As a part of Cat Royale, we have engaged an Audience Advisory Panel who are coming along with us on this journey, as we try to work out and develop the complex nest of subjects that is the project.

We have never done something exactly like this before, although we have employed many forms of audience engagement throughout the years and audiences, pre, during and post our work have always been central to everything we do – we value their input in a way I can only think of in the most passionate terms.

But this panel is different and we wanted to talk to a slice of audience in detail during the development of Cat Royale to glean and learn from them what might occur down the line when the work goes live, to check ourselves and to listen. As we seek to understand the multiple layers at play in AI and robotics, in animal behaviour and trust, we wanted to demystify this with a group of people close to the ideas, our critical friends. We wanted to share opening the black box and see what this might mean.

Last year we ran a call-out for a diverse group of people who would represent the audience for this work and have been running remote sessions with the group of 16 people since. They are from the UK and the US, ranging from cat, art and AI enthusiasts, to people who are not fussed about either and some who are not especially into art. They come from various backgrounds, ages and lived experiences, and have become our trusted cohort.

Each session takes the same shape – a check-in, any fresh questions and a brief overview of what has been going on inside the project since last we met. We open the session early for people to hang out and what follows is two hours and two main questions on the theme of the session. Session 1 was an overview, session 2 – cats and session 3 – technology in the project.

We ask the question, everyone writes for five minutes or so and then posts their answers into the chat as well as answers verbally into the stream. Sometimes there is a discussion or demonstration. In the last session, Nick explained how all the tech works and demonstrated the robot arm in action. There is an observer from the University of Nottingham, as one aspect of the project is Responsible Research and Innovation, so the Audience Advisory Panel is also a part of what we are learning about in Cat Royale. And very soon they will be invited to the installation when it goes live on March 22nd.

Jonny our Comms Manager is co-host with me, we record everything and talk to individuals in between each session if they have any questions.

It may not be perfect, but it is informative and fun. And we are very grateful that they want to get under the skin of these sometimes complex ideas and think about how we can go into the future better informed, with some positive possibilities for us and our furry friends.

– Ju

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