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Personal profile

Research interests

Donna Close is a senior research fellow in the School of Media specialising in projects, partnerships and research that investigates the role that creativity and cultural production processes have in amplifying cultural, social and economic value, particularly when fused with technology.  UoB projects include CLEVER, Arts DRIVA, XR Circus and 5GXR.

 In practice, Donna is a creative producer, artistic director and cultural strategist with 25 years’ experience as an arts and culture leader working across the private and public, commercial and cultural sectors. She has held senior roles in local government, higher education, large cultural organisations, creative SMEs and community and voluntary groups and has advised governments, funding organisations and cultural partnerships across the world on cultural policy and programmes.  Recently this has included developing the Cultural Experience Strategy for the Qatar World Cup 2022 and developing cultural startegies for Shropshire, Cumbria and the West of England.

Donna's research activity has explored all aspects of the production cycle and value chain to understand how artists and cultural producers can adopt and adapt new technology in order to create impactful public cultural experiences. As founder and director of award-winning festival White Night, one of the commissions she conceived and produced, ‘West Street Story’ working with artist Martyn Ware, body language expert Dr Harry Witchel and the Noise Abatement Society was designed specifically to tackle anti-social behaviour and was awarded a Sir John Connell award for Innovation.  In CLEVER, Donna developed a 'creative leadership' pedagogy to assist experience design of impactful projects: in XR Circus Donna refined a co-creation process for artists and technologists to skill share and co-design new prototypes in immersive experience: in Arts DRIVA this process was expanded into curated and co-curated Wide Angle events in order to reach a wider group of creatives and a Focus programme of 1-2-1s to support the development of new ideas and cultural products. This led to 6 new artist commissions as part of the Superfuese Awards where artists were supported to respond to the Gatwick data API. 5GXR further explores this with a focus on internationalism, exploring how knowledge exchange and co-creation can be supported virtually using 5G as a provocation and prompt for inter-disciplinary and academia/ industry discussion.

A cross-cutting theme of Donna's work is to support diversity in XR (Expanded Realities including AR/ VR and MR) and worked closely with Professor HW Kennedy to curate two symposia that provided a forum for knowledge creation and exchange around diversifying the XR culture and industry. These two events were ‘The Impossible Futures of Immersion’ (Nov 2018) and 'Change for the Machine' (May 2019) both events were in capacity and have laid the foundation for a Critical XR Network, currently in development. 

Donna remains a practitioner in the cultural sector as lead for Digital Democracies, an ACE funded national partnership supporting the development of new public culture using technology; as digital culture associate for Brighton Dome Brighton Festival, leading on the creative and strategic use of the 5G test-bed and the DCMS funded £3.5m 5G Festival, and as Director of Festivals and Events International (FEI).

Research Income (UoB)

  • CLEVER – PI, Manager and Research fellow. An international research project into Creative Leadership developing new understanding and pedagogy about how creative skills and practices can drive economic and social impact.  Led to Donna developing a new L5 module and LLL programme in Creative Leadership  (Erasmus+ funded €67,000)
  • Arts DRIVA – PI, Producer  -An independent research project that forms part of DRIVA arts DRIVA, a £1.2million innovation project designed to provide Creative, Digital & I.T (CDIT) SMEs, creative practitioners and cultural organisations access the full Coast to Capital (C2C) region, unprecedented facilitated access to Gatwick Airport’s big data alongside a mix of creative innovation support including innovation development, R&D grants, expert advice and access to specialist facilities. Arts DRIVA focuses on the artists, freelancers and cultural organisations that make up the creative sector using cultural production tools - such as curation, events, residencies, exhibitions, commissions - to support innovation (Arts DRIVA only ACE funded £266,000)
  • XR Circus – Producer, Co-designer. An AHRC funded ‘Next Generation of Immersive Experiences’ project that supported circus artists to develop their ideas working with immersive tech with facilitated access to equipment and expertise and co-curated with industry partners (Freedom Festival, SeaChange Arts, Without Walls).  This project also further developed the LIVE toolkit (developed for Root 1066) seeking to understand more about quality and impact through audience experience. (AHRC funded £73,000)
  • 5G:XR - PI, producer. An AHRC/ Newton Fund funded project with Istanbul to explore what new cultural experiences 5G might afford in cross-disciplinary practice particularly between the performing arts and games sector, and how this can be supported and fostered.  The project was forced to pivot die to Covid-19 and the focus has moved to how virtualisation can support international inter-disciplinary working.  (AHRC funded £34,000)

Knowledge exchange

Knowledge exchange is at the foundation of Donna's research and scholarly activity and all projects have been co-designed and co-delivered with industry partners, to ensure relevance, quality and impact. 

  • 5G:XR brings together academic and industry partners from Brighton and Istanbul: In the UK this was Wired Sussex and in Istanbul Theatre Co-operative.  The project also commissioned 7 films from practitioners as provocations to the discussion. The virtual participatory workshop attracted 40 representatives from industry and academia and the beginning of a new international XR network.  
  • Arts DRIVA established partnerships for co-design and delivery with individual artists (Semiconductor), creative SMEs (Always Possible, CMU) and cultural organisations (Wired Sussex, Lighthouse and Brighton Digital Festival) in order to engage and reflect all aspects of the creative economy ecology. 
  • XR Circus brought in expertise from academia and industry and was steered by a cross-sectoral leadership group including Without Walls (the UK development organisation for outdoor arts), Freedom Festival Arts Trust in Hull (producers of one of the largest outdoor arts festivals in the UK) and Seachange Arts Great Yarmouth who runs a major circus and street arts festival and a circus creation centre.  The XR Circus showcase was part of the Brighton Festival and delivered in partnership with Brighton Speigeltent.  The project was selected to be part of the UKRI showcase in SXSW 2019 in Austin, Texas USA.
  • CLEVER was an international knowledge-exchange partnership with academic institutions and private training providers from across Europe and Iceland working with academic colleges in Israel to inform and improve how creative leadership and entrepreneurialism could be taught and supported through policy.

 Donna has played an active role in shaping a number of place-based partnerships and consortium as part of bidding to AHRC Creative Clusters, Leading Places and Transforming Leadership. She helped found the Brighton & Hove Arts & Creative Industries Commission in 2003 and helped set up the Gloucester Culture Trust in 2017. Donna is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Creative Industries Federation and talks internationally about festivals and events in her capacity as Director of FEI.

Approach to teaching

Donna brings a great deal of professional practice experience from the creative and cultural industries to her teaching work, and a strong industry network.

Donna designed and taught on an L5 options module Arts Management for Pioneers which incorporated site visits, industry talks, and project development.

As part of the CLEVER project, Donna also developed a L5 module and a life long learning sandbox around the principles of Creative Leadership.  

Donna’s research is focused on how to support innovation in cultural production through impactful ideation (CLEVER) a creative co-laboratory process (XR Circus) and a cultural response to the innovation pipeline (Arts DRIVA).

Education/Academic qualification

Master, University of Brighton

1 Oct 201631 May 2018

Award Date: 4 Jul 2019

Bachelor, University of Sussex

1 Sep 199031 May 1993

Award Date: 1 Jun 1993

External positions

Associate

2 Feb 2020 → …

member, Creative Industries Federation

1 Jan 2019 → …

Director, Festival & Events International

1 Nov 2016 → …

Trustee, Brighton Open Air Theatre

2 Apr 20131 Feb 2019

Head of Arts/ Arts & Cultural Projects Manager, Brighton & Hove City Council

1 Jul 200318 Dec 2014

Fellow, Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)

30 Jun 2001 → …

Keywords

  • AI Indexes (General)
  • Cultural Value
  • Innovation
  • Festivals
  • Curation
  • Creativity

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