Fresh from award success at the inaugural York Culture Awards (‘Community Event’), York charity New Visuality are zoning in on how York as a city is harnessing greater inclusivity through innovation for 2017. With a recent range of partners including Blueberry Academy, Go Print3D, York College and University of York’s Digital Creativity Labs, New Visuality director Greg McGee reckons the time has never been better for breaking down barriers. Here he talks us through New Visuality’s latest projects and how ‘through innovation, integration’.
We meet Greg McGee at his eponymous gallery, ‘According to McGee’, opposite Clifford’s Tower, York. He points at the red dots that pepper the price tags of the paintings on the walls, each dot denoting a sale. “Very little to do with me,” he laughs, “Ails (wife and business partner) has been at the helm of the gallery for 3 months now while I complete New Visuality business. It’s been a busy time but extremely fulfilling.”
An aspect of Greg’s workload is tying up the loose ends of ‘Text: Technology, Disability & Art’, for which New Visuality garnered a York Culture Award. A typically multi-faceted project, ‘Text’ saw Greg working with young people with learning difficulties at the Blueberry Academy, bringing in the cutting edge of York Explore’s Platform 46, as well as offering the olive branch to York’s twitter trolls by inviting their thoughts and exhibiting them as printed out Letter Press posters alongside aspirational slogans created by the Blueberry Academy learners, using algorithms created by interns from the University of York’s Interactive Media department and DC Labs. “It was a gamechanger,” says Greg, “We had Venturefest Network inviting us to exhibit at the Venturefest Yorkshire where it featured as a successful portfolio on how to include a community’s most vulnerable citizens in citywide conversations, and BBC Creative Interactions Day invited us to participate at their event on innovative inclusivity at Manchester’s MediaCity, which was a great day out.”
Heritage is wonderful, but there’s always the danger of fossilization. I can’t think of another city in Europe that can fuse tradition and technology with such chutzpah as York.
Recent projects have included ‘Bursting the Speech Bubble’, where, through interactive algorithms New Visuality have worked with Blueberry Academy to assist learners to create not only the heroes on their comic strips but their speech bubbles. It’s a neat way of involving our supposedly most vulnerable citizens in telling York’s latest stories, and has fed into later activities, such as illuminating Chinese New Year and using 3D prints of flowers to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. About the latter, Holcaust Memorial Day Trust Chief Executive Olivia Marks-Woldman says, "It’s inspiring to see the thoughts and responses of Blueberry learners to Holocaust Memorial Day and to see the beautiful and accomplished pieces of work they produced. As a symbol of the 2017 HMD theme How Can Life Go On? the flower is a perfect response. We are very proud to have supported the work of New Visuality.”
Both innovative projects partnered with Blueberry Academy.
Greg is grateful for the partnership and is upbeat about the future, “There’s a long way to go, but thing are getting better for young people with disabilities in York. Blueberry Academy play a massive part in that. Their success stories are found across the city, across a wide range of industries." Says Blueberry Academy’s Learning Coordinator Laura Kent, "The collaborative work with New Visuality was a fantastic opportunity for our learners to work with cutting edge technology. The Blueberry Academy delivers Personalised Learning Programmes for young people 16-25 years old, supporting them towards developing independence and employment skills. The 3D printing workshops gave them access to a level of technology that few young people have experienced yet. To see their work used in this way was a brilliant experience for them."
“It’s not just one-off York collaborations that are using digital innovation for a fairer, more beautiful society,” says Greg, “It’s a groundswell. The City of Media Arts designation by UNESCO has fertilized a whole new scene, and New Visuality is in many ways riding the wake of a new way of thinking. Heritage is wonderful, but there’s always the danger of fossilization. I can’t think of another city in Europe that can fuse tradition and technology with such chutzpah as York. The University of York’s Digital Creativity Labs are flying the flag with Gameification and Virtual Reality, and are having a massive influence outside of campus. Science City York are pushing for game changing innovation. What’s especially gratifying is that not only York’s traditionally excluded citizens claiming ownership of their city, but school children are getting involved too. New Visuality has already benefitted from the sparky ideas from a cohort of 14 year olds who were involved with City of York Council’s #CodeYork programme. They’ve programmed computers, software, came up with programmes and games, and built and taught skills in problem solving and logic. The sessions we teach with young people are in much finer fettle because of this kind of input.”
Greg is ebullient about the citywide move to a more confident relationship with digital media. As we speak, the footage of workshops with young people who have experienced homelessness is projected through a semi-transparent screen in According to McGee’s front window, gilding the grass of Clifford’s Tower with ghostly delineations of 3D prints and games created by participants. Watching it and the ancient vista upon which the projection glimmers is an exciting sign of the times.New Visuality