Tuesday, June 25, 2019
In 2016, Arts Council England (ACE) launched the second round of calls for proposals to the Research Grants Programme. The call sought proposals aimed at collaborative research work to develop the evidence base around the impact of arts and culture. The role of the Research Grants Programme is to generate evidence:
■ to better understand the impact of arts and culture;
■ to make the best case for arts and culture in the context of reduced public spending; and
■ to promote greater collaboration and co-operation between the arts and cultural sector and research partners.
CONCERTA has been a national study of the benefits, for local community development, of a relatively under-researched form of creative activity: rural touring arts.
Devised by the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) (Lead Applicant), in collaboration with the Centre for Business in Society (CBiS) at Coventry University (Research Partner), the CONCERTA project (Contributing to Community Enhancement through Rural Touring Arts) was provided with funding of circa £150,000 by ACE under the terms of the Research Grants Programme for the period from December 2016 until March 2019. NRTF was the Lead Partner and accountable body, with oversight provided by a Steering Group, chaired by NRTF and including ACE and the NRTF Board.
CONCERTA has been based on a mixed methods research design, combining the development of a national, geo-referenced data-driven evidence base of professional rural touring activity with the production of a series of more qualitative case studies of the impact of touring rural arts.
The choice of case studies included a return to some of those areas studied by Matarasso (2004) Only Connect in consideration of the potential of the cumulative impact of rural touring through time.
The project was designed to support NRTF and its Scheme members in their professional activities.
The project encompassed five methodological strands:
■ Rural Touring Schemes organisational characteristics, activities and impacts: An on-line questionnaire was sent to all 24 English Rural Touring Schemes funded in 2016.
■ Mapping the patterns and characteristics of English rural touring arts activity: a comprehensive, geo-referenced evidence base of five years of English Rural Touring Scheme activity, for all 24 English Rural Touring Schemes funded in 2016. This comprises over 700 digital maps. Activity data collected through the scheme survey has been combined geographically (using ESRI ArcGIS) with socioeconomic data from sources such as Census (census.edina.ac.uk), Neighbourhood statistics (www.neighbourhood. statistics.gov.uk) and Employment (www.nomisweb.co.uk).
■ Case Studies of the impacts of rural touring activities:– Five Core Caseswere selected reflecting levels of ‘rurality’ in Rural Touring Schemes;- Two ‘Cumulative’ Cases and an interview with François Matarasso – representing a return to local rural touring areas previously studied by Matarasso (2004); and- Two ‘Non-Scheme’ Rural (touring) Arts Investigations to investigate the possible benefits and impacts of other, often amateur, arts-based activities, rather than professional Touring Schemes. In the spirit of co-design and partnership, these cases were undertaken by NRTF with oversight by Coventry University.
■ Supporting professional touring development and wider dissemination: a range of knowledge transfer and technical expertise activities to support NRTF, their membership Schemes and broader understanding of the characteristics and benefits of professional rural touring.
Rural Touring Schemes: Delivering arts and culture to rural communities
Below is an example of one of the national maps produced from Scheme data, representing number of different art-form types by location in 2012-2017, by Scheme, mapped against national Rural Urban Classification 10.
In summary, the Rural Touring Schemes represent a set of small, relatively stable, long-established organisations.
Overall, annual turnovers are low, and very low in some instances, and this is reflected in employment structures. These range from between one and ten employees, often supported by a freelancer or several. The Schemes exhibit substantial variety in terms of company structure. Some are private companies, some are effectively franchises or projects run by other companies, and some are community interest companies. Many of the more established companies are charities.
Between them the Schemes deliver annually between 2,000 to 2,500 events, incorporating a wide portfolio of art-form performances and a small number of more interactive activities (including workshops, training, etc.). These are distributed across between 800 to 1,000 venues although there is some evidence that venue numbers may be dropping. Over the last five years, the Schemes have jointly delivered 9,500 events to audiences numbering just over 700,000. Annual average audiences per event sit at a highly consistent 70 to 80 person annual average.
ACE funding is core to the sector, with 21 of the 24 Schemes attaining National Portfolio Organisation status, and seven in which ACE funding accounts for over fifty percent of funding. Ticket sales represent around a third of Scheme incomes, with notable variation across Schemes. Local Authorities remain the other main funder, although at an increasingly low scale.Change dynamics are evident across the sector but one relationship is clear: simply put, the greater the turnover, the more staff are employed, the more freelancers used and the more events are programmed.
The impacts of rural touring
Table ES1 (overleaf) summarises the range of impacts of rural touring identified by the research. Bringing arts activity – quality, diverse, and challenging arts activity – to a substantial range of accessible and remote rural areas, rural touring has been shown to be integral to catalysing and supporting community life in English rural areas, especially as other villages ‘anchors’ have diminished.
The act of bringing touring arts to rural areas (engagement and participation) generates a range of individual and community benefits, including personal development and well-being, community assets and capacity and, ultimately, stronger rural communities.
Table ES1: The Impacts of Rural Touring Arts
|Promotes participation in the arts and creative activity ||EngagementParticipationInspiration||· Provides and catalyses high-quality, accessible, affordable, arts activity in people’s own local rural communities· Encourages engagement with the arts and creative activity, including a broader appreciation of the arts and its diversity· Inspires audiences to attend other, and a wider variety of, arts and culture events· Inspires people to take up a personal interest in the arts and creative activity – and raises the aspirations of those who already participate· Potential individual health and well-being outcomes given generation of emotion, thought, challenge, captivation, empowerment, etc. through engagement and participation|
|Builds art and community assets||ActivitiesBuildings||· Develops new programmes and strands of village activity, including the identification, rethinking and re-using of existing assets· Provides an income stream for local activities, facilities and employment· Supports the provision of new community centres and facilities, including their development as arts venues· Acts as a ‘magnet’ to other arts activities to encourage the development of cultural hubs, venues and events· Contribute to, and potentially form, ‘community anchors’ – and their capacity to deliver broader services, and social, economic and rural development|
|Generates individual and community capacity||VolunteeringSkillsNetworksActivism||· Brings local people together to plan and support activity in arts and culture – volunteering · Develops individual confidence and skills· Generates volunteering, interest groups and social networks· Generates voluntary activity and self-organisation beyond the arts – community activism|
|Builds stronger senses of community||InclusionIdentityCohesionSafety ||· Brings people together:- Reduces social isolation and builds (new) social relationships- Provides non-threatening environments (e.g. for challenging experiences/ people with protected characteristics)- Promotes diversity and challenges stereotypes- Develops community cohesion· Develops a sense of pride in, and belonging to, community· Reduces fear and contributes to community safety|
Issues, challenges and good practice
In providing an updated national overview of the organisational characteristics, activities, and impacts of the ACE-funded English Rural Touring Schemes, a number of issues were raised by interviewees (Table ES2). These centred around aspects such as: funding and sustaining the rural touring arts model; strategy and rationale (and achievement of them); and, operational effectiveness.TableES2: Issues for Rural Touring Arts
|Funding Quality Performances||The reducing subsidy model reaching a point where it is becoming unviable to programmeFinancial models and pressures leading to lack of risk and ‘safe programming’ – can communities be rewarded for riskier programming?What is quality anyway?|
|Limits of the model||Touring model focusses companies on touring performances only – missed opportunities for innovative workshops/ community arts/ targeted commissions etc.Contradictions of promoting high-quality professional events through unpaid volunteers – and the growing challenges of ‘professionalisation’Skills concentrated in the hands of a small number of peopleSpread too thinly?|
|Diversity||Achieving cultural diversity throughout the rural touring modelLack of work around protected characteristics|
|Succession||Narrow and shrinking group of ageing promoters – and volunteersLimited work to develop skill and succession in communities|
|Who benefits and who comes to events?||Are touring shows catering for an audience who would access the arts anyway?Could the spending have more impact if it was better targeted?What do we know about the local people who do not attend?|
The research was able also to point to examples of responses to such challenges across the Schemes. Table ES3 overleaf provides some examples of Good Practice identified during the research programme.
Table ES3: Good Practice Examples in Rural Touring Arts
|NRTF||Programmes to promote quality and innovation at a local level e.g. Rural Touring Dance Initiative (in partnership with The Place, Take Art and China Plate)|
|Schemes||Targeted development schemes for promoters (Young Promoters Scheme Black Country Touring and Creative Arts East)Collaboration and joint projects between schemes for strategic outcomes (Shropshire and Black Country “My Big Fat Cow Pat Wedding”)Using programming to challenge racism and promote diversity (Spot on Lancashire, “The Chef Show”)Targeted support for Promoters (Village Ventures/ Live and Local – patch based link workers)Tailored support schemes for artists (Developing Artists For Rural Touring (DART) Scheme, Live and Local)Transparent, tiered risk-based subsidy rating for different performances (Spot on Lancashire)Pitching Meetings bringing local promoters together before each season to consider the whole menu of shows as a group, talk through what would work for them and organise dates together (Carn to Cove)|
|Venues||Volunteer support and training (Wem Town Hall)Community capacity building (Borwick and Priest Hutton)Driving wider programming through the use of rural touring programme to test out/ pilot approaches/art-form/ artists (Bulkington Community and Conference Centre)|
Recommendation 1: Given learning from this research, further enhance the NRTF Annual Survey instrument. Consider how this supports regular sector-level development of impact reporting.
Recommendation 2: NRTF to consider further the role of Rural Touring Schemes within current policy horizons over and above engagement and participation in the arts, such as in ‘supporting anchors of local community/rural development’, ‘contribution to civil society capacity’, ‘enhancing social cohesion’ and, ‘delivery of health and well-being’.
Recommendation 3: Continued recognition and development of NRTF sector support to Schemes – communication and feedback; training, dissemination of reports, guides and resource packs (‘help fuel’); and, strategic programmes to promote excellence and innovation at a local level.
Recommendation 4: For the sector and its stakeholders to consider strategic responses to key challenges raised by this Report: Succession and Sustainability; Sustainability: funding and finance; and Diversity and Cohesion.
Recommendation 5: To consider research on Rural Touring Arts and Health and Well-Being as a substantial emerging research priority.
 These examples are drawn solely from the Report Case Studies. Good practice examples exist across the Rural Touring Schemes