THE WORD Your finger on the place
Samantha Lindley, creative director of Threshold Studios and the Frequency International Festival of Digital Culture, on creative digital placemaking
We’ve seen the concept of “immersive” expand rapidly on a global scale. This includes MeowWolf Santa Fe (2016) and teamLab Borderless in Tokyo (2018), credited as the development of the world’s first digital art museum and with subsequent numerous experiences spawning from there, including AYA in Dubai and the recent unveiling of Sphere in Las Vegas.
On a national level, we’ve seen Outernet District with a footfall of 100m a year, Frameless and Lightroom opening in London since 2022, the successful international touring of Grande experiences roster of shows and the standout success of ABBA Voyage, to mention a few.
“Creative digital placemaking” is an approach to urban planning and community development that utilises digital technologies and creative strategies to enhance public spaces. It involves integrating digital art, interactive installations and digital storytelling to engage and connect people with their surroundings, fostering a sense of identity, belonging, and cultural vibrancy within a physical environment. This dynamic fusion of technology and artistic expression transforms public spaces into dynamic hubs for community interaction and cultural expression.
As a cultural and creative agency focusing on the use of art and technology in public spaces for social impact, Threshold have more than a vested interest in the development and implementation of digital creative placemaking in our cities and towns. As directors of Frequency International Festival of Digital Culture since 2011, we have been placing immersive, interactive and tech driven experiences and art into public spaces for over a decade in the historic city of Lincoln.
Frequency was built on a manifesto that “Digital is About Everyone” and we wanted to build a festival that possesses accessibility and democracy at its core. Since the very beginning we have presented international, national and place-based artists - both established and emerging - in the city, welcoming over 95,000 visitors and hosting over 550 exhibitions located in shopping centres, bus stations, museums, heritage sites and even underground.
I don’t think that we should approach the question of large-scale immersive versus digital creative placemaking as a binary of which is right and which is wrong. There’s space for learning from both, but from the perspective of impact, digital creative placemaking offers an opportunity to dive deeper than the large-scale immersive experience, contributing not only economic impact in place but contributing to social value and creating multiple access points for involvement.
While the economic impact of UK based immersive spaces and experiences is impressive, that impact is highly focused within the capital. Touring experiences offer a broader opportunity for engagement, but also come with significant financial and infrastructure requirements, a barrier for regional spaces wanting to engage with this rapidly expanding sector.
Digital creative placemaking can develop cross-sector partnerships to build bespoke visitor experience and galvanise resources, people, and place in shared outcomes.
With an estimated 43,400 artists in the UK (measured in the first quarter of 2023*), these large-scale immersive experiences are unlikely to contribute to our cultural economy from an employment perspective, but they do create opportunities for a thriving event workforce. As producers, we seek to create opportunities for our artists, codesign with communities and bring experiences to our high streets for social and economic impact through commitment to place-based cultural activity.
Immersive large-scale, in the main, sits within “entertainment” and is powered heavily through the “sharing” economy. A rise in non-ownership-based consumption by new and younger audiences who are discerning in their expenditure have contributed to the rise in popularity of these experiences, and this is where Digital Creative Placemaking can learn from the immersive. Using a human led approach to how we develop our digital place-based experiences and thinking about how we can create unique and shareable moments to drive visitors and audiences should inform our thinking. We can then use this thinking to create and produce place-based experiences that bring forward unique histories and stories of place as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.
The debate between large-scale immersive experiences and creative digital placemaking is an opportunity for a nuanced approach to cultural development and community engagement. The rapid growth of immersive experiences has undoubtedly made a significant impact on the global entertainment landscape, with impressive economic figures to show for it. However, creative digital placemaking offers a different dimension of value to our cities and towns.
*Statistics taken from Statista.com
Frequency Festival of Digital Culture in in Lincoln Oct 26 to 29.
Vacancy for Vital Exposure artistic director, see http://www.vitalxposure.co.uk/new-artistic-lead/