British Council partners innovative artists at FutureEverything

The FutureEverything festival and conference kicks off this week, but the fascinating speakers aren’t the only esteemed guests. Names to look out for can be found at Global FUTR Lab, a partnership between FutureEverything and the British Council that will bring unheard voices from all over the world together to talk about technology. Andrew Anderson finds out more.

With the British Council’s remit being to promote cross-cultural exchange, a partnership with FutureEverything made perfect sense for both organisations. The Council helped take FutureEverything to Russia in 2014, but this year, rather than taking the festival to the world, the Council will be bringing the world to the festival through Global FUTR Lab, a digital and cultural innovators programme.

‘We’ve found that the more virtually connected the world is, the more important real face-to-face connections become; you can’t beat getting people together in a room to really talk,’ says Caroline Meaby, British Council director for Cultural Innovation. ‘FutureEverything already has international speakers and delegates, but what we wanted to do was reach people from places who might not be involved in FutureEverything – they may be from emerging economies, places like Pakistan or Nigeria for example, where those networks are not as established.’

To achieve this, the British Council put out a call for submissions from innovators, with broad guideline topics such as ‘smart cities’ and ‘social innovation.’ Seven countries were targeted, including Indonesia, Nigeria and the UAE, with one candidate chosen from each along with three UK participants. ‘The challenge was curating it so that we have people with a diversity of practice, a diversity of experience; people who we thought would blend really well together,’ explains Meaby. ‘We wanted a mix of artists, technologists and entrepreneurs to create this unique experience. The diversity doesn’t just come from their countries of origin, it comes from their work and how they approach it.’

This diversity is shown in the wide range of projects that the successful applicants have worked on. Ukranian Ivan Pasichnyk, for instance, has developed EcoisMe, a service to help businesses reduce their power consumption by monitoring, analysing and altering their energy usage via an app (a project that would clearly benefit the arts sector, where electricity costs are often one of the biggest burdens).

At the more artistic end of the spectrum, Korean researcher Hee Eun Kim’s Net Disruption initiative creates music based on audience interaction with a complex string sculpture she has built. ‘In Korea, I did not have many opportunities to meet people from different countries who are working on media art to share ideas of digital technology and culture,’ the artist explains of her decision to apply for a place at the Global FUTR Lab.

The Global FUTR Lab itself takes the form of an intensive two-day workshop series, led by research agency Strange Telemetry.

‘People look to the British Council to take on the creative facilitator role, so when people come to our projects there’s an element of quality control, both in terms of the participants and the platform,’ Meaby explains, noting that Strange Telemetry’s history of involvement in FutureEverything makes them ideal leaders for a project like this (Georgina Voss of Strange Telemetry will be leading the workshops, as well as giving a talk at the conference).

As is usually the case when dealing with investment in arts and ideas, outcomes from workshops are hard to predict or even measure. But, says Meaby, bringing together creative and artistic entrepreneurs is almost certain to deliver positive results of some sort. ‘What I am hoping will emerge from this in the longer term is a chance for people to continue working on their projects in the future. If we can make a connection between a Nigerian delegate, for example, who is working on educational app technology to help teach Nigerian folklore, and a UAE delegate who is working on data sharing platforms, then I’d consider that a success.’

Full interview in the next issue of IAM