British Council Creative Economy

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3 December 2013

InFocus: Cornerhouse

Isabelle Croissant gives us an overview of Cornerhouse, Manchester's international centre for contemporary visual arts and independent film, and one of the UK's associate partners in Watershed's Recife: The Playable City programme.

(c) Ben Page

Cornerhouse at night

Cornerhouse is Manchester’s international centre for contemporary visual arts and independent film, a cross artform venue and producer that houses three floors of contemporary art galleries, three cinema screens, a bar, café and a bookshop. Cornerhouse also operate an international distribution service for contemporary visual arts books and catalogues, which works with over 95 publishers across the world.

Cornerhouse opened in 1985 and 30 years after its creation (in April 2015), it will move to a new purpose built venue near its current location. This new arts production organisation, named HOME, is the result of the merger of Cornerhouse and Manchester’s Library Theatre Company, and will look at productions across contemporary theatre, visual arts and film, with an integrated engagement offer for communities, young people, digital and creative development.

'Our mission is to be a place where audiences, artists and filmmakers are brought together to experience and debate contemporary ideas through a unique, high quality, risk taking, cross art-form and culturally diverse programme. Our programmes are articulated around 4 main strands: Contemporary Visual Art; Film; Digital & Creative Industries; Communities &Young People, through which we commission and exhibit work by artists, filmmakers and creative minds; and support, develop and showcase new talent and engage with audiences and professionals alike.'

(c) Mecanoo

CGI of HOME, the new institution which will merge Cornerhouse and the Manchester’s Library Theatre Company.

Micro Commissions
'A few years ago, Cornerhouse conducted The Art of With, an action-research programme exploring what it meant to be a cultural organisation in an increasingly open and participative world. One of its suggestions was to reverse the traditional flow of the programming cycle - and start with small, low-cost ideas, coming from unlikely sources/places outside the organisation, and allow them to influence our larger projects.

Building on this idea, Cornerhouse developed the Micro Commissions scheme. Aimed at bringing small creative ideas to life and based on the approach of micro-finance schemes (i.e. where small amounts of money enable people to be entrepreneurial/creative), a Micro Commission is a commission for a new and innovative creative project which costs less than £500 to realise.

Micro Commissions were opened to everyone living in the North West of England, professional or amateur. Over 3 years we commissioned over 70 projects, spanning a wide range of creative disciplines, from performance art to digital, visual arts installations, craft, technology, writing, poetry, film, music, theatre and mixed techniques. The project took various forms. Most of them were devised to be presented to the general public, some were online initiatives only and some were prototypes whose main objective was to be shared with peers.

(c) Cornerhouse

Osmosis Machine by Adrian Pritchard, one of Cornerhouse's Micro Commmissions.

On top of enabling participants to create new work and flex their creative muscles, the scheme allowed them to build a different relationship with Cornerhouse and expand their practice, networks and opportunities. It enriched our programme with a wider range of new work, enabled us to have a dialogue with new people, and develop a more creative, innovative and involving working environment, fashioning more space for artistic risk.

The pilot scheme is finishing this year, and we will be running a version specifically aimed at young people before the next phase starts. You can read more on the scheme here.'

Cornerhouse and the digital + culture debate
'We stimulate this training and events, participation in wider scheme and digital experiments. We also collaborate regularly with institutions and individual creative artists who use digital technology in their respective practices (as content or format) and who are interested in how this pushes the boundaries of their work. Practical examples include programming engagement events such as:
- Workshops for young people (building a touch table, devising an interactive exhibition interpretation tool for iPads, creating and coding a pervasive game to be played in the building);
- Regular digital workshops and year-long digital reporter training schemes, enabling people to discover and make the most of everyday digital technologies.
- We also organised a “Discovering Open Data” seminar for regional cultural partners, and have made our data available for several hackathons - forging new relationship with developers this way - , partnered with PhD researchers on their digital artistic projects, and enabled digital experiments via our Micro Commission scheme.'

(c) Cornerhouse

One digital + cultural initiative which inspires Cornerhouse:
'As the Watershed team have already mentioned Nuage Vert -and at the risk of sounding like I want to flatter one of the organisers of this scheme- I would have to put forward the Pervasive Media Studio as a constant source of inspiration. The Bristol- based multi-disciplinary lab explores and produces pervasive media content, applications and services. They are not only inspiring because of the interesting and engaging projects they enable but also because of their collaborators, staff, ethos and methods.'

One cultural urban intervention which inspires them:
'I’ll go for a simple and playful one: Marseille Playground by the Wa'.

(c) Antoine Riviere

The Wa's Marseille Playground.

Recife: The Playable City
'Engaging our audience with culture and ideas is at the core of our mission. We are very interested in the place arts and culture play in the ecosystem of a city as well as how the combination of arts and technology can engage audiences in a new and playful way. Recife: The Playable City is the perfect opportunity to explore both these subjects.

We are also really excited to work with people and organisations that specialise in using digital technology and are looking forward to using this experience to enrich our future programme and individual knowledge.'

Isabelle Croissant is Creative Industries Programme Manager at Cornerhouse and one of the UK producers participating inRecife: The Playable City.

Related links:
Making Cities Playable
In Focus:Watershed
Recife: The Playable City