuse – gave an overview of the project aims, giving an insight on how this ambitious project has been a ground-breaking initiative and catalysis for innovation.

An illuminating series of presentations kept a thrilling rhythm throughout the first part of the event in the Electra cinema. Looking at how exciting innovation concepts emerged and developed, important reflections derived from listening to panel participants’ experiences about engagement and support they received from Creative Fuse activities and projects. Whilst the event showcased concrete impacts, it also became an opportunity to learn about one another’s work, representing a point of contact for both individuals and institutions.

What’s more, the Cultural Sector showcase was also an opportunity for academics and researchers to meet people who involved in different aspects of the project: testament to what can be achieved through connecting creativity. In fact, the successful outcomes of the Innovation pilot projects revealed that this collaboration enabled creative businesses to explore new possibilities.

Declan Baharini said that as the Broker for the cultural sector, described her own experience as “challenging, interesting and rewarding”, outlining that “From the Tweed to the Tees, the cultural sector responded enthusiastically to the range of Fuse opportunities on offer – it felt like we opened a crack and the cultural sector rushed in.”

The four panel sessions ran through the wide range of initiatives that helped freelancers, micro-businesses, not-for-profit, small and large organisations develop their own practice, businesses, products and services. This demonstrated an explosion of creativity that spread a positive atmosphere throughout the attendees.

Here’s what happened on #FuseCulture – the live-tweeted reflections and impression of the Creative Fuse community

Building a ‘fused’ legacy

The first panel was led by Mariann Hardey (Durham University) and Sharon Paterson (Teesside University), exploring how strategic initiatives have introduced new technologies and digital capacity producing long term benefit for the cultural sector. Activities that will provide a lasting legacy for the region’s cultural and heritage sector generated important results into the world of literature and publishing – an intriguing insight was brought from Clair Malcolm of New Writing North which led the Digital Literature programme delivering training opportunities and events aimed to build digital skills, knowledge and opportunities for writers in the North East.

Neil Smith, Enterprise Fellow at Northumbria University, wowed the audience with a new digital platform Heritage Hunter Gatherer, involving and immersing users in history and heritage through community collaboration and delivering onsite experiences, including:  tales of the WWII POW camp at  Northumberland’s Seaton Delaval Hall; and untold histories and lost buildings at Durham’s North Gate Prison and Newcastle’s Quayside. The project is being delivered in partnership with Northumbria University and Durham University.

Finally Boguslaw Obara, Associate Professor in Computer Science from Durham University, intrigued everyone with his explanation of a system to protect and track artworks at an international level, involving Interpol.

Business innovation, developing new products and services

The second panel gave an overview on the development of new products and services, introducing the Hamletic question ‘What is innovation’? Here, a short video proved that individuals involved in business innovation handle it in different ways and gave very different interpretations. Vivid and illuminating examples were presented by Fiona Whitehurst from Creative Connections (Newcastle Business School) and Mark Bailey from Get Ready to Innovate (Northumbria University).

The experiences that participants shared revealed sources of inspiration that Creative Fuse was able to nurture and support. Within the Culture Hubs programme and Bespoke workshop from Durham University we heard the stories of Steve Wilson, whose company focuses on documentary filming with special interests in nature, music and science, while Kathleen James is artist and illustrator of ElfGift Stained Glass who runs bespoke craft workshops for beginners and sells her products in an online shop.

Within contracted programmes that provided support to small creative companies, Abigail Bennett was involved with Newcastle University and she shared her story on how she started making handcrafted baby and children’s clothing, while Mandy Barker outlined strategies and key elements to create effective design that are likely to transform businesses.

Growing organisational capacity and knowledge

In panel 3, Paul Richter and Ladan Cockshut interacted with representatives of cultural organisations who have benefitted from engagement and support, such as the Creative Connections business development strand at Newcastle University Business School and the Culture Hubs scheme at Durham University, which responded to the needs of the creative, arts and craft economy by bringing help close to home.

As well as this, those involved in the Creative Connections (graphic designer, Dave McClure, Velcrobelly) and Get Ready to Innovate (Jonny Tull, an audience strategy, film programming and distribution consultant)  talked about how business innovation support from University Fuse teams enabled them to explore organisational resilience and business development through design led planning.

Further insights stemmed from the Artistic Director at Monkfish Productions – Claire Murphy-Morgan – who explained how she has been driven by the determination to create a pool and space for artists in the North East of England that could contribute to develop a flourishing cross-contamination between different disciplines.

Lastly, Leanne Pearce – founder and creative director of Thought Foundation – shared how her involvement with Creative Fuse helped support her passion for encouraging and supporting creative practitioners to work in the North East. She showed how Thought Foundation, a “place where creative thought and play are nurtured” has benefitted from their engagement with Fuse.

Building relationships and breaking down barriers

Paying particular attention to growing organisational capacity, skills and knowledge of creative businesses and freelancers, other speakers demonstrated increased confidence in breaking down barriers and starting effective relationships. In fact, the last and fourth panel session gave space to a thrilling quiz show presented by Suzy O’Hara and Sam Murray featuring Annie Rigby (Artistic Director of Unfolding Theatre), Lyndsey Duncanson (Lead Artist with Noizechoir) and Rob Kitchen (Music Education Programme Leader at Sage Gateshead), which drew out how Fuse had helped all three in their practice.

Annie’s experience was of developing a new digital platform for sharing young people’s hopes about the future, Multiverse Arcade, which had run throughout the Great Exhibition of the North and is now going on tour. The digital and technical expertise brokered by Teesside and Sunderland University had made the development of this new cultural product a wonderful learning experience for Annie and Unfolding Theatre and produced a significant piece of work, with a legacy.

Rob talked about how being part of the Creative Fuse programme had enabled Sage Gateshead, one of the largest cultural organisations in the region, to be adaptable and fleet of foot, looking at how digital technologies could support their arts award work with children and young people, making this more fun and accessible.

Lyndsey conducted the audience in an experiment in the human voice, experimenting with sound and noise free of the traditional restraints of typical choral settings, language or musical notation. Two whiteboards became the space where Suzy and Sam stuck colourful letters; although letters’ consecutive combination didn’t generate any literal meaning, the audience started to read and repeat ‘A-T-Z-E-O-G-T or I-T-K-I-T-A-A’ producing a bizarre and interesting sound that united the participants in the Electra Cinema.

The final part of the session provided news of opportunities and what happens next with Creative Fuse NE.

Laura Partridge from NGI talked about the GX project, providing support to cultural and creative businesses as a legacy building on Great Exhibition of the North. This will involve workshops to help SMEs better understand and exploit emerging trends and digital developments, as well as the potential to develop projects with innovation partners to respond to challenges such as ageing, mobility and energy.  There will also be some business grants to develop new products and services.

Mark Adamson, Project Director of Creative Fuse NE concluded the formal talking about how Creative Fuse has demonstrated new ways of cross-sector working and collaboration, as well as resulting in real change for those involved, contributing to the region’s creative economy.  He and teams across the five universities in the North East, as well as external evaluators, are producing a range of materials to share the learning from the programme more widely and influence future policy and practice.  In addition, the programme has been extended to March 2019. This will allow the Creative Fuse team to continue to deliver events, such as CAKE (Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange) as well as promote and profile the outcomes from the Fuse Programme, whilst also working with regional and national partners to identify what other investment can be made in similar activities and approaches for the north east, to continue to grow the regional creative economy.

The event culminated in a few hours of lively networking in The Gallery – we tasted fantastic street food, wine and beer and cakes – where cultural freelancers, artists and businesses and academics from the five North East Universities met people running cultural and digital networks.

According to feedback from participants, this exciting and fast paced event achieved the objective to showcase the cultural sector and the achievements and legacy of Creative Fuse NE.