Happy Birthday, Pervasive Media Studio!

Today is the Pervasive Media Studio’s eighth birthday, so as a parting gift from REACT we wanted to say a little about the place that has been our home for the last four years.

Today is the Pervasive Media Studio’s eighth birthday, so as a parting gift from REACT we wanted to say a little about the place that has been our home for the last four years. It is appropriate really, since the gift economy of the Studio has been at the heart of REACT’s successes.

The studio started in 2008 as a place to explore new ideas where no distinction was made between if an idea was cultural or commercial, and where technology wasn’t seen as an inevitable mass of surveillance and automation, but instead an exciting playground for new human experiences. It hosts a brilliant community of artists, creative companies, technologists and academics exploring what happens when new technology and culture meet.

REACT may have been a new project comprised of new partners, but it sprung from and scaled up the work that was already taking place in this unique community.

We kicked off REACT just after the Studio moved back into Watershed from its original base around the corner. Watershed at that time were considering their role in the cultural ecology and had recently published Producing the Future with Bill Sharpe, Graham Leicester and the International Futures Forum. This report explored how to balance money with meaning, how to operate as a steward of culture whilst generating innovation and examined the role of Creative Producer as one who ‘cares, beyond reason’.

Investigation of the Playable City had also just begun; an area of work (now internationally renowned), which places people and play at the heart of urban spaces, and explores how new technologies can engage people in their environment and with each other.

Meanwhile, the Studio producers had already run and evaluated three Sandboxes, responding to the observation that brilliant small companies need time and support to explore their riskiest, most exciting ideas. The Studio looked after these companies and set many of them on a path to great, new things.

Clare Reddington (then Director of Pervasive Media Studio, now Creative Director of Watershed) and Jon Dovey (then Director of the Digital Cultures Research Centre UWE now Director of REACT) were already pioneering new forms of collaboration and R&D and looking for a new way to take their ideas forwards.

It was in this context that our REACT team came together, at four new desks nestled among the thriving Studio family and across four very different cities stretching out across the South West and Wales.

In the Studio residents are professionally interruptible. Generosity is the most important currency, desk space is free but you are expected to contribute to each other’s projects and passions. There is a belief that crowding diversity makes for better ideas and that a person’s value isn’t measured by their professional title. People have strongly held opinions that they want to translate into action.

We took these values and ran with them. In the Studio, Clare and Jon led the team with an energy and commitment that was inspiring. We considered ourselves a band of outlaws, riding together against a backdrop of ivory towers and suited bureaucrats. We laughed together, cooked dinners together and argued when we dared, all the time rehearsing the values that the Studio was built on until they were our own. It might not be a utopia but it is better than anywhere I’ve ever worked. 

This passionate, playful approach to helping people collaborate and explore has been enacted in REACT in very real and practical ways. I have spent the last six weeks interviewing our projects, and the benefits to the economy, knowledge and creative practice are demonstrable. People clearly cite many of the Studio values as being vital to their REACT experience, from the cohort approach of Sandbox, the care and attention to ideas to the space to play and experiment. These were major contributing factors to their financial and career development, and it is not only by osmosis that this has happened, but by design.

Of course an approach developed in one particular time and space cannot and should not be imposed across a collaboration between six partners and REACT’s geography has been tricky from that point of view. It is right that as the project ends, the focus is shifting to collaborative spaces in Cardiff and Exeter, which have their own unique cultures and approaches, and from which I’m sure the Studio will learn.

It’s extraordinary to think that we have been part of Studio life for half the time it has existed, but it has been part of us from the beginning. So now, on their birthday, a heartfelt thank you from REACT to the Pervasive Media Studio – for your generosity, your space, your patience and your brilliant sense of fun. Many Happy Returns!


This post was written by REACT's Managing Producer, Joanna Lansdowne.