Powering Creativity

After working tirelessly ahead of Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture, creative company Imagineer are finally ready to open their newly redeveloped workspace in the Daimler Powerhouse. What’s On caught up with Chief Executive Jane Hytch to talk about the future of Coventry’s creative industry…

Creative company Imagineer formed in 2005 with a vision to bring together artists, engineers, architects and innovators to deliver dynamic performances in and around Coventry. 

The last year or so has perhaps required more innovation than ever before, as lockdown put a stop to Imagineer’s usual ways of working. But Chief Executive Jane Hytch is able to focus on the positives: “I think some of the digital work that we’ve been developing probably wouldn’t have happened without Covid,” she explains. “We were due to deliver a major performance of Bridge - which is our big touring project at the moment - but when lockdown happened, we delivered it online. We realised that we could still reach people, engage people and do meaningful things through digital projects. There are all kinds of ways in which we started to develop our work, which I know will have a lasting impact on creative development.”

When Coventry won the bid to be the UK’s City of Culture 2021, no one could have predicted the impact a global pandemic would have on the city’s preparations for its year in the spotlight. But now that the programme of events is well and truly under way, the future looks bright for Jane and her team: “You can feel the city starting to ramp up and open its doors, showing what it can do. I think Coventry is going to have a really great year.”

Imagineer will be playing a big part in the festivities, having led the development of the purpose-built Daimler Powerhouse Creation Centre, the opening of which takes place as part of the City of Culture events programme.

“The redevelopment of the Daimler Powerhouse wouldn’t have happened without City of Culture. So the opening weekend in August is very much set within a whole outdoor arts festival programme.”
The project has seen the site transformed into a creative hub, boasting aerial training space, rehearsal rooms, rigging points for lighting, projection & sound, as well as offices and meeting rooms.

The Powerhouse is all that remains of the Daimler site, which was destroyed in the Blitz during World War Two. Imagineer hopes to celebrate the building’s history.

“We’ve been working with local historian David Fry, and he told us that, to industrialists, the Daimler Building is as important as Coventry Cathedral. 

“Daimler was the first car factory in Britain and considered to be a centre of engineering excellence, until it was bombed in the Blitz. The powerhouse withstood that, but it’s been empty for a long time. It’s been great to breathe life back into it.”

Formally opening over the August Bank Holiday weekend, the redevelopment will provide a dedicated space for artists and resident creative companies. An extensive programme of events and activities accompanies the opening, the central element of which is a collaborative project titled The Brightest Moon.
“We decided that we would do a central installation, into which all the resident Daimler arts companies would feed, and that’s what The Brightest Moon is.

“On the night of the Coventry Blitz, it was reported that the moon shone at its brightest. We were able to find an original image of the moon from that night, and we wanted to recreate it inside the Daimler building.
“We’re in the process of what we’re calling ‘a big weave’, where members of the community weave metre-square panels which will all be joined together to create an image of the moon.”

Ribbon-weaving was formerly Coventry’s main industry. The Brightest Moon incorporates this into its celebration of the city.

“We’ll also be creating the 28 strikes that hit the city that night, by composing a sound effect. Outside the building, the audience can put headsets on and see where the strikes hit the city.
“It’s an exhibition that people can come and see, but it’s also part-live, because the space will be transformed into a beautiful green ribboned environment.

“We’re trying to capture the night of the Coventry Blitz but also look towards what the building is about, which is the future of creativity and collaboration with other sectors, shown through the interweaving of the ribbons.”

Looking towards the future is integral to Imagineer’s ethos. They are hoping their home in the Daimler Powerhouse will provide a much-needed space in which creative industries can collaborate to deliver innovative programmes.

“More work needs to be done to encourage cultural engagement, and I think Daimler will do that. Hyperlocal work is really important to us, so a lot of our work will be inspired by the community work we do, and the relationships we forge with communities and across sectors.

“City of Culture will end this time next year, and the Daimler building will provide an important legacy for continuing all that work.”

The opening of the Daimler Powerhouse is a huge event in Imagineer’s calendar, but their endeavours don’t stop there. Currently in development is their major City of Culture project, FLOW, which culminates next April. The event focuses on exploring our responsibility to the ocean, combining aerial performance and art installations with an international conference of young people curating activity around the ocean’s wealth. FLOW will be part of the crossover with the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

With plenty more bold and impressive plans in development, it’s clear that Imagineer doesn’t shy away from adventurous projects. 

For Jane and her team, it’s all in a day’s work: “Our job is to do ambitious things. That’s what Imagineer does. There’s always a lot of adrenaline, because we do large-scale work, and it’s often very risk-taking. We’re so lucky to be able even to think about doing some of the things that we do.”

The new Daimler Powerhouse Creation Centre will no doubt enable Imagineer to continue to produce extraordinary work. The on-going redevelopment has been one saving grace for the company during the lockdown period, and finishing it on time and on budget is an impressive feat. 

The building played an important part in Coventry’s past, and Jane is confident that the new and improved space will hold a valuable role in the city’s future: “The key thing about Daimler is the support it will give to emerging artists and companies. City of Culture inspires and supports younger creatives, and there’s going to be a community of people who are hungry to make and develop their own work. Seeing young people come through is really important to us, but the support needs to continue. Daimler will be a place in the city where people can come and expect an open door.”

The Daimler Powerhouse Opening Weekend takes place 28 - 30 August from 12noon to 4pm. Ticketed events will also take place on Saturday and Sunday evenings. For further details, visit: imagineer-productions.co.uk

Feature by Ellie Hutchings