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“It helps your work make more sense” – academics talk about Collaborate fund

A large board has text that reads: "369. Is the world how you imagined?" In the foreground people are moving cables and working on the stage.

Academics working on current projects explain why Collaborate is such a worthwhile funding opportunity.

The Centre for Cultural Value’s Collaborate fund aims to support research projects exploring key questions about the value of culture.

Using a matchmaking process, Collaborate pairs academic researchers with primed cultural sector partners to develop innovative research methodologies and pilot activity with live audiences.

Here, academics currently working on Collaborate-funded projects as part of the first round of funding offer their thoughts on why this programme is so valuable.

New perspectives and research methodologies

Dr Rox Middleton, a physicist from the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, is working with live performance company Quarantine to explore the value of beauty in the arts and science. As a physicist working on the optics of natural materials, she was amazed to find a theatre group pitching an idea that resonated closely with her scientific research interests.

She said: “Working with people in other sectors helps you understand the meaning of your work in a broader context, while also being exposed to different ways of working. It can also help your work make more sense – both to other people and to yourself.”

The project has expanded her research methodologies and allowed her to ask different questions.

The fund was open to academics from all disciplines, not restricted to only those in arts and humanities.

“Designing workshops and carrying out interviews is very different from the traditional methodology for optical biomaterials,” said Rox. “I see collaboration outside of my discipline as being really beneficial, because I think the more you embed what you do within the wider world, the more interesting and meaningful it is. It feels like a really productive collaborative relationship.”

Space to experiment and open up new areas of research

Professor Natascha Radcliffe Thomas, a professor of marketing and sustainable business at the British School of Fashion at Glasgow Caledonian University London, is working with the Crafts Council and investigating questions about the cultural value of craft.

Natascha said working with a cultural sector partner was a great opportunity. “It brings different perspectives, experiences and voices into the conversation. It really grounds research work in real-world challenges. The research is actually addressing questions that have value outside the academic sphere.”

A firm footing for the future

Collaborate is also paving the way for exciting new research plans. Not only can research be cited as strong impact activity for future REF (Research Excellence Framework) case studies, but the fund also offers an opportunity to develop cooperative and participative research skills for the future.

Natascha said her project is developing a “living lab approach”, which brings together communities, researchers, cultural partners and possibly even private enterprise. She hopes to develop a “creative, socially responsive methodology”.

“It’s something that we see as building towards future research endeavours. It’s generating so many more questions, which is fabulous. It’s been so interesting to be open to different networks and connections that one might not necessarily have had access to.”

Collaborate opens doors 

Matthew Reason, director of the Institute for Social Justice at York St. John University and a professor of theatre performance, said Collaborate was invaluable in accessing a world that is often hesitant to engage with academia.

Matthew, alongside researcher Lauren Hall, is working with Compass Live Art in Leeds, which works in non-art spaces and engages under-represented groups. His project investigates the experiences of artists and audiences and explores the value and impact of different forms of co-creation.

He said: “It’s really exciting to work with people who have that creativity and that enthusiasm for what they do. Working with partners outside of academia makes the work you do more exciting, more relevant and more stimulating.”

Collaborating with cultural sector organisations can open doors to different research areas and marginalised groups. “The recruitment has been a dream for this project and, as anybody working in academia knows, it’s not always the case,” added Matthew.

Research with immediate relevance

Dr Michelle Phillips, head of enterprise academic at the Royal Northern College of Music, is working with Manchester Camerata on a pilot project for Collaborate to explore how listeners respond neurologically, behaviourally and physiologically to different music listening experiences.

“You’re working on research questions that have immediate relevance and impact outside the academic institution,” Michelle said. “It’s definitely developed my skills. I think any chance to work with a different organisation, which will have a different culture to your own, is always a key learning point.”

Please note that applications are now closed for round two Collaborate funding. For regular updates about Collaborate-funded projects join our email list.

Top image: Quarantine, 12 Last Songs at Transform Festival, October 2021
Photo: David Lindsay


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