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University of the Arts London launches new AKO Storytelling Institute

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University of the Arts London (UAL), with the generous support of the AKO Foundation, has established a new Storytelling Institute to help artists and campaigners collaborate to lead change. 

Part of the University’s new Social Purpose Group, led by Polly Mackenzie, the AKO Storytelling Institute will have a mandate to intervene on a range of topical policy issues, from climate change and biodiversity to questions of economic, social and racial justice. 

Bringing together world-class creatives with campaigners, educators, and policymakers, the AKO Storytelling Institute will operate at the intersection of purpose-led artistic practice and social impact. 

The Institute will work with artists from a range of disciplines – both within UAL and beyond – with a commitment not just to experiment, but to evaluate, test, and improve. It will study how stories have triggered change in the past and develop new languages and forms of transformational narrative into the future.

The pilot season, led by Ruth Mackenzie CBE, has included collaborations with Citizens UK, the World Cities Culture Forum, the Greater London Authority, DCMS, the UAL Social Design Institute, Google Arts & Culture Lab, Little Amal, the UAL Climate Emergency Network, Create4Glasgow, Doc Society and the Barbican Centre. 

The Institute’s programme of projects for 2022/23 includes: 

  • Filmmaking for social impact with UAL Climate Emergency Network 
  • Creative Community Commissions with Citizens UK to match creatives with grass roots organisation 
  • a public and community engagement strategic Review with UAL Knowledge Exchange and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.  
  • Creativity, Care and the City with Greater London Authority (Culture and Creative Industries Unit), London Arts & Health, World Cities Culture Forum and Nesta. 
  • Cultural value in policymaking and why creatives should care – with the UAL Social Design Institute 

Explore the full programme of events, projects and research

Francesca Panetta has been appointed Director of the AKO Storytelling Institute. Francesca is a leader in pro-social, experimental and immersive storytelling. For over 20 years she has pioneered new types of documentary and journalism in newsrooms and universities including the BBC, Guardian and MIT. She led the Guardian’s podcast team in its early days and set up the immersive features team and the virtual reality studio as Executive Editor.

As Creative Director at MIT, her machine learning work on misinformation, In Event of Moon Disaster won an Emmy for best Interactive Documentary. The VR pieces she has directed have been shown at film festivals from Cannes to Sundance and are used as policy tools taken up by advocates. Her work 6×9 was exhibited in the White House.  

James Purnell, UAL President & Vice-Chancellor, said:  

“Storytelling is a vital aspect of creative practice and by shaping the story – we believe you can change the world for the better. Ideas that were once inconceivable or seen as too radical have become part of the norm – embraced by the public through humanising and creative storytelling. Faced with an unprecedented array of challenges, we believe creative practitioners must be at the heart of devising solutions and developing narratives that will connect and inspire. I would like to thank all our launch partners and the AKO Foundation who have made this work possible.” 

Polly Mackenzie, UAL Chief Social Purpose Officer, said:  

Stories and artistic experiences can change minds who never thought they would bend. So those of us who want to see change in the world – from climate change to racial justice and greater equality – need to be working hand in glove with creatives to bring that change into the world. The AKO Storytelling Institute will programme creative work in its own right, and in partnership, providing opportunities for impact within the University community and with other creatives. Alongside this work, our goal is to become a leading hub of evidence about what is effective, and a network of campaigners and artists working together for change.” 

UAL thanks the AKO Foundation for their generous support of the AKO Storytelling Institute, without which the launch of this exciting new initiative would not have been possible.

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