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UAL Decolonising Arts Institute awarded £3m AHRC grant to transform UK collections using emerging technologies 

'Bullets' by Donald Locke
  • Written byTash Payne
  • Published date 21 September 2021
'Bullets' by Donald Locke
Donald Locke, Trophies of Empire, 1972-4 © Estate of Donald Locke. Courtesy of Tate

Transforming Collections: Reimagining Art, Nation and Heritage is a 3-year project led by UAL Professor susan pui san lok. The project is 1 of 5 national Discovery Projects awarded a total of £14.5m by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This forms the largest investment of Towards a National Collection (TaNC), a 5-year research and development programme. Harnessing the potential of new technology to dissolve barriers between collections, the investigation is the largest of its kind to date. It extends across the UK, involving 15 universities, 63 heritage collections and institutions, and over 120 individual researchers and collaborators.

Towards a National Collection aims to connect thousands of the UK’s disparate culture and heritage collections for audiences to explore holistically. It will empower audiences by involving them in the research and creating new avenues of access. There will be research and development of emerging technologies, including machine learning and citizen-led archiving. Outcomes will include innovative online access, computer simulations, community fellowships and travelling exhibitions.

Transforming Collections is driven by the belief that a national collection cannot be imagined without addressing structural inequalities in the arts. It will engage with the contentious histories imbued in objects, informed by debates around contested heritage. The project will combine critical art historical and museological research with participatory machine learning design. It will embed creative activations through artist commissions. It aims to enable cross-search of collections, surface patterns of bias and uncover hidden connections, and generate new narratives around art, nation and heritage.

Transforming Collections is an interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues from UAL’s Decolonising Arts and Creative Computing Institutes, working closely with the Tate. The project team includes Professor Sonia Boyce, Professor Mick Grierson, Dr Anjalie Dalal-Clayton and Dr Rebecca Fiebrink, Dr Athanasis Velios and Dr Peaks Krafft. We welcome applications for 2 new positions: Project and Partnerships Manager and Project Administrator.

Dr susan pui san lok is Professor of Contemporary Art and Director of the Decolonising Arts Institute at UAL. Project partners are: Tate, Arts Council Collection, Art Fund, Art UK, Birmingham Museums Trust, British Council Collection, Contemporary Art Society, Glasgow Museums, Iniva (Institute of International Visual Art), JISC Archives Hub, Manchester Art Gallery, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, National Museums Liverpool, Van Abbemuseum (NL), and Wellcome Collection.

It is a wonderful achievement for Professor susan pui san lok’s project to be selected for the Towards a National Collection programme. UAL shares the programme’s ambition to set a new standard in cross-disciplinary research. As Director of our Decolonising Arts Institute, susan already leads essential work to challenge colonial legacies in collections. Her team’s involvement in Towards a National Collection will ensure that this vital accountability is upheld.

— James Purnell, President & Vice-Chancellor of UAL
Tate is delighted to be collaborating closely with University of the Arts London and partnering with the University of Glasgow on two of the TaNC Discovery projects. These are substantial and ambitious long-term research initiatives that will enable Tate to interrogate artists, artworks and histories in our collection and generate new knowledge for and with the public.

— Dr Maria Balshaw CBE, Director of Tate

TaNC’s 4 other Discovery projects are led by researchers at the Science Museum, University of Glasgow, UCL and TU Darmstadt, and Historic England. They range from creating new digital tools for exploring collections to reshaping the future of UK maritime heritage.

Read the announcement on the Towards a National Collection website.

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