Audience Research in the Arts Conference

3–5 July 2019, University of Sheffield


Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre (SPARC) hosted a conference in July 2019 in partnership with the International Network for Audience Research in the Performing Arts (iNARPA), The Audience Agency, Routledge, The University of Leeds and Deakin University, to bring together researchers and industry professionals who investigate audience engagement with the arts.

This conference came at the culmination of two substantive contributions to the field of audience research at the University of Sheffield; the Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts (UACA) study and the Modern Fairies project.

The conference also celebrated the publication of a Cultural Trends special double issue on ‘Audience Data and Research’ and launched a sector-facing handbook from the UACA project. It featured sharing sessions from the two research projects and papers from contributors to the special issue.

Search #ARITAconf to read discussion on Twitter.

142 delegates from 16 countries

107 academics, 28 industry professionals, 7 professional artists

23 panels, 64 papers, 2 keynotes, 1 performance


Modern Fairies

Conference programme

The conference began with a morning dedicated to postgraduate research, featuring three panels of postgraduate presentations and a ‘writing-for-publication’ workshop with members of the Cultural Trends Editorial Board and representatives from Taylor & Francis.

It continued with presentations and interactive panel discussions on topics ranging from methodologies and audience development to venues and public art, interspersed with keynote presentations on the UACA and Modern Fairies projects, papers from the Cultural Trends special issue and a special performance from the artists involved in the Modern Fairies project.

The conference concluded with a set of open discussions, led by the whole conference committee, around the implications of the conference deliberations so far and future directions for the field.

We ended the conference not with an expert plenary, but with a chance for all delegates to reflect on what they had heard over the three days and discuss their ideas on the future of audience research.

Conference bursaries

A limited number of bursaries were made available for those who would not otherwise be able to attend the conference. Each bursary covered the full cost of the conference fee, and may have covered related transportation and accommodation costs where a strong case was made.

Applicants who are members of an underrepresented group in this research area may have been given preference (underrepresented groups include but are not limited to: ethnic and racial minorities, people with disabilities, freelance arts sector workers and creative professionals).

Quotes from our bursary holders

"I found the discussions around the relationship between the academic world and arts/media industry very robust. It is rather comforting to know that these previously perceived extreme worlds can come to a compromise and find an intersection where they work together for the sakes of knowledge sharing and the audience they both represent."

"In submitting an abstract to this conference, I was interested in experiencing varied ways of understanding audience participation and this is exactly what I took away with me and I would like to thank all those involved in organizing as well as fellow presenters for making this conference a critically rigorous and thought provoking one. -Thank you!"

"Before the conference, audience research took a very marginal position in my research and data analysis. […] From this conference I have learnt that the analysis of audience participation can take on different shapes and enable a host of questions and I look forward to giving such analysis a central role in my research. This especially where decolonial ideas about the potential of building a communal is concerned and, herein, its political possibility and how that materializes in music-making and practice."

"One of the great takeaways for me from the conference as a whole was just how interdisciplinary audience research is. The range of papers and delegates at the conference was fantastic. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear about work I would otherwise be unlikely to come across and from this, much to the benefit of my own research, there were presentations about some really creative and innovative methodology."

"My thanks again to the whole team behind the Audience Research in the Arts Conference 2019. I am incredibly grateful to have been able to attend, as facilitated by the bursary awarded for my travel, and as I hope this short report has demonstrated, it was a very beneficial experience for me particularly given the stage of my research."

"Thank you so much for this opportunity, it was such an overwhelming and intense but absolutely inspiring experience. This was the first academic conference that I have been to and it was immensely inspiring and helpful to my practice."

"I’ve had discussions and debates with colleagues from different backgrounds, both enlightening and challenging, giving food for thought as to how I and my arts organisation practice our relations to the audiences. I definitely have come away from the conference with a stronger sense of how I view audiences and the research being done around them."

"As I am mostly working as an arts practitioner, I’ve had to translate thoughts and ideas from the conference, into actionable steps for either myself or the organisations I work with. I’m encouraged to work even harder for increased diversity within both the arts being presented and the audiences engaging with those experiences. I intend to do more of what I haven’t tried yet, and go where we haven’t been yet, to find and engage with those communities not yet represented in a majority of what is still considered the ‘fine arts’."

"In my memory I will take the importance of giving voice to the audience as a crucial element for the sustainability of artistic activity as well as maintaining a close dialogue with the equipment of the cultural and creative industry to think about strategies for increasing events."