Art and smart materials combine for community project

Posted on Tuesday 5th February 2013

Researchers and artists working with community groups

The contrasting worlds of futuristic smart materials and arts and crafts are being brought together in a unique project at the University of Bolton.

The project sees local artists joining forces with the University’s smart material researchers to work with local community groups to explore, create and design different applications for smart materials.

Participants will come up with their community-focused smart materials uses at workshops, to be held at the University. The 12-month project aims to include more than 100 people from the East Bolton area. Bolton at Home is supporting the project, providing £16,000 in Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) funding, secured through Bolton Council Arts Development.

The University of Bolton is a world-renowned, leading centre for research and development of smart materials. It pioneers areas such as auxetic fibres, which expand rather than contract when stretched, and flexible piezoelectric fibres that can be woven to create natural energy-harnessing fabrics.

Gaynor Cox is Arts Officer for Bolton at Home and is project managing this initiative. She said: ‘The aim is to bring together researchers in the area of smart materials and local artists to work with residents from some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Bolton. The intention is to leave a legacy of both skills for employability and artefacts for the community.’

The concept follows on from the PhD work of Dr Kate Holmes who completed her thesis at the University of Bolton last year. Dr Holmes’ research looked at the role of technology within craft and creative communities. Along with Dr Rachel Mclean, Dr Holmes approached Bolton at Home with a proposal to run community workshops bringing art and technology together. She is now the Creative and Technical Project Co-ordinator for this scheme.

Dr Holmes said: ‘The main aim of the project is to integrate smart materials and creative/wearable technologies into the local community, providing new opportunities for people to create, develop their skills and to demonstrate how technology can be fun and easy to use.’

A number of community groups are already involved in the programme, varying from a knitting group to a local junior football team and group of unemployed young men. Dr McLean added: ‘People who would never have imagined themselves creating and taking part in something like this are really getting to grips with the technologies they are working with.’

But Dr Holmes wants an even more diverse range of community groups to take part in the project. That is why she is happy Bolton at Home is involved, beyond simply providing funds. She added: ‘We were aware of the work Bolton at Home do and the fact that they already have connections with established groups within the community. They have been extremely supportive and I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with them.’