Imagination is key to rethinking creative and successful collaboration in the North

Forty-five arts and humanities practitioners, academics and funding partners gathered at a N8 event in Lancaster to participate in a workshop that explored how the imagination is being used to influence social and cultural development in the North

The event, ‘Imaginative North’ was the fourth in the ‘New Thinking from the North’ series. The project aims to identify how academics, practitioners in the arts and humanities and other partners can collaborate to stimulate economic growth, cultural and social impact, inform public policy and the development of communities across the North.

The programme is being led by the N8 Research Partnership and is jointly-funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It also aims to identify new research challenges and to explore potential solutions that can be developed by both practitioners and academics.

The venue for the event was ImaginationLancaster, an open and exploratory design-led research lab, at the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts. The lab provided an ideal venue to showcase how to creatively interact with new methods and tools to develop ideas, and a stimulating environment for participants to imagine the future landscape of research in the Arts and Humanities.

Professor Trevor McMillan, Chair of the N8 Executive Management Group and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Lancaster University, welcomed the attendees to the workshop. He outlined the ambition of the N8 stating “The research expertise of the N8 universities brings together the best with the best. It supports researchers to lead projects that show we are willing to put our head above the parapet, demonstrates that we can conduct interdisciplinary research, and importantly shows that we are ambitious and can think big about contemporary research challenges”.

Participants at the Lancaster event engaged in activities that sought to identify new radical research project ideas and then design novel and creative funding mechanisms to support them. This included interacting with new digital tools for collaboration developed at ImaginationLancaster, which led to a vibrant discussion about the type of collaborations that need to be forged and their relevance to public policy and communities. Sir Christopher Frayling gave a keynote provocation titled ‘What can the ‘R’ word do for the Arts and Humanities?’ which further fuelled discussions about the North’s collaborative and research future in the afternoon.

Dr Abigail Gilmore from the Centre for Arts Management and Cultural Policy at the University of Manchester, said “The Imaginative North workshop has been an excellent oportunity to take forward ideas and thinking from the previous New Thinking from the North workshops and translate them into real opportunities that the N8 can take forward. The hands on approach adopted supported a participatory imagining of radical research projects that promoted risk rather than shied away from it.”