Maker-Centric 2016: Utopia

Imagining community futures and utopias

A partnership between Craftspace and AHRC

A cylinder shape is highly decorated with image of dystopia and utopia including illustrations of drugs, mental illness, plants and buildings.

The Praxinoscope created during the project (Photo: Richard Battye)

This project was funded by the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme. Other partners include the University of Wolverhampton and Soho House Museum
Art research project
Soho House Museum (Birmingham) and Somerset House (London)
Spring 2016

Find out more about this project and our other projects that were part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme here.

Project information

A group of people aged 50+ have been working with artist Melanie Tomlinson at Soho House Museum during May and June 2016 to create a praxiniscope (an early form of animation device) on the theme of Utopia.

Soho House was home to the Birmingham industrialist Matthew Boulton, and was also one of the regular meeting places for The Lunar Society, a leading Enlightenment group. They exchanged ideas, discussed philosophy and conducted experiments, aiming to bring science, culture and commerce together to imagine and enable a better future.

Taking inspiration from Boulton and his colleagues, Maker-Centric drew on locality, heritage objects and memories from the past to stimulate thinking about future communities, both utopian and dystopian. Melanie and story-teller Gauri Raje helped the group create their own vision of a future society in urban Handsworth through story-telling and collaborative making.

Participants worked together to produce the contemporary praxinoscope, using a combination of drawing, painting and metalwork. The group also had a session at Fab Lab West Bromwich, based at Sandwell College, to make digital laser cut elements.

The project was showcased at the Utopia Festival at Somerset House in London, from 24th to 26th June 2016. Find out more about the festival on Somerset House’s website.


Maker-Centric is one of a series of participatory arts research projects across the UK which are funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Connected Communities Programme. A central aim of the project was to enable community groups to become more involved in and connected with their futures through creative means by utilising local heritage and digital resources.


Community participants were introduced to a Fab Lab, many for the first time. Three went on to visit the Fab Lab regularly and two have become regular volunteers and now help to facilitate at the Fab Lab, assisting others with problem solving. They have taught themselves programming and continue to experiment and collaborate.

Participants said they learnt about each other’s diverse cultures and social backgrounds which informed their perspectives on speculating about the future, reflecting on ‘whose utopia?’

Working with…

Maker-Centric is led by Deirdre Figueiredo, Director of Craftspace, and supported by Dr. Fiona Hackney, Professor of Fashion and Textile Theories at the University of Wolverhampton, and Hannaa Hamdache, Creative Producer at Craftspace funded by the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries.


  • Melanie Tomlinson – lead artist
  • Gauri Raje – story-teller
  • John Humphreys – film-maker

Watch a short film about the project.


Where Next

An older lady learns how to make a card from paper.

Craft on the Radio

An Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded Connected Communities Programme research project with Northumbria University and Falmouth University and

A man stands in a large room surrounded by colourful carnival costumes.

Maker-Centric 2017

Do you live in Handsworth, Birmingham and craft or make things for pleasure or work? We want to hear from


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