Today is the day I start working on my DYCP, but a lot has happened so far!
My Arts Council England (ACE) Developing Your Own Creative Practice (DYCP) application focuses on upskilling myself in VR/AR technologies with the goal of developing methods of working for participant led engagement in immersive spaces. In short, I want to find ways for participants to be front and centre in the creation of immersive VR/AR work. This comes with the need for equipment, and I was fortunate to be able to include this in my DYCP application.
So, what’s happened you may ask? Well, the equipment needed for this type of work doesn’t always come as easy as you may think, and I wanted to share my experience to give future DYCP applicants a heads up. I also faced a personal realisation that I wasn’t prepared for, which I will come to.
I also want to acknowledge, that while I was fortunate to be successful (although second time round) in my DYCP application, it is not my intention for this post to be boastful. Which is how it may come across. If any potential DYCP applicants are reading this and thinking “I would have loved to get my hands on that”, then please drop me a line. I would be more than happy to share my experience in applying.
Working with VR/AR, I knew that I couldn’t just purchase a nice shiny Macbook Pro like most creatives/artists. VR doesn’t work well with this and for best results I needed a powerful gaming laptop to be able to be mobile. I went with the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo. Not only does it have all the ports I needed for VR, but I work well across multiple screens, and this has the additional screen build it (If this sounds like you, just make sure you go for the 15.6inch model as the smaller machines don’t have the graphics capability for VR). The issue here is that costs for gaming machines change regularly due to demand in components, as well as stock clearances. Got to make sure new, even shiner machines can be sold after all. So, while I was able to purchase a machine with the allocated budget I had given myself, it wasn’t the one I wanted. One that I would be comfortable with for several years. When I had initially applied for my DYCP, this machine was on offer everywhere, and I failed to realise that an initial unsuccessful bid would mean that I would miss the discounted window (which wasn’t clear). As a result, I ended up having to purchase a refurbished laptop. I was very lucky; this machine was a year old and pretty much new. But you’re never really able to know what you’re getting with refurbished and so, to minimise the risk, I would recommend a lot of research before you make the purchase. Do make sure you speak directly with any seller to ensure you know what you’re buying and allocate for time to do this.
What happens when the kit you need is no longer available or hard to get hold of? You once again go to second hand/refurbished. This happened with the Oculus Quest 2 headset I needed as part of the research. Oculus is both a blessing and a curse. The headset would give me some great options around participation (which I will go into later in my research) but comes at the price of having to be connected to a Facebook account. I could have gone with an older headset, but these were even harder to get hold of and the Oculus Quest 2 prices had increased for new due to availability. Luckily, I was able to find an almost new headset on eBay, again talking with the seller, for a decent price and with extras like the carry case and Elite Strap, giving extra comfort and battery life.
Was anything you bought new?
Well, yes. I managed to get an Oculus Quest Link Cable (expensive, but highly recommended for easy deployment of what you make from your PC. Just make sure the machine has a USB-C port) and a Samsung S6 Lite tablet for AR exploration. Both were much easier to get hold of. I could have also gone with an iPad Pro, but this would have been twice the cost and is more challenging when deploying AR content.
There was another factor that I really wasn’t expecting. Once I had received most of this kit, imposter syndrome set in. What resulted was me being hesitant to start using the laptop, even after I had spent so much time making sure I got right, as I felt it was more than what I deserved or was used to owning. It felt out of reach, even though right in front of me. My wife asked me if this was my equipment, and I couldn’t understand why. Then she explained that she though I would have had to give it back to work. While I am a digital participation practitioner in my own right, most of my work with VR/AR has been through my role as a Digital Participation Curator at Derby QUAD, and as such I would normally be using work equipment for work projects.
In arts and culture, we often talk about low representation in the arts by those from working-class backgrounds. While it is my job as a curator and an artist to help change this and advocate for those less fortunate, I find myself sometimes struggling with the fact that I don’t even come from a working-class background, but one that is classified as ‘poor’. I may be a white (now lower middle-class) male, something in abundance and (still) most likely to succeed in most industries, but where I started was probably further down the line than most.
So, while I come to grips with this inner questioning about my right to not just own this equipment, but work in a progressive field in the arts, I remain extremely thankful to ACE and everyone who supported my career journey so far and those who helped with my DYCP application (of which there were many).
I can’t wait to share this journey with you all!