Audience Research in the Arts Conference Closing Discussion


Audience responses are given as bullet points below each of the questions.

What next for audience research?

How, where and when can we develop a community of scholars and practitioners with a shared interest?

  • How do we include the voice of audiences? (Go where they are; audience-centricity)

  • How do we make sure we’re asking the right questions?

  • Why are we here? (Serving artists and organisations; to be socially useful)

  • There’s a need to address a publication gap.

  • Is it an academic discipline? There’s a need for a guiding framework. There’s a need for rigour (in methodology) and understanding what the discipline is.

  • There’s a need for training (MOOC or webinars, etc.); knowledge exchange and mapping (different responses to one problem); summer schools; job-shadowing; another SPARC conference (every second year?)

  • Other potential resources: a handbook for audience research; annual special issue on audience research; stream of conference – academic and sector; research resources for conference funding

  • Aims: effecting cultural change and involving researchers from a wider geographical area

How does (or should!) audience research address inequality?

White middle class people watching white middle class people watching white middle class people – how can we broaden the scope of audience research to address structural inequalities and consider the field as a tool for change?

  • The question isn’t ‘how can we persuade everyone to go to everything?’, but ‘how can we persuade everyone that they could?’

  • Inequality of what? Accessibility, makeup, something else? Not sure what to make of ‘audience development’…

  • Lack of data is also data; you need to talk to everyone, especially people who don’t attend. Most people are non-goers.

  • Does ‘audience research’ address anything? Audience research is biased by who writes it… shouldn’t it be on the agenda?

  • What kinds of events are we discussing? Not everyone will be interested in the same events. Some people love grassroots and will never show up in the analysis we see. The range of events wide enough. We have to do better as researchers to find audiences who are already there…

  • “It’s not for me” is often said before any conscious thought; it’s as emotional as anything else.

  • How do we handle it when people think doing surveys is a waste of time?

  • What are we offering through our research? What about inequality are we trying to address?

  • We need to make visible the structures of findings and power; we often research elitist institutions who are already known and who benefit from the research we’re doing.

  • There’s a persistent deficit model in audience research. Why do we act as if people should be attending the events we’re discussing?

  • Location is important! Accessibility is important! If people don’t have to go into town, they can bring their kids – it makes a huge difference.

What do audiences want us to talk about?

As part of the UACA project, we carried out an online national survey which ended with the question “If you could send a message to arts organisations in the UK today, what would you ask them to think about?” For this closing discussion, we have collated these responses, which reflect praise and encouragement for the arts sector as well as frustration at its limitations. We will use these messages as a provocation for our discussion, as well as asking you to think about what your own single message to arts organisations would be.

  • How do we as researchers engage with audiences? And how do organisations create opportunities to engage beyond pre-performance events, etc? What about community arts?

  • What do we mean by audience research?

  • Participatory events are not good for everyone! There is a range of expectations. Theatre experience – from fear to enthusiasm – “Don’t touch me, I’m not doing that”

  • Consumer behaviour vs aesthetic expectations

  • Talking across disciplines/languages

  • UK/US/Australia dominate in research; new approach for Portugal – ‘feeling at home’ – impressions of concerts abroad

  • Adapting tradition – different, not replacement

  • Need to be open to audience needs/opinions: independent research needed, audience researchers need to be audience members too, researcher needs to have had same arts experience, positive bias if asked by arts organisation to conduct the research, regular attenders more able to be critical.

  • Entertainment vs culture: everything should / could be enjoyable, with element of challenge, ‘being bitten by the artist’. Time well spent – not always about improving people

What will you take away from this conference?

Throughout the conference we have been asking you to share your reflections on the presentations you have heard and the conversations you have participated in. We will bring these reflections together in our closing discussion, to consider the new ideas you have encountered and the questions that have been prompted for your own ongoing research or practice.

  • Where is the dance audience research?

  • The audience is like a mythical creature: it exists, it’s out there and I hope it’ll turn up at some point!

  • New methods: how do we share our methods expertise? Netnography. Facet methodology.

  • Methods – conference utopia? Hierarchies in the real world – were we advising each other enough? Do we need a symposium on methods, organised around one topic, for example the positives and negatives of different methods? Yes please!

  • Why has this conference been SO friendly? Variety of disciplines? Student village? Nice weather? Not in a classroom? Food? Mixed career levels? Is it just a lovely field? Everyone is interested in people. It’s a new field – explanatory not competitive common goal.

  • We need data critics (Sara Selwood)- yes! Data critics and doing “objective” and unbiased vs advocacy research.

  • Genuinely multi-disciplinary – everyone on the outside? No ‘core’ or ‘in’ group. Even though it ranged from management/ business stats to heavily ethno and GPR. Professors and Professionals!

  • Industry and artists able (is that patronising?) to interact with academic discussions and provide deep insights and analysis from a different perspective.

  • Methods that allow for more complex picture than questionnaires. Languishing in complexity is a good thing – not needing an answer.

  • How do we impact organisational change? Do we need a symposium? Yes! How do we speak the language of policy makers? Will the Centre for Cultural Value do this and will they share?

  • This is all about going out and doing stuff. Telly is brilliant, music is brilliant; aren’t they all engaging just as much?

  • Audience research focussed on inequality can threaten the status of arts institutions. Where’s the money coming from? Are financial managers’ priorities our problem?

  • If participation is instrumental rather than on its own terms, what are the implications? Are you going to things to get paid, or to get you a job?

  • Leisure time is itself a privilege. Privilege of wasting time? Where do audience research and leisure studies meet?

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve heard or discussed today?

Have you had an idea confirmed or challenged today? What questions will you take forward into your research or practice?

  • Can we find a way to discuss ‘beneficiaries’ (in relation to impact) without positioning them as lacking something (so patronising!) or to make them prove their worthiness for support (putting yet more pressure on people already marginalised)?

  • Connecting digital and the arts is very important! What part does digital play in audience development?

  • Studying the audience is difficult but employing all the right methods can help.

  • How does participatory action research with small under-represented audiences speak to BIG DATA? How? How do artists facilitate the data ‘speaking’?

  • Motivations towards arts engagement (attendance?) were more homogenous among NPO audiences compared to non-NPO audiences!

  • What/how do audiences make meaning from what they see/experience?

  • How do we capture the complex relationship between artist, audience and venue?

  • Questions of validity regarding knowledge produced by audiences talking about their experiences.

  • When we talk about ‘the audience’ as a homogenous mass, we are (perhaps inadvertently) reinforcing our own singular worldview/ perception. This is something that I have found IS being talked about at this conference, which is great.

  • Cultural background doesn’t fit into easy to define boxes, but surveys keep doing it.

  • Policy links are really flaky – how can we make all this wonderful research have impact? Role ACE and policy has to play – where is the room to fail?

  • Are artists too deferential to (bad) data? Why? Are they scared by it?

  • Are we learning about audiences or trying to teach them something?

  • Audience research IS political, no just ‘about policy’ and we need to talk more about how and why.

  • I wonder if resident-led, grass roots has a voice in the conversation, institution vs artist led approaches but do communities need artist-leadership to have a valid voice?

  • How are audiences conceptualised at various stages of the creative process? Demanding, engaged, passive, difficult?

  • Research ethics – what are your responsibilities to your participants?

  • Should we talk about gallery users rather than participants or visitors? Active use of gallery space and collection

  • Confirmed – that to get people ‘involved’, you need to do it carefully, not just ‘invite’ them

Photos of the feedback