Making Innovation flourish

Are Incubators and accelerators becoming ossified in their formats? If so, the arts suggest a more varied landscape, and a less prescriptive approach – from which business could draw.

Paul Miller of Bethnal Green Ventures once said, ‘we won’t know how successful our Accelerator has been for five years!’ But Accelerators and Incubators continue to proliferate – Accelerators with the same basic model and well-established phases.

The arts continue to be one of the UK’s most vibrant sectors, with creativity and innovation their foundation. So what do the engine rooms of the arts suggest that could transfer to business?

Stageplays go through processes very similar to any business startup; from conception, through development, staging and rehearsal to commercialisation; and they are highly collaborative. The parallels are too close to ignore. What do their incubators have to tell us?

Over the next three days, I offer three contributions: a review of some incubators in the arts; a glimpse of an art and technology co-working incubator in New York; and an intimate picture of the National Theatre’s outstanding Studio workshop in London.

1. ‘Incubators’ in the arts: some examples

Studios are designed as incubators for people who have ideas for innovations – with the aim of helping to turn those ideas into commercial artworks. Often they are no more than premises, available on highly flexible terms, with common services, usually with the support of mentoring and visiting experts – like Cockpit Arts, home to some 170 small businesses in arts and crafts in London.

Watershed Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio is a variant of this in that it is a ‘convivium’, in which some thirty people work in close proximity in a single hall, hotdesking in a pressure cooker regime which encourages interaction. In another variant of Watershed’s approach (an applications search) bursaries were awarded to a small number of people for a common fixed period, for them to investigate a particular technological development in a given field (pervasive media – in the performing arts).

Another variant is the ‘ideas nursery’: Metal Art in north London is a studio space where writers in the performing arts can take time out to develop an idea they have for a play. The National Theatre’s Studio Workshop acts as a concept development lab for helping playwrites to develop existing material – by providing facilities to ‘see how it works’(see below.)

The Battersea Arts Centre (mission: developing the future of theatre) acts as a drop-in incubator by being willing to host for one night or more plays which are in various stages of development, to enable the authors to get immediate feed-back from their audiences. (It has also built accommodation to enable playwrites to live together for short periods.)

Desh Deshpande, guru of the Rolex Awards for Innovation and Enterprise, talked simply about putting students into groups of four and asking them to solve a practical problem – a nice way to help the hordes of students who currently aspire to become entrepreneurs and test their capabilities.

To-morrow: 2. Artists as disrupters: an incubator where artists and technology meet A New York Incubator takes a realistic look at the future of work in cities through the perspective of innovation in the arts












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