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Resident Entrepreneur Profile: Social Convention

Social Convention is a creative studio and social enterprise on a mission to reimagine the way people experience art and culture. They were selected as one our Round 4 Resident Entrepreneurs, receiving funding of £12,000 to develop a tool and a process to help artists create and deliver high quality digital experiences!

Cimeon Ellerton-Kay, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Social Convention, has shared his thoughts on their Resident Entrepreneur experience!

Natalie Hall and I founded Social Convention after some booze-facilitated conversations about the problem with creative production processes and use of technology in the performing arts. We bring quite a unique mix of skills and experiences to the question.

Social Convention, Artyparty Chat

I trained as a composer, conductor and music technologist and founded the UK’s first EDM orchestra (performing with Swedish House Mafia and Goldie) to bring together my love of raves and orchestras. I also worked in arts policy and programme management such as the Cultural Olympiad in Lewisham; and was the product manager for Audience Finder, a massive data aggregation platform for The Audience Agency where Natalie and I first met.

Natalie, who hails from California, trained as an actor and theatre maker; and has worked as a producer, marketer, and promoter across the US and UK, with artists like Willie Nelson, Perla Batalla, Crosby Stills & Nash, 47 Soul, and Jade Bird. Around the same time as our conversations started, Natalie was developing the UK’s first real-time volumetric scanning rig for theatre with immersive studio MEGAVERSE and producing Rory Mullarkey’s FLOOD with National Youth Theatre as part of the Digital Catapult Creative XR programme.

We began as a simple production company, curating artistic and theatrical performances and setting them in an inclusive party experience. However, during the pandemic we undertook a substantial pivot to become digital producers and experience designers – developing formats and technologies for live hybrid cultural events. Our Resident Entrepreneur funding gave us the opportunity to conduct a user-centred design project to find out what products/services are needed to: (a) engage more performing arts makers in producing digital experiences; and (b) to test experience formats and demand from audiences.

Social Convention, Artparty Dance

We have really explored the space between live-to-digital capture and the more gamified and often technically more complex AR/VR experiences. And most excitingly, we think we have created both a tool and a process that demonstrates that high-quality remote production and audience presence is possible (on a budget) for a global audience – and that it doesn’t need to be complicated.

 

We have learned that experience is the most critical aspect — discipline, philosophy, technology, strategic approach, lever, or however you want to describe it — of bringing any cultural event to an audience (especially online). Therefore data is vital in mapping user journeys to refine and improve the experience e.g. what artists and consumers want/need; how/where to target them; and to ensure that everything is working well, on whichever device they are using.

One of the original inspirations was the trouble we had in ensuring a smooth audience journey from awareness to consumption via purchase for our own online events. Audiences didn’t know “where to go” and got lost despite tickets and viewing links embedded in emails. Data helped us analyse the problems in the journey and address them when building our own tool. We aim for audiences to get a high quality, accessible social experience no matter what device they use or where they are in the world.

But still, for us, technology is simply a tool. And we found in the user research that this is very much the case for most makers. So we aim to support the sector to make use of the already widely available technology, in a creative way, to deliver cutting edge arts experiences.  Our focus was quite product driven at first, but we realised that the sector needs more expertise and support first and foremost:

“More than kit, it’s expertise that gets really expensive – often to do with the final things in development e.g. producing and presenting” (Artist User Group member).

CHANNEL, Sian Fan Labs Programme

Our focus is now going to be on offering “digital experience services” based on the experience we gained during the pandemic. We have refined and consolidated a unique process for designing and delivering live interactive events to online audiences. It’s a real hybrid. We’ve borrowed from marketing personalisation, traditional stage management, TV broadcast, and online community management using our highly scalable API-based Interactive Performance Maker embedded in the Social Convention platform. (For the nerds, like me, this includes transcoding, CDN live captioning, viewer chat, interactive pop-ups and media player).

With our support and our tech, any arts organisation large or small can begin to imagine the possibilities of digital and hybrid experiences, rather than having to get bogged down in choosing and using one of the many, many livestreaming and event platforms.

The Resident Entrepreneur programme has been great for us. It gave us confidence, having made a risky leap from secure jobs to going full time on a startup in a pandemic. I’ve met more like-minded “nerdy creatives” than I ever have before – which has been a joy. Our Creative Informatics presentation got picked up by an international conference in The Hague, which has led to a collaboration with Nesta and a request to provide advice to the Dutch Government.

We are very internationally focused and believe that the power of technology is to remove the barrier of geography, but somewhere we can make an impact is in Edinburgh. The festivals are a vital innovation space for the arts and cultural sector, so we want to be part of that innovation – pushing the boundaries and demonstrating what can be done. Edinburgh has the potential to be a beacon and global leader, but we need to make it easier to experiment and use the opportunity digital presents to share the festivals and year round culture to the world online, as a different but equally valid experience.

Applications for our next round of Resident Entrepreneurs are open now and close on Wednesday 24th November at 5pm. If you would like to discuss your application idea, contact our team at creativeinformatics@ed.ac.uk.

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