Creative collaborations: Creative Entrepreneur in Residence

Writer, musician and games designer Rob Sherman by his exhibit at the British Library. Credit:The British Library

The best partnerships bring advantages for both parties – as one collaboration funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) clearly shows.

Writer, musician and games designer Rob Sherman from Derbyshire got together with the British Library to explore new ways of presenting exhibitions to the public.

The result was not only a hugely successful exhibition for the British Library – one that saw over 100,000 visitors – but the process also helped Rob secure an AHRC-funded PhD and further developed his own career.

The partnership between the two was facilitated through the AHRC-funded Creative Entrepreneur in Residence (CEIR) initiative, which was developed to support entrepreneurs who are interested in undertaking a short-term residency with one of Creativeworks London’s research partners.

The aim of the collaboration was to bring together the different expertise of staff at the British Library with the artistic expertise of the entrepreneur and explore together how exhibitions could be presented more imaginatively.

For his part Rob set out to produce an original body of artistic work in reaction to the ‘Lines in the Ice’ exhibition at the British Library, which focused on the 1845 expedition by John Franklin to discover the Northwest Passage.

As the Interactive Fiction Writer in Residence, Rob wrote an interactive story and game to accompany the exhibition and the public were able to see his work unfold on a blog diary. He also worked with British Library staff to enhance the public engagement elements of exhibitions at the library.

A sketch of a cairn by Rob Sherman. Credit:The British Library

As a result of this joint effort the ‘Lines in The Ice’ exhibition, which was extremely successful, attracting over 100,000 visitors.

Among the high-quality artistic contributions produced by Rob and British Library staff as part of the residency were a hand-bound book that was made to look like an antique artefact and integrated into the exhibition, acting as a false object.

Furthering this narrative, fake labels were created for objects on display. Rob also created a hidden web server for the exhibition, which added an additional layer of information, along with early prototypes of digital games and his research blog.

These outcomes were intended to present alternative perspectives on historical events and critique the library’s culture and practices.

In addition, the residency led to the reinterpretation of traditional music using the British Library's Sound Archive as inspiration. These reinterpretations were recorded at the Library’s recording studio for open-access upload and were performed at several events.

Rob Sherman summed up the benefits of the project to his career and work, saying: “These are methods I will continue to use in my future work.

“Contacts made during my time at the British Library have led directly to my AHRC-funded PhD at Bath Spa University.”

A handbound artificially aged book created by Rob Sherman. Credit:The British Library

But as well as developing the content of the exhibition there was also a more lasting legacy of the collaboration.

According to British Library staff, partnering with a creative entrepreneur and exposure to new ideas has altered how they consider working with their collections and made them more ambitious in terms of what can be achieved through an exhibition – especially in terms of talking about, researching and displaying artefacts.

Stella Wisdom,  Digital Curator of Contemporary British Collections at the British Library, says: “The residency not only provided an alternative perspective on historical events covered in the exhibition, but it also challenged the Library’s internal culture; questioning its own practices and appetite for innovation.”

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