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The FutureEverything Story: Assembling a Timeline Part 2

Charting the transition from a festival to a novel model of arts and innovation agency

Tracing key moments in FutureEverything’s emergence as one of the central organisations shaping early digital culture in Europe

By Bilyana Palankasova

This second part of The FutureEverything Story takes up where we left off in part one, in 2010, a year in which the Futuresonic festival is renamed FutureEverything, highlighting its wider scope. At the turn of the new decade, the organisation now positions itself as facilitating digital creativity and futures thinking to support both artistic excellence and positive social change. 

Similarly to the structure in the first part of this timeline, I’ve identified three subperiods: 2010-2012, 2013-2015 and 2016-2018. Together they cover a period of growth in FutureEverything’s innovation programme, and include the high watermark of the festival featuring major festival editions in Singapore and Moscow, and the 20th anniversary in Manchester in 2015. Part two concludes with the completion of the transition from a festival-based organisation to an arts and innovation agency, and the handing over to a new creative team to lead the organisation from 2018.

2010 – 2012

This first period is significant because it sees the full transformation of Futuresonic into FutureEverything. It is marked by the organisation becoming a reference point for the field with the launch of The FutureEverything Award, a deepening of its work in data arts and critical futures, and a shift towards formalising and publishing its methods and tools.

Over the preceding years, the name Futuresonic had fallen out of step with the scope of the programme and the operating company had been named FutureEverything since 2007. So while there was a sense of a new era when the festival was unveiled as FutureEverything there was also continuity. The main point of difference for the festival programme was the introduction of a new award, with a high profile international jury and a £10,000 top prize. This was a coming of age moment for an organisation that now had the depth of knowledge and standing to endow major achievements through a new award. The winner in 2010 was The Eyewriter, a pair of revolutionary low-cost eye-tracking glasses designed and built by artists, that allows graffiti writers and other artists with paralysis to draw using only their eyes, a project that embodied the vision of the arts and creative technology driving positive change in society.


The organisation was driven by an urge to experiment, and 2010 saw an experiment in a new kind of globally networked event – GloNet – with a 24 hour festival programme following the sun and taking place simultaneously at cities around the globe. The festival tested new ways to create group-to-group interactivity, using experimental formats to bring real and virtual audiences together, such as ‘Talking Boxes’ with always-on video links for serendipitous long distance encounters.

A FutureEverything ‘Talking Box’ – one of the art and design experiments in the ‘GloNet’ globally networked festival staged simultaneously in Manchester, Sendai, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, Vancouver in 2010.

Data art had been a focus in the festival since Broken Channel in 2001 and Mobile Connections in 2004. It became more prominent from 2010 when FutureEverything developed creative programmes responding to the explosion in big data, advances in machine learning, and also current cultural movements such as quantified self.(1)

At the 2010 festival, data-based works include a data visualisation performance by SoSoLimited, and in 2011 the Data Dimension exhibition featured 16 works including Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, Timo Arnall, Nathalie Miebach and Nadeem Haidary. (2)


The Data Dimension exhibition, FutureEverything 2011 Festival.

In 2012, FutureEverything was named by The Guardian one of the top 10 ideas festivals in the world. (3) That year the festival theme Future Everybody explored participatory culture and the social impact of data systems, with a wide ranging conference and workshops programme, and large scale works and performances, from Lawrence Epps’ Human Resources sculpture, which distributed tens of thousands of small figures across the city, to Blast Theory’s I’d Hide You participatory urban game and Amon Tobin’s ISAM, a massive-scale immersive 3D audio-visual performance, combining a physical installation with projection mapping and generative/reactive sound and image.


Blast Theory, I’d Hide You. FutureEverything 2012 Festival. Photo Blast Theory.

Throughout this period the key innovation project Open Data Cities matures and flourishes – deepening ties with long-term collaborators such as Waag Society in Amsterdam and Forum Virium in Helsinki, and is followed soon after by FutureEverything’s Greater Manchester Data Synchronisation Progamme with UK collaborators Future Cities Catapult and Digital Catapult. Central to these initiatives is the grass-roots open data movement, which thrives in the city through the Open Data Manchester group, and the festival continues to provide a focal point, convening the community and serving as a platform for advocacy and participatory policy.

The curiosity at the core of the curatorial vision led to further inroads into research, and then to efforts to formalise its own methods. The “festival-as-lab” concept was conceived in 2010, a novel take on a living lab (4), in which the space of a festival is transformed into a platform for participatory experiments and trials in near future scenarios. (5) FutureEverything started a publication series to share these methods, leading in 2011 to The FutureEverything Manual, (6) co-published with Cornerhouse Publications. By this time, the festival themes had evolved into innovation labs as long-term, multi-layered, multi-partner projects, bringing together artists, technologists, and future-thinkers to devise and test innovation in art, society, and technology. The labs fed in and out of the festival, which acts as a living laboratory for participatory experiments in digital art and culture, while the FutureEverything conference and workshops are a space for collaborative research where new concepts and practices emerge. This research and collaborative energy leads to the international festivals network ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound), funded through EU Culture 2007-2013, which adopts Festival As Lab as the theme of festivals across Europe and North America in 2010 and 2011, and also to FutureEverything’s methods adopted in academic projects such as Creative Exchange funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in 2011 (£4M). 

Continuing the trajectory towards being commissioned by other institutions to develop projects independent from the festival, FutureEverything was commissioned by the London 2012 Olympic Games to create emoto: Visualising the Olympics, an interactive web-based artwork and physical data sculpture visualising the emotional response to the Olympics on Twitter.


Emoto, 2012. Web-based interactive visualisation interface and physical data sculpture. Created by Moritz Stefaner, Drew Hemment, Studio NAND. A FutureEverything project for the London 2012 Olympics.

2013 – 2015

The second period is the high water mark for the FutureEverything Festival – delivering editions in Moscow (2014) and in Singapore in 2015 – the same year as the 20th anniversary festival in Manchester. At the time, the organisation’s innovation projects expanded in ambition and scale alongside the festival, giving rise to a strategic, future-facing organisation and a challenge-led programme.  

FutureEverything builds on its sustained efforts to foster civic participation and empowered access to technology alongside continued critical and creative engagement with data politics. Smart Citizen Manchester was launched in 2013 as part of an international effort originating in Barcelona to build the world’s largest independent environmental sensing network. The project’s goal was to use the Internet for social good – it enabled people to become active in monitoring and making sense of their local environment and is one of a generation of open platforms built and maintained by communities of users. 

Smart Citizen Manchester low-cost environmental sensing workshop. FutureEverything and Intel, 2013.

The same year (2013) Hemment and a team of artists and designers developed Chattr, pushing further the concept of a festival-as-lab. Visitors to the FutureEverything and TodaysArt festivals could volunteer to share their private conversations online, “in exchange” for gaining access to a luxury lounge at the summit. The provocative artwork asked how much of our data are we willing to leak into the public online domain. 

The festival had been generating substantial international attention and in 2014, in partnership with the British Council, FutureEverything Moscow was delivered. The festival facilitated cultural exchange between the media art scenes in the UK and Russia, and included an exhibition, workshops, hackathons and immersive installations. One of these was the commission Light Barrier by artists Kimchi and Chips (Elliot Woods and Mimi Son) – exploring the use of millions of calibrated light beams as a digital material to create ethereal, animated floating shapes.

Kimchi and Chips, Light Barrier. FutureEverything Moscow, 2014.

In 2013, FutureEverything was approached by the Singapore Government, who were interested in exploring all aspects of the organisation and its festival. The next year FutureEverything hosted a Singapore delegation at the 2014 festival. Soon after, the Singapore Government team circulated a briefing document on the potential of FutureEverything for Singapore, which gave a meticulously researched summary of FutureEverything’s methods, and positioned FutureEverything as a ‘top three’ event in the world alongside SXSW and TED. Drew Hemment was invited to Singapore and during the trip invited to curate and deliver the major digital culture event for the 50th anniversary of Singapore in 2015. 

Pan Studio, Hello Lamp Post Singapore. FutureEverything Singapore, 2015.

The original proposition from Singapore was to develop an industry-focused ‘tech event’ for the city state, but Hemment pitched the concept of an art festival aligned to Singapore’s flagship technology programme, Smart Nation. The outcome was the FutureEverything Singapore digital culture festival, featuring large scale data-driven artworks, a conference and workshops that engaged senior Ministers and cultural institutions alongside FutureEverything’s international community in critical exploration of the future of Singapore.

Loop.pH, The Chronarium. FutureEverything Singapore, 2015.

In 2015, the same year as FutureEverything Singapore, FutureEverything celebrated its 20th anniversary festival edition in Manchester. Rather than staging a retrospective, the festival delivered a platform for collective reflection on the context the organisation worked within. The programme included work from Blast Theory, new co-commission by artists Memo Akten (with the Royal Northern College of Music), new collaborative audio-visual work from Koreless and Emannuel Biard (co-commissioned with the British Council), and, for the first time, a film programme. Unbeknown to the team, the 2016 edition would be the final full festival and a significant page was about to turn for FutureEverything. 

Climate change continued to be a focus, and FutureEverything was a part of EUPORIAS, Europe’s flagship climate services project. FutureEverything was the design lead, introducing both service design and data art to climate services built on long range forecasts for the coming seasons or decades. In 2015, FutureEverything delivered Project Ukko, (7)  visualising prediction data for wind flow for the wind energy sector, showing how data design can aid the global response to the climate crisis. 

The organisation deepened its effort to formalise its co-creation and futures methods to enable wider uptake and transformation, culminating in the development of Open Prototyping as an approach and process to imagine, shape and navigate transformative research and development projects. (8)


Project Ukko, climate service visualisation presented at Information+ 2015 in Vancouver and at FutureEverything 2016 Festival (pictured).

2016 -2018

In the final period of this second chapter of The FutureEverything Story, the organisation completes its transition from a festival-based organisation to an arts and innovation agency. During this period the organisation pushes forward its ambition towards wider impact within and beyond the arts world. It further elevates and realises on a new scale its work with emerging technology and real-world data to create tangible infrastructure and imagine futures for cities and the planet. This period saw the final edition of the annual festival in 2016 and the launch of FutureEverything’s largest and most significant innovation projects building on the themes, interests and methods emerging from the festival over the last decade. This chapter concludes with founder Hemment handing over the reins to a visionary new artistic director – Irini Papadimitriou.

By 2016, FutureEverything’s activity had expanded into a year-round arts commissioning programme alongside a technology and social innovation programme. Its operation as an agency was formalised in its FAULT LINES artist development programme supporting a cohort of artists to develop new dimensions within their practice. Following the 2016 edition of the festival, the annual festival was discontinued and in its place a new event format was developed called FutureSessions, consisting in a participatory symposium and one to three art commissions delivered over one day, to enable the organisation to deliver a wider range of smaller events in collaboration with its community and network of partners. 

In 2016, GROW was launched – the world’s first continental-scale Citizens’ Observatory – empowering climate action across Europe and validating the European Space Agency’s latest satellites to help improve the accuracy of forecasts on flooding, drought and wildfires. This was the culmination of a decade of work by FutureEverything on participatory sensing that began with Environment 2.0 in 2006. Led by Hemment, and building on a concept first proposed by Carlo Buontempo at the UK Met Office, the GROW Observatory was delivered in collaboration with University of Dundee (where Hemment had an academic post) and 18 organisations from the United Nations to grass-roots organic farming communities. 

GROW Place Austria was one of the place-based communities across Europe participating in the GROW Observatory, 2016-18. Photo GROW Observatory.

Also in 2016, CityVerve was launched in Manchester, the UK’s flagship Internet of Things project, funded by InnovateUK (£10M), aiming to develop and test new IoT services. FutureEverything was part of the small group that conceived the project, and it led on the Culture and Public Realm strand. Introducing art, human-centred design and community engagement to this major IoT project, FutureEverything used methods previously tested on a smaller scale to give citizens agency in the development of emerging technology. 

Naho Matsuda, EVERY THING EVERY TIME. Commissioned and produced by FutureEverything for CityVerve, 2017. Photo Kevin Gibson.

As part of CityVerve, FutureEverything produced two new artworks by FAULT LINES artists: EVERY THING EVERY TIME by Naho Matsuda generated ephemeral data poetry around the city in the first implementation of the CityVerve ‘system of systems’, the main technology innovation in the wider project; and SUPERGESTURES by Ling Tan, inviting young people to use wearable technology to explore and express explore the relationship between a smart city agenda and the impact it has on people’s everyday lives. In the same period, FutureEverything continued its work in southeast and east Asia with the Positively Charged commission at Taipei Art Festival 2017 The Future of the City – a participative art installation using smart technologies to create a vision of future Taipei, looking at ways of circulating personal energy. 


Ling Tan, SUPERGESTURES. Commissioned and produced by FutureEverything for CityVerve, 2017.

By 2018, FutureEverything is a strategically oriented organisation focused on enabling positive impact in the arts, society and technology. It has taken the energy and methodology of the festival and translated it into a new model of arts and innovation agency. Art and artists are still central, but it now has an emphasis on impact both within and beyond the arts world. Key to its portfolio is the creative use of data and futures thinking to facilitate technological and social innovation. FutureEverything now delivers strategic work on partnerships beyond the arts, particularly in the innovation, science, technology and academic sectors. In place of a more conventional linear innovation process, it offers a distinctive approach to facilitating environments for the exploration of ideas and creative making, centred on critical thinking, cultural value and collective experiences, and brings that to large-scale multi-partner research and innovation projects. 

After over 23 years of pioneering critical creative projects using digital technology and building civic engagement, the organisation has developed a confident and sustained model for exploring emerging fields of practice and discourse at the interface of digital technology, contemporary art and social practice. 

This transformative period brings us to another shift in the organisation’s trajectory and a new chapter for FutureEverything – its change of Creative Director from Drew Hemment to Irini Papadimitriou. 


1.Social health movement which began in 2007 and promoted the idea of self-tracking for self-awareness and experienced a particular surge with the introduction and expansion of consumer-friendly wearable technology.

2.Drew Hemment and Kevin Smith, “The Data Dimension at FutureEverything 2011,” Rhizome, published 6 May 2011,

3. Kimberley Willis, “Top 10 ideas festivals,” The Guardian, published 17 Feb 2012,

4. Living labs are open innovation ecosystems in real life environments using iterative feedback processes throughout a lifecycle approach of an innovation to create sustainable impact. “European Network of Living Labs,” accessed 11 July 2023,

5. Drew Hemment, “From living lab to festival as lab,” FutureEverything, published 2014, accessed 11 July 2023,

6. Drew, Hemment, “The FutureEverything Manual,” accessed 11 July 2023,

7. Project Ukko, accessed 1 August 2023,

8. Drew Hemment, “Open Prototyping Alpha,” accessed 26 July 2023,


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