Answering Big Questions about Big Data

Digital R&D Fund for the Arts to answer big questions about big data

How can big data be used in the arts and culture sector? The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts have funded some projects that hope to find out.

The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund from Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta. They aim to support collaborations between arts projects, technology providers and researchers to explore the potential of increasing audience engagement or find new business models.

As part of this, the fund have developed The Big Data strand. This intends to support a consortium projects that specifically focus on data sharing and big data in the context of business model innovation.

Four projects that will examine the potential of big data – high volume, high velocity information – in the arts and culture sector have been selected for funding through the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. The projects were developed in response to an open call for big data proposals and each of them will explore how the industry can utilise data to grow reach and develop new business strategies.

The four big data projects to receive funding are:


A web-based service will aggregate, analyse and present data so that arts organisations can show the value and impact they generate through their networks, helping them to create new and refined business models and propositions.

Partners: FutureEverything, Blast Theory, Contact Theatre, Culture 24, Forma, Red Eye, Warwick Arts Centre, Swirrl, Dr. Shaleph O’Neill at the University of Dundee.

Arts Data Impact

The ADI project will embed the first ever Data Scientist-In-Residence for the Arts at the Barbican, English National Opera (ENO) and National Theatre to interrogate their ever-growing data resources. In addition, a national data warehouse will be created to enable more comprehensive collection and sharing of data across the arts and cultural sector. ADI is delivered by The Audience Agency.

Partners: The Audience Agency, Magic Lantern (Anthony Lilley) and Professor Paul Moore at the University of Ulster, working with the Barbican, English National Opera and the National Theatre.

Culture Counts

Building on the insights from a recently completed pilot, this project will test a new set of metrics and an online platform to help arts and culture organisations across Manchester better understand the quality and impact of their work. Audiences, peers and programmers will be invited to give real-time feedback on the event they’ve just experienced.

Partners: Greater Manchester Arts Centre Ltd, Pracsys, Intelligence Agency and Dr Abigail Gilmore & Dr. Kostas Arvanitis from the University of Manchester with 12 arts organisation across Manchester.

The Unusual Suspects

Nine arts and cultural organisations in Newcastle and Gateshead will pool, profile and segment their audience data. The insights from this will enable them to develop a series of audience offers to test the most effective ways to re-engage infrequent attenders, encourage audience cross-over and deepen audience engagement.

Partners: Dance City, BALTIC, Centre for Life, Live Theatre, Northern Stage, Sage Gateshead, Seven Stories, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Tyneside Cinema working with Morris Hargreaves McIntyre and Tariff Street.


In addition to these data-focused projects, funding has also been awarded to three more new initiatives that will experiment with digital technologies in the arts:

We are Colony

A digital distribution platform to launch films earlier and build a following. It is developed through collaboration with Film London and their research partner is Professor Philip Drake, Edge Hill University. It allows filmmakers to release under-exploited additional and making-of content ahead of, or during, their film’s release. The pilot will also provide video-on-demand audience behaviour insights around purchasing and engagement driven by additional content. The pilot website launched earlier this month at


Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins at Orphans of the Storm, Ocasta Studios Ltd, Dr Alison Gazzard at the Institute of Education, University of London and Daniel M Goodbrey at The University of Hertfordshire are working on Electricomics. It is an app enabling people to explore narrative structures, and create their own digital comics using an open-source toolset.

The Studio of Objects

Hijack’s project The Studio of Objects will create an iOS app using  a 360-degree laser scan to record a studio, enabling audiences to explore artists’ worlds and work. Eduardo Paolozzi’s studio is the first to be captured using this technology. Their partners are Touch Press, Dacapo and Dr Christopher Horrocks, Kingston University.


Since its launch in 2012, the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts has supported 36 projects. Each project’s findings, research and progress will be charted on Native, the Fund’s learning website, enabling other arts and cultural organisations to learn from the work the Fund is supporting.



The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund from Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta to support collaboration between arts projects, technology providers and researchers to explore the potential of increasing audience engagement or find new business models.

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