New £35m School supports Manchester’s ambition to become one of world’s leading digital cities.
Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle has formally opened Manchester Metropolitan University’s pioneering School of Digital Arts (SODA), a £35m investment into the next generation of creative content.
Offering industry-informed courses and state-of-the-art spaces equipped with the latest technologies, SODA provides a unique teaching and research environment that supports Manchester’s ambition to be a leading powerhouse of the UK’s digital economy.
Delivered in an innovative partnership with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (GM LEP), SODA promises a revolution in how we conceive the future of storytelling.
Though SODA welcomed its first students in September, Monday (June 13) was the first opportunity for business leaders, policymakers and creative practitioners to see the incredible new building, and to take part in interactive demonstrations and installations that showcase SODA’s fantastic work to date and its ambitions for the future.
Every city in the world will have one of these. There must be a place where the digital storytellers can gather and can share their skills and their need for knowledge with each other.
By bringing together disciplines including animation, UX design, photography, sound design, gaming, and AI in a truly interdisciplinary school, SODA will address the urgent and growing demand for skilled workers in the region’s creative and digital industries. Already the fastest growing UK tech hub outside London, SODA’s teaching and industry links will help to ensure Manchester becomes one of the world’s most competitive digital cities.
Boyle co-chairs its industry advisory group with award-winning producer Nicola Shindler, ensuring that SODA’s teaching and research is relevant for industry needs and provides students with the skills to launch a career in creative media, arts and digital tech industries.
The launch featured speeches from Boyle, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, Festival Director & Chief Innovation Officer at Urbanworld and member of the SODA industry advisory group Sharese Bullock-Bailey, Manchester Metropolitan Chancellor Lord Mandelson and Head of SODA Professor Toby Heys.
Speaking at the launch event, Boyle said: “Every city in the world will have one of these. There must be a place where the digital storytellers can gather and can share their skills and their need for knowledge with each other. And it’s in Manchester, which of course is the city I owe everything to, and it’s also a place that produces brilliant, independent minds.”
Professor Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “SODA demonstrates our commitment as a university to harnessing our world-class research and educational strengths in culture, creativity and innovation to drive economic growth.
“The creative and digital industries are growing, here in Manchester and nationally, creating an urgent and growing demand for new skills and knowledge. Our SODA graduates will be industry-ready, helping to plug this gap and fulfil the city-region’s ambitions to become one of the foremost digital cities in Europe.”
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “In Greater Manchester, we are doing digital differently. We are committed to being a digital city-region that puts people at the heart of our plans as we work towards our ambitions to be recognised as a world leading digital city-region – SODA will be integral in achieving that.
“We must future proof our digital talent pipeline, connecting education and industry and I’m pleased to see this happening at SODA, as we work together to position Greater Manchester as the key place for businesses seeking a digitally skilled workforce to invest in outside of London.”
Guests enjoyed a sneak peek of SODA’s new exciting gallery space Modal and demonstrations from industry partnerships already well underway, including with Ofcom, Blackmagic Design’s Education Partner Program and the innovative voice-interactive portrait In The Room with Nile Rodgers.
SODA demonstrates our commitment as a university to harnessing our world-class research and educational strengths in culture, creativity and innovation to drive economic growth.
They were also able to hear from SODA’s NFT experts on how to grow their own ‘digital flower’ to take home with them. Researchers explained how NFTs work, and about sustainability and the blockchain, exemplifying the type of research SODA academics will be conducting into how technology, storytelling and ethics interact.
Technicians were on hand to show the full capability of the SODA building, alongside the chance to play interactive games, and see live studio performances from Visiting Professor and musical legend Barry Adamson, a Binaural Soundscape from lecturer and artist Jamie Birkett and the University’s own Art School Live.
They were also able to explore the Degree Show exhibition of undergraduate animation, filmmaking and photography students’ work, as well as a film showcase in the SODA cinema space.
Speaking at the launch event, Lord Mandelson told guests that 80% of new jobs advertised now require digital skills. He said: “That is why this school is so important, so relevant and such a boost for this city and this region.
“We’re standing in a school that is literally dedicated to the future. And believe me, digital technology is absolutely the key to our future prosperity as a country. That’s why it’s so important that Manchester should lead, and Manchester becomes the digital and creative centre of our country. That’s the trajectory you’re on and that’s why it’s so exciting to be here.”
Bullock-Bailey said: “This building is meant to foster collaboration across the arts for creative producers, animators, directors, writers, UX engineers, editors, musicians, all who need jobs. This is where they’ll come to be trained. And this is a place that they can truly call home.
“As my work has endured over 20 years as a creative producer, a funder of film and media, and now running a film festival in New York City that also endures around the world, I know first-hand just how critical the work is in SODA and that the demand is great.”
The innovative five-storey, 5,200m² SODA building is designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, and houses a digital innovation and UX lab, film studios, green screens, edit suites, sound, music and production studios; alongside a screening room and gallery space.
The flexible design allows the building to adapt to developments in technology. A LED light wall covers the exterior front of the building, providing a responsive and eye-catching digital canvas for student work.