Making art experiences accessible for all

A pioneering partnership has been awarded funding to make the arts available to people whose physical disabilities may have prevented them from engaging with it in the past.

360 Degrees – A New Angle on Access is the latest initiative from artist Sue Austin and aims to use innovative digital technology to take art into community venues, and even people’s homes.

The collaboration will see the Plymouth University Fine Art graduate working alongside University organisations SERIO and ICCI, as well as Eye Mirror and Living Options Devon, and has now secured almost £125,000 in funding from The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

Run by Nesta, Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the £7million fund supports research and development projects that use digital technology to enhance arts audience reach and/or explore new business models.

Sue Austin is best known for her performances in a powered underwater wheelchair, which have been seen by an estimated 150million people worldwide. Through her organisation Freewheeling, she will be the director and lead artist for the project, and said:

“It is a great thrill and privilege that '360 Degrees – A New Angle on Access' has been selected for funding by The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, and we are excited to be continuing our ten-year association with Plymouth University. Through that partnership, and our link-up with Living Options Devon and Eye Mirror, we hope to make the joys of immersive 360° imagery available to the wider arts sector and beyond and develop a new agenda for Access to the Arts in the South West.”

Sue Austin - 'Creating the Spectacle!'

Pushing the boundaries of art and forcing people to reflect on their view of disability, Sue's masterpiece 'Creating the Spectacle!' is a ground-breaking series of live art and film events recording an underwater wheelchair as it flies through the water.

The main aim of 360 Degrees – A New Angle on Access will be to produce a commercially viable, robust system of 360° recording, editing and display technologies that can be easily adopted by creative practitioners in the arts and other sectors.

Through the use of portable headsets, as developed by Eye Mirror, multi-directional sound and transportable installations will be made available to small arts, community and educational venues, and even homes. The project will also explore the potential application of 360° user-generated content to enhance audience participation.

Plymouth University’s ICCI (Innovation for the Creative and Cultural Industries) will be supporting development and application of the new and emerging 360° immersive technologies, also providing creative workshops for artists, film makers and members of the public.

SERIO will be undertaking research to help evaluate and understand the impact of inclusive arts, particularly the impact of audience engagement in the home and community, and the findings will be openly to inform other arts organisations’ digital strategies and create potential for more inclusive arts.

Eye-Mirror, a global optical lens company whose European base is near Exeter, will act as the project’s technology partner and have created a new single camera system for the capturing of 360° imagery.

David Hotchkiss, Centre Manager of ICCI, said:

“ICCI has been involved with Susan's creative activities for a number of years, including helping her showcase her underwater wheelchair to a wider audience during the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. We are very excited by the opportunity to collaborate with her on the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts project, which has total synergy with our recent 360°creative activities and immersive presentation environment research.”

Allice Hocking, the Head of SERIO, said:

“We are really excited to be undertaking research that is at the cutting edge of technology and art and will spark interest in more inclusive art practices. We’re committed to openly sharing the research as well as working closely with Living Options Devon and Freewheeling to share knowledge and expertise.”