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The last few weeks have been an exciting, stimulating and educational time for me as I have embarked on the early stages of my PhD journey, quite literally!

Rail travel

The first adventure was at the FutureEverything Summit in Manchester. Over two days of presentations in the rather impersonal Piccadilly 4 building, followed by an illuminated mass choreography down at Salford Quays, I experienced at close hand some pioneering work in the complementary fields of digital art, urbanism and technology. I even got to stand for several minutes in the dark inside the University of Salford’s own sound-proofed anechoic chamber in the Newton building, close to the SURF centre, listening to a processed audio installation, all part of the annual FutureEverything festival experience.

Speed of Light

A theme running through many of the conference presentations was that of people re-appropriating frameworks and processes in order to ‘hack’ existing systems of urban living and develop smart and sustainable solutions to some of the problems created by cities. These interventions start with individuals using a combination of social media and public spaces to connect active citizens into responsive communities, where innovative and co-created practices can generate action. “In terms of organising and deciding” said Dan Hill in his keynote speech “the government now has competition”. Stirring stuff indeed.

The next day it was onwards to Birmingham, in search of more ideas and evidence to help inform the shape of my thesis, which currently looks at the role of universities as intermediaries in the festival economy. With visits to Bristol, Brighton and Bradford planned too, I was excited about having the opportunity to visit these great British cities and explore their civic architecture.

Last week in Brighton at the Beyond the Campus 2nd Workshop, Dr Paul Benneworth said “as social and spatial forms, buildings reflect their use”. He was talking specifically here about universities (with reference to Liverpool Hope University’s Cornerstone creative campus located in Everton) but it brought to my mind the words of walking urban historian Ben Waddington, who had revealed the psycho-geography of hidden architecture in Birmingham on his Invisible Architecture tour at the start of Flatpack film festival 3 weeks earlier.

Flatpack is an ambitious new festival in Birmingham that this year spanned 11 days in March. I went for the first weekend, my first event being the city walk. It was snowing heavily and freezing cold, but a crowd of 20 or so gathered at the Film Bug Hub, a vacant shop taken over by the festival team to house logistics in the Colmore Business District (one of the festival partners) to set out on the 90 minute tour.

Other partner venues I visited included Birmingham cathedral, in which I saw a screening of the silent Dreyer classic The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) with piano score, a local café screening free short films in its basement and the recently restored Electric cinema by the station.

On Sunday I caught a bus over to the University of Birmingham’s Bramall Music Building to see the oldest surviving animated feature film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) with live percussive accompaniment. Birmingham UniversityThis last event was a collaboration with the university’s new Arts and Science Festival, a public programme of exhibitions, talks, performances, workshops and screenings organised by the Cultural Engagement team which, in the words of Ian Grosvenor, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Cultural Engagement “celebrates the University’s identity and makes available the first class research generated by one of the UKs leading higher education institutions”.

Back to Leeds to catch up on some sleep, but literally the next day I was off again, to Paintworks in Bristol this time, to hear brief updates from the latest developments coming out of the major AHRC community based research projects across the country, including news from the four AHRC research hubs, one of which is ‘home’ to the FutureEverything festival director Drew Hemment. Literally hundreds of organisations are currently enrolled in AHRC-backed research projects, in areas ranging from heritage archives to niche food producers, fashion SMEs to animation film makers. I can send more information about individual projects to anyone who wants to know more, but what is really good is that there are some recurring themes and individuals in these early stages of evidence-gathering that will help as I establish my research questions for the next phase.

I’ll need a few days at home to really think about what these are going to be, but with the Bradford Film Festival underway this week, that’s not quite happened yet!