What Does R&D Mean?

A man and woman stand holding flag poles. They are wearing blue T-shirts and tassels around their hips.
VIVA Carnial - Alegria Samba School

With just one week to go until applications for Unlimited’s next round of Research and Development awards close, Unlimited’s Assistant Producer Sarah Howard explains what it is exactly that we mean when we talk about R&D.

 Research and Development – so, what does it all mean? Is it just one of those fluffy, flouncy expressions we’re so used to hearing, or does it actually have some substance and importance behind it?

When I was asked to write this blog, I was still a ‘newbie’ on the Unlimited scene and, to be honest, didn’t feel I had the credentials to talk on such a matter. As time has whittled away, however, I’ve been witness to a whole host of fascinating Research & Development (R&D) projects undertaken by Unlimited artists, so I’m happy to give my personal point of view on this eclectic, artistic tool.

Part of my role at Unlimited is to act as ‘Key Contact’ to certain artists to which Unlimited has awarded funding and support to develop projects. Not only does this mean that I am there to offer support, but it also means I get a unique glimpse into the development processes of creative work.

One of these projects is VIVA Carnival’s ‘Alegria Samba School’ – the first fully inclusive and accessible samba school in the UK. With Unlimited’s support in the form of a R&D award, they have been able to build a collaboration with Embaixadores da Alegria, a school for Samba and ‘the world’s leading carnival organisation for people with disabilities and special needs’ out in samba’s homeland of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Unlimited’s funding enabled them to pop to Brazil to spend some quality research time together, working alongside, quite frankly, the best in the business; these few intensive training days, enabled the group to explore all areas carnival: the social context of samba, how to structure a school, the competitive element of Samba Drone, carnivals partnership with music, costume and float creativity. Research bundled up into their suitcases and heads, they flew back to share with all other members of the team and develop their project. Discussions and workshops ensued and detailed exploration began, as they took all that they had gained and applied it to their work.

Research and Development is all about applying thought, new ideas and knowledge to your concept. Spending this unique period of time gaining perspective of what can be achieved enables an artwork to really fulfil its potential and achieve success, however the artist wishes to quantify that. I am happy to report that Unlimited acknowledges the importance of this element of an artist’s work and actively promotes, advocates and funds it. Surely, with each project, installation, piece or show that you produce, the desire to take the work to its limits is a desire all artists wish to obtain, and conversely it’s a common sentiment that to not explore a work’s full potential would be letting it down in some shape or form.

So, how important is R&D? It’s an essential element to any artists work! It’s also completely rewarding, offering up a whole host of opportunities to play, explore the unknown, meet other like-minded artists and build partnerships along the way. With the months of Research & Development applied to VIVA’s carnival ideas, I very much hope to see this collaborative project blossom to completion. Alegria Samba School is just one of many innovative projects that have grown out of R&D programmes to step forward and stamp its own unique mark on the UK’s developing cultural scene, and we know that there are many more projects out there just waiting to be developed, which we’re so keen to support. Through R&D awards, Unlimited can offer disabled artists the opportunity to gain and share knowledge, experiment, evaluate, invite in new audiences and, most importantly, watch their projects grow.

Unlimited is currently open for applications from disabled artists and disability-led arts companies to its Main Research and Development Awards, (as well as Emerging Awards) – deadline 6 November. This is a rare opportunity to access up to £10,000 to investigate a new project in its early stages without the commitment of creating a finished work, thus allowing ideas to evolve and transform. They are suitable for artists based in England and Wales, so here’s your chance folks – don’t miss out!

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