CoSTAR launch at BEYOND Conference

CoSTAR launch marks significant investment in our Creative Industries

By Christopher Smith, Executive Chair, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)



The opportunity to launch CoSTAR at the annual BEYOND conference in 2023 was a real privilege.

It is 25 years since Chris Smith, then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, published the Creative Industries Mapping Document, outlining a policy built around the idea of moving from arts as a marker of a civilised society to creativity as an economic driver.

It is also 25 years since the Arts and Humanities Research Board came into being, the predecessor of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). For the first time, research in the arts and humanities stretched out to encompass art, design and technology.

And at BEYOND 2023, we celebrated the formal launch of AHRC’s first infrastructure, our first major investment in a new laboratory for the creative industries, CoSTAR.

The CoSTAR National Lab will bring together world leaders in applied technology research and story, providing the UK’s screen and performance sector with state-of-the-art R&D facilities, across five labs. It is led by Royal Holloway University of London with partners: Pinewood Studios, BT, University of Surrey, Abertay University, disguise, National Film and Television School, and Surrey County Council.


Largest public investment in the creative industries

At £75.6m, this is the largest investment AHRC has ever made; it is the largest grant we have ever made; and it is the largest public investment that UKRI, our overarching organisation, has ever made in the creative industries. At its heart is a simple idea that is rooted in what AHRC stands for.

The recent Council for Science and Technology letter to the Prime Minister makes the case powerfully that the creative industries are generating technological advances, as designers, and those in the creative and performing arts, work together to create highly innovative new products, experiences, and services.

As government focuses on technology it must focus on what drives innovation in technology and that includes the creative industries.


Infrastructure investment to support SMEs

Our innovation is often not located in major companies but in tiny SMEs. It’s not in the traditional behemoths of engineering labs but in small design studios. But it still needs to be nurtured and supported and in that lies the genius of CoSTAR.

CoSTAR is an infrastructure investment which will establish a network of creative R&D labs for the screen and performance sectors.

It is specifically designed to allow access for SMEs to technology currently beyond their reach, and conduct horizon scanning to protect the future health of a sector where the UK is a leader.

AHRC is committed to opening the most sophisticated technology to the most innovative parts of our creative economy through the proven anchorage of universities.



We have designed CoSTAR to translate research in virtual screen production and to take it right through our technology readiness levels to deliver economic benefit right across the country. This is the innovation which comes from arts and humanities – the combination of technological development and economic benefit, rooted by design in place and intentionally supporting everyone from the small micro enterprise in Belfast or Dundee to the great studios of the world.

CoSTAR happened because we have won the confidence of government to invest in the creative industries as a core part of our economic growth – recognised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This is just the start of what will be another chapter in the way arts, humanities and the creative industries transform our lives, and our prosperity.


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This guest post was written by Christopher Smith, Executive Chair, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for BEYOND Conference.