What do we mean by the ‘contemporary arts’?
Works created by living artists? Art forms that are experimental in some way? Or simply anything recent, strange or unfamiliar?
Who are the ‘contemporary arts’ for?
Why does the Turner Prize spark such outrage and fierce debate? If “your child could have drawn that”, what does that tell us about the relationship between artistic skill and enjoyment? Should contemporary art be accessible or challenging?
What is UACA?
Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts (UACA) is a 2.5-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council exploring how people engage with contemporary dance, theatre, music, visual art and everything in between. Using qualitative, talk-based methods, we are investigating the role of contemporary arts in the lives of those who attend performances and exhibitions. We are working closely with arts organisations in Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Bristol and Sheffield to understand their current and potential audiences, and then to put our 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.
What will we do next?
The next phase of the project will involve working with audiences in our new partner cities, and returning to Birmingham to follow up on the audience development activities of our original partner network. We will also be hosting conferences and workshops at which practitioners and audience members will exchange ideas with academics working on audience research across art forms. Our research will generate academic papers and a jointly authored book, alongside a handbook for arts organisations that shares our discoveries in a practically useful way.
What do our partners say?
Tim Rushby took part in our pilot study in his previous role as Marketing Manager at Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG):
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.
Want to find out more?
If you would like to stay in touch with our progress or participate in our research, please sign up to our UACA mailing list (via the sidebar on this page), like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can find out more about our events here.
Find out more about the project team here.
Find out more about our network here.