Innovative design and digital media for the arts

With a little help…

Antony Dunn, Marketing & Communications Manager of Yorkshire Dance reflects on the early development of respond_

Image: Hagit Yakira rehearsing Air Hunger

We’re more than halfway through the official year-long life our Digital R&D Fund project, respond_

We’ve built a preliminary website, we’ve shortlisted six artists who’d like to involve you in the creative process as they make new dance works as part of the project, you’ve voted for two of them (Robbie Synge and Hagit Yakira), and we’ve commissioned their new works, Douglas and Air Hunger.

Underneath the surface of the project, though, there’s a whole lot more going on. Breakfast Creatives are currently building a new platform which will be a digital adaptation of Liz Lerman’s renowned Critical Response Process – a system of peer-to-peer response originating in Liz’s questioning of how the process of giving and receiving feedback can be the most useful, informative and productive. And we need it to be ready by Friday 19 September. No pressure, Breakfast!

It’s a huge, complicated job, and we’re very glad indeed to have the support of Liz Lerman herself, and her team in the USA, particularly as we try and find the right words with which to guide users through the process online. One of the other major challenges for us is that CRP is a moderated process – and we’re building into the new platform a kind of Artificial Intelligence. In short, the site will learn from the artists and other participants who use it, becoming more and more effective as a moderator of CRP, guiding, coaching and policing us all through each of its four steps.

Now, this is a Research & Development project – it’s an experiment – and we honestly don’t know how this is going to work out… The meetings between Yorkshire Dance, the University of Leeds and Breakfast Creatives can sometimes feel that they’re revealing more complications than they’re solving, but we’re making progress, we’re really learning a lot, and we’ve every reason to hope that it’s going to work the way we intend it to.

This week we received feedback from Liz and her team on an early design of the respond_ platform, and it’s certainly been encouraging to hear that they think we’re heading in the right direction. They’ve given us lots of helpful, specific suggestions about making the digital platform more human, more like the experience of CRP in a physical rehearsal room.

We’ve also benefited greatly from Robbie Synge’s response to the early design of respond_ and he’s made us think very clearly about protecting artists in this online arena where they might be exposed to the thoughts of – in theory, at least – thousands of individuals. He’s usefully crystallised some thoughts about CRP for us from the artist’s point of view: that two key considerations of involvement in respond_ must be good will, and a shared commitment to investing in the constructive development of a new work.

One of the joys of this project is that it’s collaborative – much more so than many projects. And the collaboration is fun, stimulating, challenging, often revelatory. All the things you want out of a day at work, really.

And this collaboration is big – much wider than the partnership between Yorkshire Dance, the University of Leeds and Breakfast Creatives. To have co-creators like Liz Lerman, Robbie Synge, Hagit Yakira, and like the adults with learning disabilities who’ve helped us to work on the accessibility of respond_’s user interface, and like Nesta, the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Arts Council England who, between them, have funded us into this Digital R&D project, and like the many, many other organisations also creating new projects through this fund, means that our experience of respond_ is very much in the spirit of the Critical Response Process itself.