International Network for Audience Research in the Performing Arts (iNARPA)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Performance & Cultural Industries


Despite the vital role that audiences play across the globe in supporting and giving meaning to the performing arts, audience research remains sporadic; limited by methodological insecurity; and compromised by claims of positive bias. There is currently no international research network dedicated to audience research in the arts. This new network will address this gap and bring together leading scholars in the emerging field of Audience Studies with audiences, artists, arts workers, funders and strategic agencies to explore and debate issues related to the value and impact of audience engagement in the performing arts and to emerging methods of capturing this impact. As the next generation of arts audiences matures and drivers such as audience development, big data, co-creation, participation, digital engagement and live streaming continue to impact on the arts, audience behaviour and expectations are changing. This network will trace the impact of these drivers on the audience experience and explore the implications for artists, arts organisations and policymakers.

As audience research is a global phenomenon, and because Audience Studies currently lacks any kind of scholarly home, this will be an international network comprising a series of events in Leeds and in Melbourne. The UK and Australia share the common benefit of having small clusters of academics working in the area of audience research in the performing arts, and over the course of this initial two-year network plan, these scholars will be joined by practitioners and audiences, as well as by senior US scholars and practitioners working in the field.

The network will initially commit to organising four key events between January 2017 and December 2018:

1. A half-day scoping workshop held at the School of Performance and Cultural Industries (University of Leeds) designed to flush out the key issues and challenges facing audience research in the performing arts regarding methods and questions of cultural value.

2. A one-day symposium at the University of Leeds designed to bring audience stakeholder groups into dialogue through short research and provocation papers. The symposium will be themed around emerging quantitative and qualitative audience research methods and their potential complementarity.

3. A one-day colloquium held at the School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University, Australia - designed to cross-fertilise thinking in preparation for a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal on emerging methods of audience research. The event will be themed around ways of capturing and 'knowing' the value and impact of the performing arts.

4. A round-table event summarising recurrent themes and ideas and planning for the ongoing development of the network as well as finalising dissemination activities and research outputs.

These events will be supported by a dedicated webpage and blog, which will encourage and facilitate participant engagement and debate between the face-to-face events.

Although this network will focus predominantly on the performing arts, it will draw in scholars and practitioners from related fields and artforms. The rationale for this is that even within the marginal field of Audience Studies, scholars and practitioners are too often fractured into artform silos and fail therefore to cross-fertilise ideas and exchange emerging methods and knowledge. As the arts sector grapples to locate its role and position in a new social, political, cultural and technological environment within an 'experience economy', now is the ideal time to refocus attention on issues and phenomena of audience engagement and spectatorship and to harness the potential of inter-disciplinary thinking. This is also a fitting time to review and question the legacy of the arts marketing approach, which has arguably facilitated the gradual commodification and devaluation of the arts witnessed since the neoliberal politics of the 1980s.

Planned Impact

The School of Performance and Cultural Industries is internationally recognized for its world leading research impact and for its innovative and productive partnerships with arts and cultural organisations. It is appropriate, then, that questions of impact lie at the very heart of this proposed new network. By generating open lines of dialogue with audience representatives, artists, designers, directors and arts organisations, and with their surrounding communities of interest, the network will explore and interrogate the complex relationships between audience research and the impact of the arts and culture on society. Artists and arts organisations are likely to benefit from this network by sharing their concerns regarding audience engagement and by learning from their peers and from academic researchers which engagement strategies have proven most effective in practice, and which have failed and why. They will also benefit from taking a more research-led approach to capturing the artistic, social and educational value of their activities and thus gain insights into evaluating their activities in a more robust and meaningful way. A thirst for a more qualitative approach to arts evaluation was apparent in discussions with the University of Leeds' cultural partners in the recent AHRC Cultural Value project, and ongoing conversations between the University and these organisations will feed into the scoping event proposed at the start of this network development. In Australia, the Deakin University team has worked closely with a range of high-level arts and cultural partners, including the state-government arts-funding agency, Creative Victoria, the Fringe Festival and state-government health promotion agency, VIcHealth, to co-design audience research projects around qualitative methodologies that identify arts impact. The network will engage strategically with these partnership networks to ensure that the impact and knowledge exchange facilitated in the UK is replicated in and extended to Australia too.

The development of this network is supported by Arts Council England (ACE) for whom excellent audience research and engagement are core strategic objectives. ACE will provide not only a national overview of arts organisations' approaches to audience research and engagement but also the vital perspective of a major arts funder. ACE has also agreed to provide us with access to the National Policy and Research Team (see letter of support) so the network will be well-placed to influence conversations about national arts policy development in this area. The PI is an Artistic Assessor for ACE and therefore strategically placed to contribute to cultural policy development in the genre of theatre. Other professional bodies such as the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) and strategic agencies such as The Audience Agency (TAA) will also benefit from networking with expert academics, who will question and develop organisational models and help the organisations take a more reflexive approach to their audience consultancy and dissemination activities. For example, TAA has developed a new audience segmentation model based on its Big Data analysis of arts engagement in England. But this has raised as many questions as it has answered, and TAA is keen to partner with HEIs to probe the findings of this large quantitative data set through more sensitive qualitative methods (see letter of support).

A core aim of this network is to raise the profile of audience research, development and engagement within the academy, across the arts sector and beyond. The ultimate impacts of the network are therefore likely to be manifest in the continued emergence of Audience Studies as an academic field in its own right and in a more audience-centred approach to the strategic management of arts and cultural organisations, for example through a closer and more nuanced understanding of the benefits and challenges of participatory and co-creative practice.


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Description The network has succeeded in 'flushing out' a significant number of researchers from a wide range of academic disciplines from different fields, including sociology, arts marketing, theatre studies, music, opera studies, psychology and biological sciences, and bringing them together to collaborate on aspects of audience research. The network has succeeded in building bridges with arts and cultural organisations and has not shied away from addressing difficult questions about the use-value of academic research on audiences, for example. As a network, we have focussed particularly on finding different ways of understanding and articulating/illustrating the audience experience of the performing arts and have shared examples of innovative methods of capturing impact of the arts and thus articulating cultural value in innovative ways. This was a key objective of the network. The network has also highlighted the structural problem with learning that plagues the arts sector globally - the fact that arts organisations generally fail to learn from others' mistakes. The is a gap in the structure regarding who sets the agenda for audience research, and there is a policy vacuum in this area which this network is addressing by providing a HQ and thought leadership in several countries.
Exploitation Route We incorporated some of the findings of the network and built on the momentum it generated to incorporate audience research into the successful proposal to lead the AHRC Centre for Cultural Value. Questions of audience engagement and development lie at the core of this Centre, and shape two of the 20 official events as well as influence the design of dedicated CPD and MOOC activities.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Findings have generated discussions within the arts and cultural sectors in the UK and in Australia with a view to increasing the focus on audience engagement activity. There have been calls (e.g. from the National Theatre in England) for the research team to deliver a workshop on hanging out with audiences, and also an interest in how to encourage attendance from working class audiences. As anticipated at the previous two annual returns, these conversations have developed significantly over the past year and culminated in further collaborative activity with theatres which will potentially shift the way in which theatres communicate and engage with their audiences as a result of the ideas and momentum generated by the network. As a direct result of the network, audience research was embedded into the successful proposal by the University of Leeds to lead the £2.5m AHRC-funded Centre for Cultural Value. This will inform key activity strands, such as the evaluation framework and the events programme.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

Description National Theatre's Theatre Nation Partnerships project
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Theatre Nation Partnerships
Amount £35,000 (GBP)
Organisation Royal National Theatre 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2020
Description Deakin University, Australia 
Organisation Deakin University
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My leadership of this network with a Co-I from Deakin University has enabled us to develop a formal partnership and start to plan for legacy projects. The network has enabled me to visit Deakin twice in the past year and enabled two academics from Deakin to come over to Leeds. My leadership of the network has facilitated new research collaborations to spark between Deakin staff and other academic working in the field. For example, holding a symposium at the University of Leeds enabled me to invite contributions from colleagues from Biological Sciences, which have influenced Deakin's research focus going forwards.
Collaborator Contribution Deakin brought an expertise in qualitative research in performing arts and opened up our research to Australia and South-East Asia. Colleagues at Deakin are currently conducting audience research for a diverse arts festival, which has enabled a cross-fertilisation of expertise in diverse programming and audience profiling, for example.
Impact This collaboration is inherently multi-disciplinary, and it has brought together colleagues from Deakin's Arts Faculty as well as its Management School. The Co-I (from Deakin) and I are currently reworking an abstract for a special issue on audience research for Cultural Trends. Regarding the long-term legacy of the network, the Co-I and I are hoping to establish a system for research/teaching exchange between key network institutions from the UK and Australia. Another collaborator from Deakin is now working with a key supporter of the network from York St. Jon University on a project to increase the capacity of arts organisations to diversify audiences in the UK and Australia, for which they are seeking funding from Creative Victoria, the Australia Council, the British Council and/or Arts Council England.
Start Year 2010
Description Audience Research Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The International Network for Audience Research in the Performing Arts held a symposium in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds on Thursday 14th September 2017. The symposium comprised of keynote speeches from Professor Lynne Conner (University of North Carolina at Charlotte) and Alan Brown (Principal, WolfBrown) and featured academic and practitioner papers as well as panels and other interactive sessions which illustrated audience research methods in use. The overarching theme of the event was Innovative methods of researching audiences. Time was dedicated to discussing emerging methods and the impact that approaches from disciplines beyond the arts and humanities can have on audience research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Audience research seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 40 participants attended a research seminar on audience research, which led into a general discussion about the state of audience research and the relationships between theory and practice. There were three presentations by academics/practitioners and an open panel event chaired by the Co-I from Deakin University, Melbourne,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Scoping Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The workshop was facilitated by Lisa Baxter from The Experience Business and brought together those who are interested in raising the profile of audience research and ultimately foster a culture of audience centricity in the arts sector. Artists, academics and practitioners attended the workshop and began the conversation about the key issues the network would be exploring over the next two years.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This was the first public event in Australia: a symposium on current audience research across art forms. The event comprises keynote speeches from Dr Caroline Heim (Queensland University of Technology) on The Performing Audience, and Lisa Walsh (Research Manager, Australia Council) on The Participating Audience; feature academic and practitioner papers as well as discussions focused on audience research techniques, challenges, impacts and trends.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The website brings together recordings and transcripts of the talks and panel events from the network events, especially from the Audience Research Symposium. It is quickly becoming a significant public resource for audience research and has an evolving bibliography as well as an open network of members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018