On 13 December 2022, invited guests and members of the public were able to Walk Through Coventry Data at The Reel Store. The event was well-received and showed amazing images of Coventry through the years and generated a real sense of civic pride. It had, however, been a long and tricky path to reach that successful conclusion.
In late May 2022, Coventry University’s Nick Henry and Tim Hammerton, and Coventry City Council’s Insight team’s Si Chun Lam and Tim Healey, met to consider ideas to promote place, as part of the AHRC funded place-based knowledge exchange project − City Change Through Culture: Securing The Place Legacy Of Coventry City Of Culture 2021.
As members of the independent UK City of Culture 2021 monitoring and evaluation team, there was awareness of how rich Coventry had become having captured a range of cultural data. The question was, how to make stakeholders aware of these data so that they might be used to benefit the city. One idea that germinated over the next few weeks was the ambitious Walking Through Coventry Data exhibition.
Conversations continued throughout the summer, wondering how this might be done, and what content and technical expertise was needed, as filling a digital exhibition would need a lot of strong imagery. By the beginning of August it was confirmed that The Reel Store was available and the booking was placed: things had become real.
Si Chun Lam produced a mock-up image and initial data-orientated video, but by the end of October had left the Council for a new job. The risk of failure had increased. However, the Council’s team was enhanced with Viviana Sagredo now involved and Coventry University had brought in the expertise of Ben Kyneswood who manages the Coventry Digital archive of images, together with support from Mark Scott at Warwick Business School.
There were lots of ideas and approaches swirling around about which aspects of Coventry to highlight, the type of data to use, how they should be presented and the thematic strands that could be featured. Nick Henry created a structure for the presentation which Ben Kyneswood, Tim Healey and Vivi Sagredo built upon, developing a storyboard and a script that was refined in the run up to the event.
The plan was to feature Coventry past, present and future, highlight the cultural attributes that Coventry has always been proud of, how the year as UK City of Culture 2021 had benefitted the city, and end with a forward-looking message considering (cultural) opportunities to come.
Invitations had gone out within the two universities and the Council, as well as to members of the public, with an event sold that was still being built in parallel. Freelance support was brought in, with Jon Randle of Mindriot Productions providing important animation expertise and Coventry’s Poet Laureate, Emilie Lauren Jones, recording the voiceover. Technical support was provided by the ever-patient Alex Wilcox at The Reel Store, who enabled the story to appear on the walls. Interested parties were asking about the event, and answers were a little vague, as development continued.
On 6 December, the team saw the first version of the exhibition that ran on a nine-minute loop; it was so exciting, as it was brilliant, with fantastic images and important city related data. There was a week to finalise it, synch the voiceover and music (composed by Tim Healey). Discussions with colleagues became more confident, as the risk had diminished.
On 13 December, Nick Henry welcomed guests on behalf of the partnership team and explained that:
Today is one output of a group. An output funded by our recent Arts and Humanities Research Council place-based knowledge exchange project, one of only nine funded UK-wide.
The exchange project was written deliberately to deliver new possibilities of knowledge exchange around the now substantial array of data on cultural activity and participation, City of Culture and the city of Coventry.
Most especially it was written to create new possibilities with and for our place partners outside of the university such as Coventry City Council. Along with reports, webinars and briefings we are immensely pleased to have completed the recent Coventry Cultural Challenge and to now present Walking Through Coventry Data.
Many of our outputs, such as today’s, are deliberately innovative and exploratory – and not without risk – as we continue to seek to exchange, engage and generate new insights and conversations.
Si Chun Lam reviewed the event in a LinkedIn post:
Today, I attended Walking Through Coventry Data at The Reel Store UK, an immersive exhibition telling the story of place of Coventry using data insight and intelligence blended with art and visuals from the city. Ever since there were plans for an immersive digital gallery in Coventry, it was my vision that the space was used to tell stories about people and place in the city.
Today’s event brought my vision to life, thanks to a talented multidisciplinary team from across Coventry. This included colleagues from Coventry City Council’s Insight Team producing the data, script and even the soundtrack; Coventry University, including the Coventry Digital archive supplying the digital skills, logistics, imagery and videos historic and new; University of Warwick − Warwick Business School supplying the cultural insights; Coventry City of Culture Trust colleagues at the Reel Store supplying the technical expertise and venue; a voiceover from Coventry’s first Poet Laureate; and funding from UK Research and Innovation.
In my role at the West Midlands Combined Authority, we are working to create a thriving regional ecosystem for research and intelligence. We are doing so, not by recreating our own regional observatory; but by playing a role where we support and champion excellence right across the region.
What is evident from Coventry’s collaborative approach is that, by harnessing the strengths and unique characteristics of the place, Coventry has built a flourishing ecosystem of research and intelligence that unlocks data not only from spreadsheets, but even unleashes insights from Power BI dashboards. Instead, people are transported into an immersive experience that shows what it really feels like to live, work and play in Coventry, which is, perhaps, the fullest and most complete expression of what it means for data insights to come alive.
On 13 December 2022, invited guests and members of the public were able to Walk Through Coventry Data at The Reel Store. The event was well-received by more than 70 representatives from the two universities, Coventry City Council (including Councillors), City of Culture Trust, creative organisations and the public, and generated a real sense of civic pride. It forged new links between people and organisations that have the potential to be built upon and raised awareness of Coventry data, with multiple requests for information following the event.
It had been a long and tricky path to reach that successful conclusion, but every minute of it had been worth it to see the wonderful array of photographs and videos of Coventry through the years and positive data that showcased our city of Coventry.
The Walking Through Coventry Data exhibition is shortly to be made available in new formats. Users will be able to navigate a 2D VR experience and a 2D version (both for PC) using arrow keys, either viewing the exhibition in 3D with a headset or in 2D on a screen.
Details of the AHRC funded event can be seen on the Walking Through Coventry Data page.