In Place of War - a digital platform for artists in conflict zones

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures


This application is for follow-on funding for the successful AHRC funded In Place of War (IPOW) project to develop an online platform for artists to share creative responses to conflict. It is based upon an innovative relationship with two new technology companies: Yoomee and AudioBoo. The former specialises in online web and network development, with a particular emphasis on social enterprise and community development. They will be the technology 'supplier' for the project and have been chosen because of their collaborative style of working and a commitment to the overall vision of the initiative. The latter is an audio version of twitter that has come into prominence as a popular format for 'citizen journalists' and social commentators living and working in Libya and Egypt during the recent 'Arab Spring'. AudioBoo are a project partner and are therefore contributing all time and resources in kind. They view this as an exciting development of the technology they have already pioneered and are interested in exploring how different users develop and expand their service. The project will work with both companies to create an integrated online platform that allows artists and creative commentators living in conflict zones to upload, document, and share artistic responses to unrest.
IPOW currently has three online resources - an archive of digitised materials from theatre projects in war zones, a project web site and a social networking platform. This initiative seeks to combine all three and then substantially increase their reach. The rising popularity of social media, and the crucial role it has played in recent local (eg. the UK riots) and international conflicts (eg. Libya) has created an environment where international commentators now use social media to learn about different aspects of conflicts. Twitter feeds, facebook posts, online blogs and audioboo reports are now a vital part of knowledge circulation processes. Journalists outside conflict zones, as well as students, academics and the arts community, are interested in stories and different responses from people directly affected by and involved in unrest - and this project seeks to align existing IPOW resources and networks to these international developments. Artists have been widely used as first-hand sources for reporting on the situations in Egypt, Libya and Syria during the 'Arab Spring' - and we believe that an easily accessible site for the arts community, where they can upload material (visual, audio and text) and search the responses of others - could be an innovative platform in this new media environment. Drawing on IPOW's existing network, and on the experience of the technology partners (including a social media advisory board), this proposal, therefore, aims to create an accessible online resource that will become the pre-eminent site through which artists share their work and experiences of war. Simultaneously, it aims to become the portal to which those people seeking to locate first hand 'creative' responses to conflict turn.

Planned Impact

The project seeks to develop new understandings of the impact of war and violence, by making widely available the responses of creative individuals and artists from international conflict zones. It aims to make this material accessible to social commentators, journalists, artists and the wider public so that they become more aware of the diverse effects of conflict on others' lives. It aims to inform public debate on the capacity of culture to mitigate the worst aspects of violence and the role played by artists at times of war. For artists viewing the site, it will provide an inspiration for new practices and encourage engagement with issues of conflict and war. For social commentators, journalists and a broader public, it seeks to stimulate a more nuanced understanding of conflict including an appreciation of the role of the arts in responding to violence and at times supporting the search for peace. While it is accepted that these 'impacts' will be hard to capture, we believe that the capacity for these groups to have their perspectives enriched is immense. We aim to use the monitoring capacity of google analytics to log all levels of interaction with the site: from geographic spread of users, time spent on different sections and viewing figures for different elements or uploads. In addition, the references to our platform that are acknowledged in other media outputs will be tracked. While these are not a precise proxy for the broader social impact, we anticipate we will be able to track the volume and quality of site usage quite precisely.
The second main impact is on the artists that use the site to share their material. The IPOW social network already has nearly 200 members and we will aim to increase this number substantially once the new site is fully operative. This will be achieved by promoting the site through online blogger forums, existing social media contacts and other online arts networks. The diverse experience of our social media advisory board will be closely involved in this strategy. The impact on artists who come from war zones will be the availability of a wider network of support, an ability to draw on inspiration and advice from others, the use of uploaded resources (from manuals to other examples of work) and a validation of their work through its association with an international community of artists. The opportunity to share work internationally will help to overcome the isolation of living in war zones, and also enable new forms of inter-artist solidarity. Creative responses to terrible events or accounts of hardship can develop new audiences through social media that mobilise new forms of local and international support.
The third area of impact is on the NGO sector, particularly those agencies that work in war and post-war zones. While IPOW has good links with a number of agencies and access to a considerable network through the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, we will make particular effort during the follow-on project to promote the online resources to NGOs, so that they become users of the materials, discover artists who work in similar situations or on similar concerns to them, and so that they can promote the project across their networks. The aim is to create more NGO/artist collaborations and an increased openness to new techniques amongst the NGO sector.
The final impact will be on the technology companies. While both Audioboo and Yoomee have collaborated with a range of organisations, this will be one of the first times they have partnered with an academic institution. We hope this provides new insights and opportunities for both companies that in turn strengthens them as businesses and expands their capacity. We will make a specific effort to promote the model of researcher/technology engagement that is at the core of this bid, as part of an effort to encourage academics to discover new means to disseminate and promote their work (see activities in case for support).


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Description 1. In developing a relationship with technology companies we have learnt the value of establishing a shared vision of the project and the importance of spending substantial time in setting the parameters and ambitions for the initiative. The time spent prior to starting the project on identifying partners and preparing the work was vital. We developed excellent working relations with our partners and the time spent setting and repeatedly reworking the ideas for the platform produced a much richer outcome.

2. In amalgamating three existing online resources, we learnt the importance of setting careful objectives for each stage of the programme and understanding the way that social and online media is a fast changing arena. We learnt to both have clear ambitions for the end point of the project, but also a sense that the route to a successful outcome was unpredictable.

3. The development, testing and promotion of the online platform was successful and we learnt how it takes time and a huge amount of effort to get the platform used by different groups. At time of writing we have 452 users and we are confident that this is continuing to grow. Social media platforms need constant monitoring and updating and one 'key finding' would be that care should be taken when planning a campaign to get a site used. We are pleased with the volume of artists signing up to the site, but the process of getting them to start interacting with each other is taking longer to establish.

4. The ability to grow the IPOW network has been an important positive outcome for this follow on grant. The key learning point here has been that the desire to network amongst musicians and visual artists seems higher than theatre artists. At time of writing it is unclear about why this is the case - whether it is linked to the digital format or their work more broadly. Interestingly the relationship between a platform and live performance has been more dynamic than we thought it would be and the opportunities that the site is developing to lead to exhibition, display and performance of members work has increased at the quicker rate than we thought it would.
Exploitation Route Difficult to answer this question - depends on which academics, practitioners, artists, students etc you are talking about. Some people are interested in the digital component of this project, some the research presentation, some the practice of the many artists. A new development is that we are also now working with other artist networks, and particularly UK refugee artist networks, who are keen to connect our resources in order to build links between UK-based and overseas artists from sites of conflict.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description This was a project to create an online resource - it was already a development of a research project so 'findings' does not quite work. We created the web resource with external partners, it was launched and continues to be a welcome and respected resource within the sector and beyond. Latest statistics (October 2015) show: - 18,500 unique visitors from 156 countries - 452 artist and organisaitonal profiles created on the platform from 47 countries - 3 international mentoring and performance opportunities for artists open for application in 2015, with four further scheduled for 2016. Through the website, artists, audiences, and researchers have discovered new work and made new connections within the network.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Title The In Place of War project database is currently on-line and houses information on 500 people, 350 theatre and other organisations, and 360 events 
Description This is the output from the first In Place of War AHRB/C award but also a more recent follow on grant. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This is now an online platform for artists in war zones - and was adapted and enhanced during a follow on research grant from the AHRC