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New funding supports UK artists to work with immersive tech

A new project will support over 200 UK-based artists and organisations to explore the creative potential of virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies.

The term ‘immersive technology’ encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and technologies. These include the game engines used to make virtual and augmented reality apps such as Beat Saber or Pokémon Go, as well as the motion capture, LED screens and spatial audio magic of Abba Voyage.

Funded through a £6 million grant from the XRtists scheme, the three-year cross-UK ‘Immersive Arts’ project will build on the UK’s record of supporting artists to unlock the creative potential of new technology. Funding for XRtists comes from an ambitious partnership between:

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Arts Council England
  • Creative Scotland
  • Arts Council of Northern Ireland
  • Arts Council of Wales

The programme will give artists based in the UK the opportunity to access training, mentoring, specialist facilities and vital funds. They will have £3.6 million in grant funding available to help them get their ideas off the ground.

At the forefront of advancements

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said:

The government has already invested £75 million to build a network of R&D labs across the UK that will put us at the forefront of advancements in visual effects, motion-capture technology, and AI for the screen and stage industries.

This new funding will help even more of our brightest artists and creatives harness the power of this innovative technology. Developing the skills and infrastructure underpinning immersive technology will maximise the potential of our powerful creative industries and achieve our goal of growing them by £50 billion by 2030.

New creative frontiers

Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy, Saqib Bhatti said:

From the printing press to digital streaming, leaps forward in technology have always led to advances in art and creativity. The Immersive Arts programme will ensure that British creatives are given access to the tech they need to push new creative frontiers.

Blockbuster shows like Abba Voyage demonstrate that extended reality brings about artistic innovation and a list of economic benefits that goes on and on and on.

Innovation and economic growth

AHRC Executive Chair Professor Christopher Smith said:

To maintain the UK’s place at the vanguard of the creative industries, we need to invest in the skills and technologies that underpin them. Extended reality is an exciting new frontier in creative technology that offers world-expanding possibilities.

This investment in the Immersive Arts consortium by an ambitious partnership of the UK’s arts councils, Creative Scotland and AHRC will allow us to support skills development and unlock further innovation and economic growth, bringing the power of this technology to new audiences and partners.

Immersive Arts

The programme will be led by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), with the lead hub at Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol and Watershed as Executive Producer.

Working in partnership with University of Bristol and cultural organisations in Belfast and Derry, Cardiff and Glasgow. They will generate a rich programme of inclusive and accessible opportunities, breaking down the barriers for artists of all backgrounds to engage with immersive tools.

An inclusive and accessible programme

Principal Investigator and Director of Immersive Arts, Verity McIntosh, Associate Professor of Virtual and Extended Realities at UWE Bristol, said:

I am delighted that this incredible consortium of partners will now be able to support more than 200 artists from across the UK. We look forward to working with creatives of all backgrounds who are interested in developing their practice, and testing the boundaries of what might be artistically possible using immersive technologies.

In the coming three years we will be offering an inclusive and accessible programme of research, training, funding opportunities and events. Immersive Arts has been designed to foster a growing, collaborative community of UK artists experimenting with immersive materials, and connecting with audiences around the world.

Supporting artists across the UK

The four core partners based in each of the nations of the UK who will work closely with artists in their region are:

  • Cryptic in Glasgow, Scotland
  • Nerve Centre in Belfast and Derry, Northern Ireland
  • Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, Wales
  • Watershed in Bristol, England

In the past five years these four partners have supported more than 5,500 artists, and shared work with an audience of over 70.5 million people.

Additional partners with specialist expertise supporting the programme are:

  • Crossover Labs, experts in training and artist development using immersive media
  • Unlimited, working with disabled artists and audiences, challenging the culture sector and changing perceptions of disability
  • XR Diversity Initiative, dedicated to making the extended reality (XR) community more inclusive
  • Immerse UK, the UK’s leading membership organisation for immersive technologies

Funding for Immersive Arts comes from:

  • AHRC
  • Arts Council England
  • The National Lottery through Creative Scotland
  • The National Lottery through Arts Council of Northern Ireland
  • The National Lottery through Arts Council of Wales

Creating opportunities

Darren Henley, CEO at Arts Council England, said:

Creative producers and cultural organisations have always been vital in unlocking the potential of new technology, as we are seeing in the innovative experiences artists and cultural organisations are creating for immersive platforms.

We are excited to launch XRtists with our UK-wide partners, to help the cultural sector develop the skills to push the creative potential of emerging technologies even further, and create opportunities for more artists and organisations to work with these technologies for the first time.

At the forefront of XR innovation

Creative Industries Manager at Creative Scotland Morgan Petrie said:

This unique collaboration provides a great opportunity for artists to be at the forefront of XR innovation. The partners involved will be able to share best practice, learn from each other and nurture connections across the UK.

The Scottish producing partner, Cryptic, is cementing Scotland and its artists into the future of this technology, pioneering within Scotland’s creative industries.

Building digital capabilities

Director of Strategic Development and Partnerships, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Karly Greene said:

This announcement is welcome news and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is delighted to co-fund XRtists: Immersive Artists along with The Arts and Humanities Research Council and our arts funding colleagues across these islands.

Thanks to The National Lottery this initiative offers a valuable opportunity for artists to learn skills in using new immersive technology and reflects the Arts Council’s commitment to encouraging innovative practices that cross artform boundaries and build digital capabilities within our arts sector.

Telling stories with impact

Lisa Matthews-Jones, portfolio manager at Arts Council of Wales said:

Working with our partner nations, this project will mean inclusive opportunities to explore the use of creative technology to share experiences and tell stories with impact.

Wales Millennium Centre is perfectly placed to build on their own work and support the work of other artists and organisations in Wales for the benefit of current and future audiences.

Further information

To be kept up to date with news and opportunities, you can sign up for regular updates from Immersive Arts.

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