MAKE STUFF Spotlight: Awkward Arcade

Thursday, September 1, 2016

MadLab has spent the last month on tour with MAKE STUFF: a series of community events taking place across Greater Manchester featuring coding, crafting, building and making workshops and activities - all designed to get people engaged and creative with technology!

One of the attractions currently touring with MAKE STUFF is the Awkward Arcade - an experimental video arcade, showcasing a series of games encouraging players to think and interact in unusual ways. The games can be as existential as they are exasperating, encouraging physical participation and mental gymnastics in equal measure.

Featuring titles such as Line Wobbler, Every Day The Same Dream, The Mashing, Guppy, Hand Foot Co-Ordination & Isochrone, this is the first time the majority of these games have been shown outside of a purely digital environment, specifically chosen and built into cabinets for the Arcade.

The Awkward Arcade presents a great opportunity to experience some of the innovation and intrigue of modern indie gaming along with the social and interactive elements of the original arcade environment, revisiting a bygone era of video-games.

The Arcade was assembled and curated by James Medd - artist, musician and resident technologist at MadLab. James hails from Nottingham originally, studying Creative Music Technology at the University of Hull before moving to Manchester to complete an MA at the University of Salford. Since then he’s been making music, instruments, installations, robots and arcade cabinets across the country, teaching classes on programming, sound design and interactivity along the way.

He was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the arcade, gaming and making stuff!

What does the Awkward Arcade do?

The Awkward Arcade is an experimental video game arcade, showcasing unusual games from developers and artists all over the world. It fuses modern innovative and alternative games with the classic setting of the arcade.

Who’s it for?

The Arcade is for anyone who likes to think they know what video games are – including both experienced gamers, and non-gamers. It delivers new experiences, and always surprises audiences.

How did you start making stuff?

I started making stuff as a studio engineer and performing musician, looking to make unusual tools for playing music when I was a student. This groundwork in interactive technology lead me on to create more creative installations and curiosities, before eventually building the Awkward Arcade.

What’s your favourite arcade game?

My favourite classic arcade game is Mr. Do (1982) – no matter how many times I play it, it still makes me tense. My favourite Awkward Arcade game is probably Guppy, the game about being a small fish in a big pond!

You can come and experience James’ Arcade at any of our upcoming dates in Bury, Oldham & Trafford across August and September - check the events section for all details!

If you’d like to learn more about the Awkward Arcade, head to or email

'MadLab’s Arts+Tech Accelerator Bears Fruit'

Monday, June 27, 2016

Oomlout have made a special post about our Open Studio event on Friday 17th June.

"Considering the short time the programme has been running, we're thrilled to see these and other projects bearing fruit - and excited to see what else comes out of the accelerator in the future."

Read the whole text here.

Angela Davies

A dynamic environment for collaboration, making and learning

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Beatrice Pembroke, Director of Creative Economy at the British Council, mentions MadLab in her recent article: Give new ideas the space they need to be tested.

Featured are the Arts+Tech creative practice accelerator and MadLab's exchange with makers and academics: Living Research: Making in China.

"It’s no accident that the arts-and-tech pilot programme is being delivered through three of the most exciting creative organisations in the UK right now.

When Arts Council England, Innovate UK and the KTN set out to support innovation in arts, tech and business they did a clever thing by selecting Makerversity, MadLab and Near Now and giving them the freedom to decide how best to support new ideas and talent.

Each one is a different example of a trusted creative hub — a carefully curated space for enterprising individuals to access ideas, tools, investment and moral support. Each brings together a diverse community of creative practice with elements of start-up culture and design thinking to create new value; a nurturing, dynamic environment for collaboration, making and learning."

Arts+Tech Open Studio / Friday 17 June

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Members of the inaugural MadLab Arts+Tech accelerator are hosting an informal open studio evening on Friday the 17th of June at MadLab.

The MadLab Arts+Tech accelerator is part of a £1m national pilot scheme supported by Arts Council England and Innovate UK.

The cohort will present protoypes and works in progress, ahead of a national tour of their completed works in September.

Artist talks will take place between 6.30pm and 7.30pm, followed by a social.

Drinks and canapés will be served.

Please RSVP to

Places are limited to 20 on a first-come, first-served basis.

36-40 Edge Street
M4 1HN

Doing Research in the 21st Century

Saturday, May 28, 2016

This feature was originally posted on Arts Council England / Innovate UK's Arts and Technology hub. For more information and to see more posts, click here.

The notion of art as a form of research is hardly a new idea, arguably it goes back to Aristotle, but in recent years it has been given a particular impetus. As the creative economy has grown in importance, so too has a confidence that arts and humanities need not be dependent on research methodologies from other disciplines. Alongside this, there is a greater awareness that creative attributes and practices can form the basis for inquiry, generating knowledge and refining insight.

These approaches become especially powerful when combined with research and development facilities and processes associated with science, engineering and software. The result has been a new and distinct kind of R+D, with innovation practices increasingly central to businesses and economies, but which are still to be fully recognised or described.

Anyone who has visited the Waag in Amsterdam, MadLab in Manchester or the Copenhagen Institute of Interactive Design, will know that these are not solely arts centres, laboratories, business incubators or education providers — although they might incorporate elements of all these. And while such places usually receive some form of public support, they are not delivery agencies and tend to be driven by curiosity rather than output-driven funding regimes.

A project from the Waag, Amsterdam

It might be better to think of them as research centres. After all, it would be hard to deny that this is what they do. They house multi-disciplinary teams of specialists who investigate issues and frame problems. They contribute to the knowledge base and they bring user-centred processes to develop new products and services. They incorporate scientific expertise and domain knowledge with a range of creative practices and design tools.

As Marleen Stikker from the Waag has observed, such research is not just speculative, but a spectacle — a public act, with elements of performance and participation. The modern research facility tends to be an anonymous building in an out-of- town science park. By contrast, the likes of the Waag or Pervasive Media Studio are firmly located in town centres, attract visitors and run cultural programmes.

The cultural and economic rewards from such places can be considerable, but are yet to be sufficiently appreciated by funding bodies, regulators or academic institutes. Even the individual academics working with such centres and who draw on their resources often struggle to acknowledge them as research partners. As a result, well-established centres with international reputations can find themselves in a precarious position, dependent on short-term funding cycles and vulnerable to the planning and investment decisions of local authorities in a way which universities and government research institutes are largely protected from.

Securing validation therefore remains a challenge, and there is an onus on such centres themselves to better position what it is they do, and articulate the value that they bring. But more broadly, the very notion of research needs to be re-thought, broadened and possibly even rebranded for the 21 st century. Across the OECD, some 2.3% of total GDP goes on research and development — a figure that has remained roughly the same for many years. But government and industry need to be aware that there are now new ways for how they spend it.

Tom Campbell on how learning from the Arts and Tech programme can help change our perceptions about arts research. View the original article here.

Lego Serious Play at MadLab: building ideas, brick by brick

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

This feature was originally posted on Arts Council England / Innovate UK's Arts and Technology hub. For more information and to see more posts, click here.


In December 2015, MadLab chose an interesting way to begin their version of the Arts and Technology pilot programme.

Manchester’s MadLab is a grassroots innovation organisation where playing with new technology and having fun collaborating together is serious business.

As one of three partners in the Arts and Technology programme, MadLab was encouraged to run the programme their way — and so the MadLab Arts + Tech Accelerator was born.

The MadLab accelerator is structured to ensure their cohort leaves with tangible results: demo products, business plans and connections with backers. The accelerator’s intense, results-oriented, all-hands-on-deck period in the first half of the project set the tone for the year.

Consequentially, a cohort of people with focus, ambition and an eagerness to create tangible objects was sought.

After having sifted through initial applications, a long-list of 20 participants was invited to take part in a two-day Lego Serious Play workshop in December 2015. To narrow the list further, and reflect the diversity of their practice, MadLab decided to incorporate hands-on experimentation.

Run by Stuart Nolan, magician-in-residence at Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol, the workshop took an unusual starting point to reach a useful conclusion.


Lego was used to initiate discussion

The participants were encouraged to use Lego to build models which represented the concepts behind their current work and what they hoped to achieve if they took part in the programme. The intention was to help focus thoughts on their applications while uncovering previously unconsidered facets of their work.

Frank discussion, troubleshooting, and dissection of ideas took place.

You can hear interviews with session leader Stuart, participants Daniel, Anna and Sophie, and MadLab’s Asa Calow below (or those of you in a rush can listen to a bite-sized version here)




The act of building and re-building a Lego model, and then explaining it to the group, distanced the individuals from their ideas — and they were steered to talk about the object over the ideas behind them.

Because the models were designed to represent their ambitions and aims — albeit often metaphorically — it allowed room for ideas to grow.


(It initiated laughter too)

This approach also meant that naturally garrulous or overbearing voices were dimmed and otherwise quiet participants had space to talk.

Being a uniform, brick-based medium, the use of Lego was intended to equalise artistic skill, allowing focus on the the object (and its subject) instead of any perceived creative merit.


Asa Calow and Stuart Nolan

As the participants built, discussed and explained, Stuart helped gently guide conversation and posed questions that challenged perceptions.

It was an intense, surprisingly draining two days, but by the end of the second day, when the Arts and Technology programme interviews took place, participants and MadLab staff alike agreed that the Lego Serious Play had focused minds and sharpened ideas.

As well as making the selection process clearer, the workshop gave participants the confidence they needed — so that they could get on with beginning to take their ideas and turning them into real business propositions.

Introducing the Arts and Technology pilot programme

Thursday, March 3, 2016

This feature was originally posted on Arts Council England / Innovate UK's Arts and Technology hub. For more information and to see more posts, click here.


The Arts and Technology programme is an exciting, pioneering pilot scheme designed to support innovation in arts practice, technology development and associated business models.

It’s organised by Arts Council England, Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network, and is being delivered by three regional partners: Makerversity in London, MadLab in Manchester and Near Now at The Broadway Arts Centre in Nottingham.


MadLab, Manchester

One of the programme’s core strengths is its diversity. Each partner is executing the pilot scheme in a slightly different way, reflecting individual specialisms, ethoses and workflows.

The result of this diversity is varied and nuanced insight. This blog aims to share these valuable experiences — not just for the benefit of the partners and their cohorts, but the wider world too.

This post introduces the programme, and below it are links to posts outlining the hopes of key decision-makers who launched the programme. They’re well worth reading to better understand how the aims of the programme will be fulfilled.

There’ll also be regular posts containing audio interviews, photos, and commentary on each stage of each participant’s version of the programme.


Here’s an introduction to the Arts and Technology pilot programme, along with some broader context, from Tom Campbell, the Knowledge Transfer Network’s Joint Head of Creative Industries.

“Innovation in the creative industries is driven by an intricate relationship between content and technology; the collaboration between artist and scientist.” - Innovate UK, Creative Industries Strategy (2013)

Digital technologies are recognised as one of the fastest growing areas of the UK economy. According to the most recent government statistics, ‘IT, software and computer services’ now represents more than 5% of the economy as a whole, with a turnover of £37bn and employing over 600,000 people.


Makerversity studios, London

As with so many sectors, the creative industries are being transformed by the digital economy. But that does not mean they are being subsumed into it. Rather, technological innovation is going hand in hand with creative practices and artistic expression.

Visual artists, film makers, writers, designer makers, fashion designers, animators, musicians and many more are pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved both creatively and technically.

Of course, artists have always been doing this — from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneering sound engineering in the 1950s through to director James Cameron amassing patents for video cameras and audio-visual production tools.


Near Now staff and participants (centre) at the project’s Residential event, February 2016

But the opportunities provided by digital technology mean that artists are able to create new works, products and platforms to an unprecedented level.

Established ways of working are being transformed — as Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy has said, “Many of the UK’s leading creative professionals could equally well be described as engineers or designers, inventors or artists.”

This is not just about new businesses and markets — it is also giving artists the chance to widen their practice, to experiment with new tools and reach out to different audiences.

Arts Council England, Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network have recognised this and come together to initiate and manage the Arts and Technology Programme.

A pilot project delivered by three organisations with a track record of fostering cross-sector collaborations, it is equipping talented individuals and start-ups with the means to develop the kinds of products and services that will come to define the UK’s creative economy.

— Tom Campbell, February 2016


The rule of three: further thoughts on the Arts and Technology programme

This programme was initiated by three organising partners in conjunction with three regional partners.

So what are the aspirations of each organiser? Here are the thoughts of:

Lucy Sollitt, Creative Media Relationship Manager, London, Arts Council England

Matt Brown, Lead Technologist, Creative Industries at Innovate UK

Frank Boyd, Director of the Creative Industries, Design and Digital Economy at the Knowledge Transfer Network

MadLab Salford Programme Briefing, live video of the event

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Application Deadline Extended!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

There's been a whole lot of interest, and thanks to everyone who has put in an application to date. From the discussions we've been having with potential participants over the past couple of weeks however, it's been made clear that there are many out there who would benefit from a bit more time in getting to grips with the application process. For this reason, we've taken the decision to extend the application deadline by an extra 10 days until Wednesday 25th November.

If you have any questions, please get in touch via email at, or call the MadLab office on 0161 839 6324 and ask to speak to someone from the Arts+Tech team.

North West Programme Briefings

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

It's now less than a month away from the application deadline. We've had a huge amount of interest in the programme, and it's been great talking to everyone that has come forward to discuss their ideas and ask questions. We've also been busy in the background, gathering together an exceptional group of mentors from our international creative network – we can't wait to introduce them to our very first cohort!

If you're thinking to put in an application but are in any way unsure whether the programme is right for you, please do get in touch – the Arts+Tech team will be more than happy to answer any questions. Either drop an email to, or arrange a chat – over Skype or in-person at MadLab HQ.

We're taking the programme team on the road in the next couple of weeks, across England, to meet with artists, makers, and creative professionals interested in finding out more about what the programme offers. These briefing events will present a great opportunity to meet the team, and discuss your practice and ideas.

Come and see us when we're in your area!

FACT Liverpool. 6th November, 2-4pm. (Eventbrite Signup)

- MadLab Salford. 9th November, 6-8pm. (Eventbrite Signup)

- The Brunswick, Leeds. 10th November, 6-8pm. (Eventbrite Signup)

More venues & cities TBC.

Arts+Tech Accelerator, Birmingham meetup this Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

This Wednesday (7th October) we’ll be heading down to Birmingham, and invite you to join us for an informal meetup, to hear all about our new Arts+Tech Accelerator programme.

Join us in the cellar bar at Purecraft Bar and Kitchen from 6.30 pm until 8.30 pm for a Q&A session/chat, and to have a couple of drinks on us. If you need more info, you can email or call Emily on 07837 701867.

This is the first of many programme briefings which will be taking place across the Midlands and the North West in coming weeks.

You can find Purecraft Bar & Kitchen on the corner of Victoria Square – roughly five minutes walk away from both Birmingham New Street and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (where we’ll be during the day, taking part in Nesta’s Making Digital Work event).

This programme is powered by MadLab, a not-for-profit, grassroots digital innovation organisation based in Manchester, UK.

For all programme enquiries, including press and publicity, please email, or call the MadLab office and ask to speak to the Arts+Tech team.

36-40 Edge Street
M4 1HN

+44 (0)161 839 6324