Cultural Leadership: News

Recife: The Playable City

As part of Transform, Bristol's Watershed and Recife's Porto Digital partner with the British Council to deliver a programme that looks at developing new ideas and models at the intersection of art, technology, society and culture.

Recife: The Playable City is a Watershed project delivered in collaboration with Porto Digital and the British Council, as part of the UK/Brazil Transform programme. The project is supported by the British Council's Creative Economy programme and the Arts Council England, and draws on Watershed's experience in working at the intersection of culture and digital technology.

The programme will see British and Brazilian artists, producers, entrepreneurs and digital experts brought together to explore and develop new ideas that encourage audience engagement and participation in culture. The programme is delivered in partnership with Porto Digital, Recife's digital cluster.

© Kathy Hinde 2011

Echo Wait © Kathy Hinde 2011

Playable City: an alternative, participative urban development model
The Playable City is a new term coined by Watershed and imagined as a counterpoint to the notion of the ‘smart city’. A Playable City is a place where people, hospitality and openness are key; where residents and visitors are able to reconfigure and rewrite services, places and stories; and a place where there is permission to be playful in public.

Recife: The Playable City is part of Watershed’s ongoing investigation into this theme. The idea was first piloted in February 2012 in collaboration with the British Council, during Watershed’s Playable City Sprint. This five-day Sprint brought together 12 artists and designers from across East Asia and the UK to collaboratively develop new ideas using creative technologies that responded to the theme of the Playable City. One of the projects, BikeTAG, was recently developed further as part of the Bristol Temple Quarter Commissions, an urban development initiative in the heart of the city. BikeTAG invited the public to participate in an experience that encouraged them to cycle around an area under regeneration and engage with this part of the city in a surprising and playful way, whilst at the same time contributing data on popular bike routes and cyclists' needs.

© Watershed 2012

Watershed’s Playable City Sprint, February 2012.

‘BikeTAG is a great example of how artists and technologists can work together to create engaging and meaningful experiences that give the public a voice in their city’ says Victoria Tillotson, producer at Watershed's iShed who also leads on Recife: The Playable City. ‘At Watershed, we were inspired by the ideas and the public reaction to the Playable City Sprint, so we decided to explore the idea further. This year we launched our inaugural Playable City Award, a £30,000 international commission for an original, future-facing artwork.'

The winning project Hello Lamp Post is set to premiere in Bristol this July and will give the people of Bristol the unique opportunity to bring street furniture to life, unlocking the secrets, stories and experiences of Bristol's people through Bristol's objects. 'We’re now thrilled to take these possibilities one-step further in collaboration with Porto Digital and the British Council, enabling artists and technologists from across cultures to collaboratively develop future-facing prototypes, reach new audiences and create new business opportunities. There is much synergy between Bristol and Recife. We look forward to co-delivering this unique opportunity and experiencing Recife as the world’s next Playable City.’

Playable City is not a new programme - its model has been piloted in Bristol over the past 5 years by Watershed's Pervasive Media Studio (the creative technologies collaboration between Watershed, the University of West of England and the University of Bristol). For Victoria, 'Bristol is a natural playable city. It has strong communities in both sectors - the artistic and the digital - as it is a festival city, a university hub and an important cluster for silicon companies. The ‘Playable City’ concept though is an alternative approach to the more corporate concepts of the smart city and the creative city: while it's important to encourage commercial activity and strong business models in culture, it's also important to sustain playful and engaging means through which people can influence their city.'

© Max McClure 2013

BikeTAG, one of the projects to come out of Watershed's Playable City Sprint, February 2012.

Going international
Although strongly rooted in Bristol, Watershed frequently collaborates with talent from overseas to bring innovative ideas back to Bristol and share its expertise with creative communities around the world. ‘International collaboration has woven throughout Watershed’s past work’ says Victoria, ‘Electric December, Engage, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Filmic and Shared Artist in Residence demonstrate a growing momentum for it. However now, in response to our ongoing commitment to actively share our ethos and encourage openness and curiosity, we're developing a distinct strand of programming that clearly focuses on the creation of spaces that foster and celebrate international exchange and development. Thus far this includes a series of live and digital interventions as well as think pieces as part of the Open Cities strand of Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture‘s 'Cidade' Programme; Digital Dishes a digital literacy programme that brought together 13 over fifties from across Europe who used creative technologies to share food-related stories; DepicT!, our ongoing 90 second international short film competition, and of course our Playable City initiatives.’

Watershed first visited Recife in 2010 as part of the Points of Contact programme produced by People’s Palace Projects, supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. ‘I was blown away by the diverse range of practitioners I met and the cultural work I experienced, and I was keen to develop further connections with the City,’ says Victoria who together with Porto Digital and the British Council, has led on developing a version of the Playable City for Recife, the capital of Brazil's north-eastern province of Pernambuco.

Like Bristol, the city has a long history as a trading port, and is home to a large entrepreneurial and digital community - most of it housed at Porto Digital, one of Latin America's biggest digital clusters. ‘Recife, like Bristol, is bursting with creative talent and innovative thinking, and both cities are particularly strong in terms of arts and creative technology. Watershed was keen to work with Porto Digital to share learning and create strong connections between the cultural and technology sectors across the state of Pernambuco and the UK,’ says Victoria, who delivered a pilot Lab there last year to scope out the needs and opportunities for the programme, and who hopes the project will provide stronger links between communities in both countries, around urban and social needs.

The programme, which will be launched later in July 2013, will revolve around two Playable City Sprints in the form of collaborative workshops: the first one will take place in Bristol from 7-17 January 2014 and the second one will happen in Recife on 14-19 April 2014.

Recife's Porto Digital

A selection of 24 artists, designers, producers and technologists from the UK and Brazil's Pernambuco region will be invited to participate. Participants will join the first Sprint at Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio (January 2014), and the second at Porto Digital (April 2014). The Labs will be facilitated by iShed and will include a diverse range of sessions by established practitioners from interdisciplinary, cutting-edge research and practise. The Sprints will also include bespoke sessions for participating Creative Producers. These sessions will cover different aspects of creative technology production such as: developing an idea, project management, making a sustainable business, IP and pitching to clients and funders.

In the UK, the programme is run with support from Associate Organisations Cornerhouse (Manchester), Lighthouse (Brighton), National Theatre Wales (Cardiff) and Site Gallery (Sheffield); in Brazil, the programme will be promoted and run with support from Associate Organisations like the Pernambuco Government’s Economic Development Secretariat, Pernambuco’s Federal University (UFPE), the Fundação Gilberto Freyre, Recife City Council and CESAR (Recife Centre for Advanced Studies and Systems.

Recife: The Playable City is a Watershed project delivered in collaboration with Porto Digital and the British Council, as part of the Transform programme. Find out how to apply here.

Related links
In Focus: Watershed
In Focus: Porto Digital