BRINGING together art, digital technology and business is the aim of the new Digital Exploration Centre, based in Chalkwell Park, Westcliff.

It is modelled on a similar project, Ars Electronica, which has helped to regenerate the Austrian town of Linz.

The centre, the first of its kind in Britain, was initially proposed for Southend by Stephen Hetherington, chairman of HQ Theatres, which operates the Cliffs Pavilion and Palace Theatre.

He said: “I came across Ars Electronica in Austria three years ago.

“The way it imports strong ideas into the local economy and plays a role in regeneration suggested it was ideal for transplanting to Southend.”

One project in the centre’s forthcoming programme sums up its ambition to fuse art and technology. The project involves the use of digital technology to develop one-handed versions of musical instruments.

“There is a commercial element here, because there are quite simply millions of disabled people around the world waiting to take advantage of this development,” said Mr Hetherington.

In Southend, exhibitions and demonstrations staged by the Digital Exploration Centre are expected to provide a boost to tourism. Ars Electronica’s most recent exhibition in Austria attracted almost 80,000 visitors from outside the area.

“In Linz, public fascination in Ars Electronic is apparent wherever you look,” said Mr Hetherington. “Public interest just stares you in the face.”

The centre was launched this week in Chalkwell Park with an example of how art and technology can mix.

By using carefully-designed lighting, a performance artist appeared to glow from within, then flicker and explode with light.

Ars Electronica’s managing director Gerfried Stocker, a graduate in telecommunications electronics, attended the launch of the Westcliff centre. He confirmed the project’s economic impact.

“Over a period of time, it has ended up providing a major return on investment,” he said.