Research

Members of the SPARC team have conducted research with organisations including: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; Buxton Festival; CAST, Doncaster; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO); Classical Sheffield; Contemporary Music-Making for Amateurs (CoMA); Derbyshire County Council; Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival; the Firebird Trust; the London Chamber Orchestra; Making Music; Music in the Round; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; Sheffield City Council; and the Spin Jazz Club, Oxford.

For more details of these and other projects, please see our list of publications and our SPARC Research Summary.

Current Projects

2017-19 AHRC Research Grant: Understanding audiences for the contemporary arts. In May 2017 we will begin work on this new, national project, which scales up the methods and networks of our Birmingham pilot project (see 2014-16 below) to work with contemporary arts practitioners and their audiences in Bristol, Liverpool and London, as well as returning to Birmingham for longitudinal work with our existing network. We’re exploring audience members’ routes into contemporary arts engagement and their risk-taking behaviours, including how those are different from more ‘traditional’ classical music audiences, with whom we will run a comparative study in Sheffield. You can read the case for support here to find out more about the project, and updates will be added to the website as the project gets underway.

2016 A productive conference tea break conversation with staff from Making Music has led to a new project now underway, aiming to explore the impact of amateur music-making on its local communities. We began in December 2016 with an online survey, receiving an overwhelming 550+ responses which we’re still working through!

Previous Projects

2014-16 In October 2014 we began an exciting new collaboration with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, funded by the University of Sheffield’s Innovation, Impact and Knowledge Exchange (IIKE) scheme, on a project to investigate audience attitudes and experiences in relation to the contemporary arts.  We have established a network of contemporary arts organisations in Birmingham who share similar challenges in audience development, and have encouraged exchange of ideas and opportunities across different art forms.  We have also undertaken interviews and ‘audience exchange’ visits with audience members in Birmingham, yielding rich insight on people’s routes into the contemporary arts, and the expectations they bring to their arts consumption.  We hope this will be the start of a nationwide, longitudinal study, resulting in a handbook of audience development for practitioners, and new contributions to the academic literature on audience experience and the place of live arts in society.  You can read our review of literature and our project report here and also download some of the resources that we used to carry out the research.

2014-15 Following our collaboration on the Arts Enterprise-funded project researching the impact of Music in the Community, Stephanie Pitts and Polly Ives worked together again on a Youth Music project exploring the links between music and language learning in children at risk of developmental delay.  This exciting project brought a new collaboration with Sheffield City Council’s inclusion team and the ‘Every Sheffield Child Articulate and Literate’ (ESCAL) programme, which will allowed us to track the children’s language development across a year of music workshops, and to consider whether and how musical activities have contributed to social interaction and language confidence.  Arts Enterprise at the University of Sheffield provided some extra funding so that we could start the research straight away, so Stephanie Pitts and Katy Robinson visited four nursery settings in Sheffield throughout May and June 2014, and Kate Thompson took over research assistant duties for the remainder of the year.  We have been observing workshops, talking to practitioners and parents, and expanding our research skills to understand the perspective of three year olds armed with percussion instruments!  Publications from the project are now available, including an online article in International Journal of Education and the Arts

2014 The Cultural Value project is now completed and a draft report submitted to the Arts and Humanities Research Council is available to preview here.  Headline findings include the strong relationship between social fit and musical satisfaction in ensemble participation, and the uncertainty felt by new audience members about their readiness to experience art forms in the same way as regular attenders.  Publications from the project are now available, including an article in the International Journal of Community Music

2013 Stephanie Pitts has been awarded an AHRC Cultural Value grant to explore themes of ‘Dropping in and dropping out: investigating partial and lapsed arts engagement’. This work builds on Stephanie’s book, Valuing Musical Participation (Ashgate, 2005), by asking challenging questions about why people stop attending concerts or belonging to amateur ensembles, and whether there is a potential crossover of audience loyalty from one art form to another.  The project includes three linked studies:

Study 1: The violin in the attic – investigating lapsed musical participation

This study will focus on amateur musicians, exploring the experiences and attitudes of those who no longer play, and who commonly cite pressures of time, family, and work as having caused them to cease involvement (Pitts, 2005;2012). Through in-depth interviews with around 30 ‘lapsed’ members of musical groups, this study will explore how the benefits and costs of musical participation are articulated by those who no longer actively participate, and will identify the factors in causing participants to cease their involvement. These findings will shed new light on cultural value as perceived by those who have other priorities in their lives, and will help to propose strategies for retaining and re-engaging such people as active participants.

 Study 2: Loyalty and its limitations – exploring cultural value across art forms

This large-scale questionnaire study will explore the articulation of cultural value across genres, by questioning those who attend a narrow range of arts events about their experiences of their chosen genre, and their broader understanding of arts in society. Responses will be sought from audiences in a range of venues, including independent cinema, theatre, concert halls and museums; each will be asked about their frequency of attendance, factors in choices of events, openness to other art forms, and attitudes towards less familiar arts. The study will therefore highlight any differences between the attitudes and experiences of audiences at specific arts events – and so shed light on whether ‘cultural value’ is generic to arts engagement, or needs to be more subtly defined for different audiences.

 Study 3: Cultural value in lives and localities

This study will return to the in-depth interview approach used in Study 1, so allowing for comparisons between lapsed arts participants and occasional arts attenders, as well as deepening the evidence from Study 2 with a closer exploration of how attitudes and patterns of engagement are formed in adult life. Around 30 volunteers from Study 2 will be interviewed using a life history approach (cf. Pitts, 2012) to explore their level of past engagement, and how this has shaped their perceptions of the contribution of the arts to their life and to the local community. This study therefore offers another perspective on the factors that promote and inhibit involvement in the arts, and on the articulation of cultural value that surrounds those participation decisions.

Katy Robinson was appointed as research assistant to the project in October 2013, and is now hard at work recruiting participants and setting up interviews, audience exchanges and online questionnaires.

2013 Lucy Dearn and Sarah Price have been appointed to the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award studentships that were awarded to the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Music in the Round and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  Lucy and Sarah will combine their academic research with placements in the two arts organisations, using the practical experience they gain there to inform research questions around the theme of ‘Music, place and people: investigating the impact of Western classical music provision and attendance in two English cities’.

2012-13 Investigating the audiences of the future is a new venture for SPARC: supported by University of Sheffield Arts Enterprise funding, Stephanie Pitts has been researching the impact of the Music in the Community workshops run in three Sheffield primary schools by Polly Ives and musicians from Ensemble 360 at Music in the Round.  Research assistant support has come mainly from Katy Robinson, a current MA Psychology of Music student [now research assistant on the Cultural Value project], who has observed and participated in workshops throughout the year; Fraser Wilson, MA graduate of the music department, and Michael Bonshor, current PhD student, have also contributed, with Michael bravely taking on the challenge of transcribing focus group interviews with seven year olds and questionnaires including some brilliant drawings of musicians!

2010-11 The founding members of the SPARC team carried out a knowledge transfer project with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), investigating audience and performer loyalty to the organisation. From the audience perspective, the project aimed to discover why audience members are loyal to the orchestra and how that loyalty can be developed and nurtured; while also aiming to increase our knowledge of why audience members find live classical listening a satisfying experience. From the performer perspective the research sought to produce findings on effective strategies for the continuing professional development of symphony orchestra musicians; simultaneously enhancing our understanding of orchestral musicians’ career trajectories and identities. The research led to an ongoing relationship with CBSO, including their involvement in the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award projects on ‘Music, Place and People’. Stephanie Pitts and Chris Spencer have presented the CBSO project findings at conferences and research seminars in Glasgow and Birmingham, and a research article is now available online in Participations-article-1-1.pdf (11 downloads) ,  the international journal of audience and reception studies.

2009 Stephanie Pitts and Melissa Dobson carried out a knowledge transfer project with Sheffield’s Music in the Round chamber music series, running a focus group study which introduced new audience members in the 21-30 age group to classical concert attendance. This project was funded by Yorkshire Forward Business Link and published as an invited article in Ethnomusicology Forum, as part of a special issue on the ethnomusicology of Western art music.

2009 Building on her PhD research into musicians’ work practices and cultures, Kate Gee produced a commissioned analysis of employee satisfaction in the CBSO, which was used internally to inform organisational policy.

2007-10 Stephanie Pitts (with Karen Burland) carried out several studies of jazz audiences in both festival and jazz club contexts, providing a point of comparison with previous research (with Chris Spencer) on the audience experience at a chamber music festival. Stephanie and Karen have presented their work at several conferences, including the Leeds International Jazz Conference, and The Business of Live Music, at the University of Edinburgh. Articles have also been published in the journals Arts Marketing and Social Semiotics, and our collaboration is continuing with an edited book, Coughing and Clapping: Investigating Audience Experience (Ashgate: forthcoming 2014).