Creative Cardiff Pop-Up Hub: Making a Difference
There is a scene early on in the Richard Attenborough-recreates-Alton-Towers-but-with-dinosaurs documentary, Jurassic Park, where, on learning that the eponymous park contains a T-Rex, the palaeontologist Alan Grant collapses to the ground overcome by excitement. It is a scene re-enacted by myself in the Wales Millennium Centre when I learnt that Rhys Jones, a fellow participant in Creative Cardiff’s Pop-Up Hub had brought into our work environment an Oculus Rift. The Rift (as it is also known – the definitive article implying a kind of break with the past) has, as long-term readers of our Twitter feed, @cardiffdiginet, will be aware, been on our ‘thing’s to have a go on’ list for quite some time now. ‘You’ve got a Rift?’, I spluttered, my mouth full of Rainbow Drops (more of which shortly), ‘Yes’, Rhys said. ‘Come and give it a go’. Oh go on then.
Before I describe my experiences with The Rift, however, I should explain exactly what Creative Cardiff’s Pop-Up Hub actually was. Based in the Wales Millennium Centre at Cardiff Bay, the Pop-Up Hub brought together creative practitioners from the Cardiff area in a single shared work environment where the emphasis was on collaboration, discussion and thinking through the implications of how space influences and shapes creative practice. In all, around twenty individuals, from playwrights to fashion designers, took part and contributed to this hugely enjoyable and inspiring week. As Sara Pepper, Cardiff University’s Director of Creative Economy and producer of the Hub, has observes:
Creative hubs are a growing phenomenon worldwide and are attracting interest from industry, policy makers and academics. The concept itself is not new – it has been around at least since the 1980s, when the incubation business model became popular. Most creative hubs developed from this model, adding features such as shared workspace to keep costs low and to sustain creative purpose in an evolving community of individuals.
This idea of an evolving community of individuals was particularly pertinent and evident during the week because as it developed different creative, personal and professional relationships became established. There was a very real productive fluidity and exchange of ideas amongst all participants that came about through simply being in the shared space.
Whilst our time was our own there was some structure to proceedings. Every morning a guest speaker or speakers would deliver a talk to get us thinking about creativity, collaboration and productivity. Two of these sessions resonated with me particularly. Clare Reddington and Jo Landsdowne from the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol actually got us to play a game. The game, called ‘Rainbow Drop 7’, saw us separate into teams of around five people and the objective was to carry 7 Rainbow Drops (a sugary sweet) from the top of the WMC all the way to the ground floor through the medium of a plastic straw. As if that wasn’t challenging enough you also had to pass the Rainbow Drop on to another team member in what can only be described as a confectionary-based relay race with the Rainbow Drop playing the role of the baton. As ludicrous as this sounds (and it was as hilarious as you are probably imagining), it set up the day perfectly as it generated a powerful playful energy that was sustained throughout the rest of the day. What Rainbow Drop 7 demonstrated is that creative work is about getting into the right headspace, psychologically, as much as any other work. The game and the Hub created the conditions where creativity could happen.
The second session that I found most useful was by Jon Dovey, the director of the REACT project. Jon spoke eloquently about Hub spaces and shared values. He argued that it is peer to peer exchange that makes such Hubs successful and that contributors to these spaces should ‘share, be generous and be excited’. He argued that what often holds individuals and creative communities back is the focus on making money and being overprotective of ideas and IP. ‘By not focusing on money, we made money’ Jon noted. Moreover, he articulated with powerful brevity that by sharing ideas the chances are that people won’t steal them but will, in fact, make them better. In short, Jon’s talk can be summarized as, ‘share don’t protect’. It is a philosophy that academia, generally, should take note of.
‘Sorry’, I said, as Rhys narrowly avoided getting splattered by a few Rainbow Drops. ‘No worries, dude’, Rhys replied. ‘Sit down here’. Rhys placed the Oculus headset on my, erm, head, and made a few adjustments to make it secure. ‘Here we go’, I thought to myself as my physical surroundings in the Wales Millennium Centre vanished. I was now in a museum in what appeared to be at night time. And then, there it was. Slowly and menacingly a full size T-Rex came around the corner at the top of the room I was standing in. Unable to move or run away I watched helplessly as the giant lizard king makes its way toward you. It then stops, lets out a terrifying roar and then, after eyeing you up for lunch, proceeds to walk over you before leaving the scene altogether. What is so remarkable about this demonstration of the immersive capabilities of virtual reality, is the sheer sense of scale. You genuinely feel tiny in comparison to the T-Rex and ‘like you are there’. This ‘like you are there-ness’ is what is called ‘presence’, short for ‘telepresence’, and if VR is ever going to be successful it is going to be dependent on the successful implementation of this quality. Even though I knew I was just sat on a seat in the Hub space I was completely immersed in this world for the forty or so seconds the experience lasts. The other interesting factor that I took away from this experience is that the graphics do not need to be photo realistic for you to feel total immersion. Far more important is the way the developers use sound, field of vision and a high frame rate to create ‘presence’.
In many way, in fact, working in a Hub space is a bit like VR – it creates an alternative world whereby you feel protected from the slings and arrows of daily life while you are part of it. It is a creative womb, incubating imagination, collaboration and indeed fun. The Creative Cardiff Pop-Up Hub was, for five days, a space where we could imagine a different way of working – a manifestation of a new imagined world. Much like Jurassic Park.
Many thanks to Sara Pepper and the Creative Cardiff Team for the experience.