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Research: Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts

Research: Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts

Reto Pulfer, Gewässerzeiten (2015) Spike Island, Bristol. Photograph by Max McClure

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the research is investigating what value the contemporary arts have to those who engage with them. It will look to define contemporary arts audiences and the challenges organisations face in encouraging people to engage with new or experimental art works.

The project, led by Professor Stephanie Pitts from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Music, is working with arts organisations across the UK to develop and test audience development strategies. Spike Island is a lead partner in the study.

The study, by the University of Sheffield’s Performer and Audience Research Centre in collaboration with Newcastle University, aims to help arts organisations develop new strategies to recruit and retain new audience members.

The study will culminate in the production of a handbook, which will be freely shared with arts organisations across the country, with practical advice on implementing the findings in their own marketing, programming and audience development strategies.

Isabelle Cornaro, Reproductions (#1, purple) (2010-15). Photograph Stuart Whipps

“Our project is looking to help contemporary artists in two ways: The first phase of the study will investigate the attitudes and experiences of existing and potential audiences at contemporary arts venues. The second phase will put these findings into action by working with arts organisations to help them attract new audiences.” – Professor Pitts

As part of the project, the University of Sheffield-led research team are working with lead partners in the arts to recruit a large number of arts organisations in order to gain a detailed insight into their audiences and build a network of contemporary arts organisations across the country. Chosen to cover a diversity of cities, organisations and art forms, lead partners in the project are:

  • Spike Island (Bristol)
  • Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
  • Bush Theatre (London)
  • Bluecoat (Liverpool)