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Northern Stories: Building digital capacity in the cultural sector

Collage of four photographs representing the organisations involved in the Northern Stories programme

For the last four years Arts Council England and Google Arts & Culture have worked together to provide opportunities for creative and cultural organisations to build their digital skills and showcase their incredible work on a global platform. All these initiatives have been brought together through storytelling into one single destination on Google Arts & Culture, called Igniting Inspiration. Northern Stories was an exciting next step in the collaboration and supported several creative and cultural organisations in the North of England to do just that.

Illustration of Tyne Bridge with patterns around it

Tyne Bridge 2, Lizzie Lovejoy

The organisations invited to take part were connected by their commitment to artistic work deeply rooted in the participation of the communities in which they are based. The project gave them access to a 12-week programme of bespoke training and mentorship from Google and the Arts Council’s Digital Culture Network. It also allowed them to employ a young person starting off in their career to produce digital content, giving them the chance to develop new skills and gain valuable professional experience. Using the digital skills gained on the programme, the creative and cultural organisations and those young people developed used newly created content and archive materials to curate a collection of stories that focussed on their own place within their communities. As well as creating the legacy of the Northern Stories collection, participants left the project with new skill sets, improved confidence and ongoing employment for some of the young people engaged in the programme.

Black and white photograph of four young people, who took part in the Northern Stories programme

Interns Daniel, Natasha, Owen and Adam. Dean Shaw

The project shows us, now more than ever before, the pressing need for digital skills and capacity building amongst the creative and cultural sector. This is why we have continued to invest in the Digital Culture Network programme. We are very proud of the hundreds of individual artists and organisations it has helped since it began. It also shows the importance of skill-sharing across peer networks, and the need to provide the pathways and skills development to start, maintain and sustain a career in the creative and cultural sector. It also shows us that digital technology offers new ways in which high quality creative activities and cultural experiences can be brought to more places and more people, allowing everyone to access the benefits they bring.

A group of young people dancing on stage, with red lights

Flyin’ by TIN Arts, photographed by Ian Paine

As we move to finish this stage of the collaboration, we are committed to exploring the new opportunities the relationship with Google Arts & Culture offers. The next exciting phase sees the Digital Culture Network teaming up with Google’s Digital Garage to deliver digital skills workshops across the country, supporting creative and cultural organisations to build their digital skills and capacity, and bringing the people working in those organisations together to share skills and develop ideas. These events will start in the autumn as part of the Digital Culture Network’s wider events programming.

An abstract image of a jar, a branch and two pears all made from glass

Unknown, Joanna Manousis (Photographed by David Wiiliams)

In the meantime, I encourage you to explore the collection from Northern Stories, which takes you on a journey from Blackpool on the Fylde coast to the shores of the North Sea at Sunderland. It includes work from LeftCoast, Sunderland Glass Centre, TIN Arts and ARC that looks at the different identities that make up the North of England, as told through the eyes of the people who live there. This project is a shining example of how increasing the understanding and use of new technologies and digital skills are helping individual artists and creative and cultural organisations bring life to the stories found in villages, towns and cities across England.

Pier in Blackpool during sunset, with the sea and clouds around it

Left Behind - Looking Forward

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