Sunderland dance company awarded £250,000 for its VR offering at Sheepfolds Stables

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The team will be using augmented reality and virtual reality equipment in its innovative dance productions.

Award-winning dance company Southpaw has been granted £250,000 to make its new studio at Sunderland’s Sheepfolds Stables development a centre for innovation and digital dance.

Southpaw use the latest technology in their performancesSouthpaw use the latest technology in their performances
Southpaw use the latest technology in their performances

The award is from Arts Council England, thanks to its Government-funded £24.2m Capital Investment Programme.

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Southpaw will use the grant - £249,122 – to purchase augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) equipment to provide training and engage with communities, particularly targeting those facing digital exclusion and with disabilities.

They are one in a number of businesses heading to Sheepfolds Stables, one of the most-anticipated developments in the city, joining hospitality tenants such as The Calabash Tree, serving Caribbean dishes, I Scream for Pizza, Asian-inspired restaurant Ember, a whisky lounge and Italian restaurant Vito's Osteria.

Sheepfolds Stables is due to open this summerSheepfolds Stables is due to open this summer
Sheepfolds Stables is due to open this summer

Works are nearing completion at the former stables in the shadow of the Stadium of Light, which was once used to house working horses from the North East Railway Co. It’s due to open this summer.

Robby Graham, Director of Southpaw, said: “This Capital Grant offers an amazing opportunity for Southpaw and the city of Sunderland. During an incredibly exciting time, with our new studio among the many developments planned for the city centre, we will use this funding to connect with our audiences in new ways and increase access to the arts through AR / VR and immersive media.

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“The funding will enable us to continue providing high quality creative and cultural experiences for people in Sunderland and beyond.

“We look forward to sharing these tools with artists, technologists, and audiences to ensure we, as a region, remain at the forefront of innovation, digital dance, and cross sector collaboration.”

Since 2013, multi award-winning Southpaw Dance Company has created powerful performances, from small scale solo work to large scale outdoor spectaculars.

The company has a reputation for innovation in dance and previously used AR in Acedia, a Lockdown-related show performed at The Athenaeum in Fawcett Street, Sunderland. Acedia fused innovative technology with live performance via augmented reality.

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Robby added: “Using the funding we’ll be able to create more shows like Acedia, using AR and VR, and we’ll also be able to create purely digital shows that we can then send around the world.”

The funding will enable Southpaw to purchase enough VR headsets for audience members to use for shows at the The Stables studio. It will also enable allow the company to buy specialist motion capture equipment, projection equipment and an aerial rig.

Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England said: “This infrastructure investment will help a whole range of different cultural organisations across England to flourish, increasing opportunities for people to enjoy creatively excellent cultural events close to where they live.

“It’s particularly important that we’re making this happen in communities where cultural investment has historically been low”.

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Lord Parkinson, Arts minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “Cultural venues enrich our lives, and it’s vital that their infrastructure matches the excellence of the creative work that goes on inside them. 

“Our funding is helping both to create new venues and to adapt existing ones to make them more accessible, helping to deliver the Government’s plan to make sure that everyone, no matter where they live or what their background, has access to excellent, life-changing cultural opportunities.” 

The Capital Investment Programme supports the Arts Council’s mission to ensure communities across the country have the infrastructure where creativity for everyone can thrive. Awards from the programme go towards building works and the purchase of equipment and other assets to improve access, seize on technological opportunities and reduce environmental impact.

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