Fusion of tech, arts and society

Digital culture pioneer to join Edinburgh Futures Institute

Drew Hemment, Edinburgh Futures Institute

Drew Hemment: ‘When I heard the call, I came running’


One of the new creative digital roles resulting from Edinburgh’ £1 billion City Deal has been filled by the founder of a pioneering innovation lab.

Drew Hemment created FutureEverything which fuses art, technology and society to challenge and test the use of technology in creative and unexpected ways.

He has been appointed to the new post of Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where he will help develop the Edinburgh Futures Institute. It aims to harness the digital revolution for social benefit, and connect to Edinburgh’s festivals. It will be housed in the former Royal Infirmary at Quartermile when redevelopment work completes in 2021. 

After 23 years as Manchester-based FutureEverything creative director, Mr Hemment is moving to a strategic role on its board, and will hand the reins of creative director to the V&A’s Irini Papadimitriou.

His work, at FutureEverything and beyond, has been covered by New York Times, BBC and NBC, and recognised in awards from the arts, technology and public sectors.

In recent weeks, he has been a guest on Front Row, the BBC’s flagship culture show, and on BBC 6 Music. This month in Linz, Austria, he is receiving two awards, including an honorary mention in STARTS Prize 2018 for the Making Sense Toolkit, and a Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica 2018 as a part of the Leonardo community.

Mr Hemment said: “The scale of the canvas in Edinburgh is huge, and is an opportunity for me to connect futures, data and festivals.

“When I heard the call, I came running. Already the world’s foremost festival city, and world leading in informatics and artificial intelligence, it has the ambition to become the data capital of Europe.”

Professor Dorothy Miell, vice-principal, University of Edinburgh said: “As one of the key international figures who have shaped the emergence of digital culture across Europe, Drew is ideally placed to help realise our ambition, while connecting with the city’s festivals, through the work of the Edinburgh Futures Institute.”

The appointment coincides with a seven-figure award for a new Creative Informatics R&D Partnership, part of an £80 million nationwide creative industries initiative from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It is the largest-ever single investment in the sector. The Scottish Funding Council will provide further financial support.

Experts at the University of Edinburgh will work with Edinburgh Napier University, Creative Edinburgh, and CodeBase, the largest technology incubator in the UK. The new partnership will serve the city and its surrounding region. 

A key strand will be a scheme to improve data literacy in Edinburgh. It will bring together more than 25 organisations – including the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fruitmarket Gallery and the BBC. 

Over the next five years, it will also seek to create more than 60 businesses. These will use data-driven technology to develop new products, services and visitor experiences.

The funding will also encourage entrepreneurs to work in innovative ways with the city’s festivals, to collaborate with museums, libraries and galleries, and to create new tools for the city’s design community.

Project leaders suggest that the collaboration could lead to new commercial products for home entertainment, new ways to buy products and services by experiencing them first, and innovative online experiences for remote participation.

It will also help to explore new synergies in the digital archives of the national collections, for example National Museums Scotland’s unique archive of the work of fashion designer Jean Muir.

The Partnership is part of the University of Edinburgh’s role in the City Region Deal, which aims to help 10 sectors, including the creative industries, to benefit from data-driven innovation. 

Project Director Professor Chris Speed, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Design Informatics, said: “This significant grant from AHRC will deepen our relationship with cultural partners and industries across the Edinburgh region and beyond. Together, we will cultivate and support the growth of data-driven innovation for, and across, the creative industries.”

The Creative Informatics Partnership is one of nine AHRC clusters across the UK, designed to encourage collaboration between internationally-renowned creative industries and universities. 

See also:

Abertay University is establishing a dedicated research and development centre for the Dundee video games cluster with a view to driving product, service and experience innovation across the industry. 


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