Contemporary Arts Audiences

In 2017 we began our research project, Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts (UACA), which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Our aim was to explore how people engage with contemporary dance, theatre, music, visual art and everything in between.

What is UACA?

Using qualitative, talk-based methods, the project investigates the role of contemporary arts in the lives of those who attend performances and exhibitions. Over the lifetime of the project, the team has worked closely with arts organisations in Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Bristol and Sheffield to understand their current and potential audiences, and then to put the project findings into action, testing audience development initiatives to recruit new audiences and enhance the experiences of attenders. This project began life as a collaboration between the Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre (SPARC) at the University of Sheffield and Birmingham Contemporary

Music Group (BCMG) which led to an eight-month pilot study in Birmingham (October 2014 – May 2015). Findings from this pilot study can be found here

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Our lead partners

Spike Island logo
Bluecoat logo
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group logo

Spike Island is an international centre for the development of contemporary art and design, based in Bristol’s historic harbour area. It is a place where artists and the public can meet, enabling audiences to engage with artists’ research and production. Within the 80,000 square foot building, Spike Island offers visitors a year-round programme of exhibitions, events and activities in the central gallery spaces, as well as providing working space for artists, designers and creative businesses.

Bluecoat is Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, supporting and presenting visual art, music, dance, live art and literature, as well as practices that fall in between these categories. In the past few years its gallery programme has shown some of the best UK and international artists and at the same time Bluecoat engages with audiences from the most vulnerable communities.

Bluecoat celebrates its 300th anniversary throughout 2017, with 300 days of special programming comprising exhibitions, performances of music, dance and live art, literature events, commissions, a sociologist in residence, and a major heritage participation project, My Bluecoat.

Bush Theatre is a world-famous home for new plays and an internationally renowned champion of playwrights in Shepherd’s Bush, West London. It discovers, nurtures and produces the best new playwrights from the widest range of backgrounds, and present their work to the highest possible standards.

The Bush Theatre looks for exciting new voices that tell contemporary stories with wit, style and passion, and champions work that is both provocative and entertaining. The Bush Theatre has produced hundreds of ground-breaking premieres since its inception in 1972, many of them Bush Theatre commissions, and hosted guest productions by leading companies and artists from across the world.

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, one of the world’s foremost new music ensembles, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary in the 2017/18 season. Over three decades, BCMG has developed the music of today for the audiences of tomorrow. The ensemble has commissioned over 170 pieces of music from the world’s finest composers and emerging international talent.

BCMG was founded by musicians from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1987, with Sir Simon Rattle as Founding Patron. Since then, BCMG has reached over 10 million people in concert and through broadcasts. The Group performs regularly at CBSO Centre, Symphony Hall and Town Hall Birmingham, Wigmore Hall in London and at the BBC Proms and Aldeburgh Festival.

"The Birmingham pilot study for Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts remains one of the most valuable projects I’ve had the privilege to be involved in. The project enabled rich discussions with our audiences, providing real insights into how, why and what our audiences valued about BCMG’s work, as well as gaining information about other contemporary arts with which our audiences engaged. Most importantly for me, this project provided greater organisation-wide awareness on how BCMG could better programme and promote its work to a broader contemporary arts audience. The Birmingham Contemporary Arts Network that developed as a result of the project was a real bonus. Having the opportunity to work closely with a broad range of contemporary arts organisations from across the city, specifically to develop joint programmes and audience development initiatives, felt like it could be the start of something big for Birmingham. I’m certain that the knowledge and networks that will result from this nationwide phase will be hugely valuable to all organisations and artists involved."


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UACA Handbook

Our handbook is designed as an introduction to the main findings of the Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts project. A series of other publications will dig into the data in more detail.