I often struggle to say simply what FutureEverything is. It began life as a festival. Today, much of what we do is introducing openness, art, design to surprising places, from science to cities. All I can do is share some highlights, and let you decide.

Climate services (2015) offer predictions for the coming seasons or decades to enable society to adapt to a changing climate. The challenge is to communicate complex information on the future to enable people to make decisions today. With this in mind, FutureEverything is introducing data design to this emerging area and is developing a climate service for wind energy in EUPORIAS funded by the European Commission.

Ideas about future city living can be made tangible using art and design. City Fictions (2014) was a speculative city of the near future, where future visions of institutions such as the city hall, factory, museum, kitchen and public square were brought to life.

A recent artwork Light Barrier (2014) uses millions of beams of light to create ethereal, floating graphic objects, bringing digital objects into free physical space. The artists explore the light barrier as a metaphor, a universal law which stops anything from travelling faster than a photon.

Designing with data for tomorrow’s urban living is a focus in FutureEverything’s open data projects. Outcomes include an app that enables joggers to compete to capture and own lampposts using open street light data. Powering this is a data synchronisation programme for Manchester releasing linked open data and embedding code fellows in city government.

Using the Internet for social good is the goal in Smart Citizen Kit, an environmental sensing platform that enables people to become active in monitoring and making sense of their local environment. It is one of a generation of open platforms built and maintained by communities of users, for everything from interactive graphics to environmental sensing and 3D printing.

A question all of us face about the Internet and our life online is how much of our data are we willing to leak into the public online domain. Chattr (one month before the Snowden story broke in 2013) put this to the test in a design experiment that recorded conference attendees’ private conversations and published them online. This looked at the counterpart to the ambition to create a Digital Public Space making all recorded culture available for free online.

Artists and designers are creating new ways to understand and communicate meaning in data. The emoto (2012) data art project visualises and augments the online response to the London 2012 Olympic Games. It gives expression to phenomena only possible with access to huge real-time data streams, and was among the first to do this for a major global event.

Returning to the festival in 2015, Blast Theory combine gameplay online and in the city streets. In I’d Hide You (2012), they use live streaming technology to enable online players to see the world through the runners eyes.

A new participatory culture is changing our world, bringing extraordinary possibilities, while reducing many people to drone bees. One artwork (Human Resources, 2012) conveyed this more powerfully than words. Thousands of tiny ceramic commuters were distributed across Manchester, provoking questions and wonder to erupt on Twitter. People were invited to carry them away, and share images and stories of their adventures, which ranged from Manhattan to Iceland.

Open Data Cities (2010-) was one of the first open data projects in the UK. It was unique in being led by a community of festival curators, developers, artists and small businesses, helping local government to go through change. Born during a workshop in the 2009 festival, Open Data Cities has had lasting impact, leading to new community, policy, infrastructure and services.

Environment 2.0 (2006-9) invited people to play with games and experiences in the streets and online to develop ‘new senses’. Playful prototypes presented during the 2009 festival included a bubble blowing game to generate a dataset on urban climate the Met Office could not capture any other way. The art exhibition featuring twenty international artists who address the environment in ways both forceful and irreverent.

Witnessing truly groundbreaking art and performance is a humbling experience. What was to become a celebrated and long running collaboration between Murcof and AntiVJ was premiered at the festival in 2009. This combined moving image projected onto a layered, semi-transparent installation with electronic rhythms fused with classical strings and timbres.

Urban Play was a FutureEverything art programme from 2005 to 2008, presenting social and participatory artworks in unexpected city spaces. Combining free running with free media, The Duellists (2007) was created using only found and hacked technology in the city. In this case, the artist group was given the freedom of the Arndale Shopping Centre for three days and nights, including unrestricted access to the state of the art in-house CCTV system.

Social Networking Unplugged (2008) was an exhibition of interactive experiments in urban social media. Twenty commissioned artists and designers deconstructed online social interaction to pose questions about the social web, and overran Manchester city centre with ‘unplugged’ social networking.

The Social Technologies Summit was a conference run during the mid-2000s to look at the rise both of open source platforms created and maintained by communities of users, and of social media platforms making it easier for people to find the stuff that interests them, link up with others, and share.

A uniquely Japanese phenomenon in the 2000s was ‘device art’. Yamaha and celebrated media artist and game designer Toshio Iwai worked with Futuresonic on the worldwide launch of the TENORI-ON – a beautiful design object and interactive audiovisual performance device.

The flipside of our neighbourhoods becoming browsable and responsive is that we can be searched and categorised. Loca (2006) was an art project that foretold the world we find ourselves in today when our every move and message is monitored by GCHQ and the NSA. Loca devices fixed to lampposts and hidden in flowerbeds tracked passersby and responded to urban semantics, the social meanings of particular places.

An interest in cities and the internet of things goes back to 2003, when FutureEverything curators were part of a small community looking into locative media and how digital media would reshape cities and places. Those ideas and art experiments came together for the first time at Mobile Connections (2004), the conference and exhibition theme in 2004. This captured an upcoming wave of change, prefiguring smart phones and google maps, and bringing together the champions of bottom up alternatives, such as Steve Coast founder of OpenStreetMap.

New media artists have long been the canary in the mine regarding the dangers of surveillance in digital systems. Broken Channel (2001) was an exhibition of ‘surveillance art’ that set out to decode and disrupt surveillance systems.

FutureEverything’s musical inspiration is found in collisions of influences and styles that run throughout the programme of the past two decades. One such musical highlight during the 2000 festival featured Japan’s premier noisenik, Merzbow, head to head with a showcase from groundbreaking Manchester label, Skam.

The first Futuresonic in 1996 was a meeting of an emerging digital culture and the moment in music when a generation who grew up with dance culture discovered elektronische musik and musique concrète. The first event was all about sound, and featured audiovisual performance, live music, maker culture, DVD art, and a very flakey telepresence link.

Drew Hemment
Founder and CEO