Previous Research

2014-15 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 established a network of contemporary arts organisations in Birmingham who shared similar challenges in audience development, and encouraged exchange of ideas and opportunities across different art forms. We also undertook 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. This project led to a successful AHRC application and our nationwide phase of research began in May 2017. Reports and resources from the pilot study are now available and more information about the national UACA project can be found here.

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 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 observed 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 the report submitted to the Arts and Humanities Research Council is available in full here, and also forms part of the Cultural Value overview report written by Geoffrey Crossick and Patrycja Kaszynska (available here).  Headline findings from our ‘Dropping in and dropping out’ studies included 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.  Further publications from the project are also available, including an article in the International Journal of Community Music

2013 Stephanie Pitts was awarded an AHRC Cultural Value grant to explore themes of ‘Dropping in and dropping out: investigating partial and lapsed arts engagement’. This work built 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 included several linked studies: ‘The violin in the attic’ which aimed to explore how the benefits and costs of musical participation are articulated by those who no longer actively participate, and ‘Loyalty and its limitations – exploring cultural value across art forms’, where the ‘audience exchange’ used in some of our later projects first took shape. Katy Robinson was appointed as research assistant to the project in October 2013.

2013 Lucy Dearn and Sarah Price were 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 combined 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 became a new venture for SPARC with a project supported by University of Sheffield Arts Enterprise funding: Stephanie Pitts researched 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, then an MA Psychology of Music student and later research assistant on the Cultural Value project, who observed and participated in workshops throughout the year; Fraser Wilson, MA graduate of the music department, and Michael Bonshor, PhD student, 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 presented the CBSO project findings at conferences and research seminars in Glasgow and Birmingham, and a research article is now available online in Participations,  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).