Contributing to community enhancement through rural touring arts: CONCERTA is a national study of the benefits, for local community development, of a relatively under-researched form of creative activity: rural touring arts.


Nick Henry, Professor of Economic Geography and University Lead for Concerta presents the findings of CONCERTA at HI:VIS NRTF Conference 2019

Project Aims

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
  • to promote greater collaboration and co-operation between the arts and cultural sector and research partners.

Project Background

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 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 has been made possible by a grant from Arts Council England’s Lottery-funded Strategic Touring Programme.

Whoever you are – if you want to keep in touch with what’s going on you can visit this page, click on the links to the right for more information and latest news stories and check out the links to our partner’s page and the background to the project. Details on the first two seasons of the project can be found on the RTDI Archive page.

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 (, Neighbourhood statistics (www.neighbourhood. and Employment (

Case Studies of the impacts of rural touring activities:–    

Five Core Cases were 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.

Supporting Rural Touring Arts

The researchers and professors from Coventry University tell us Why Concerta important for Rural Touring Schemes

Presentation Slides

Flick through the slides below to get a detailed overview of the project

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Case Study

Volunteers & Rural Touring

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Coventry University

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)

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Arts Council England

CONCERTA 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

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Read the Full Report

Contributing to Community Enhancement through Rural Touring Arts (CONCERTA)

May 2019

Philip Dunham, Nick Henry, Report Frank Warwick, Mark Webster, Sue Challis, Melissa Tornari, Alessandro Merendino, Elizabeth Bos, Kevin Broughton
Centre for Business in Society Coventry University (CBIS)

Full Report

François Matarasso

Author of Only Connect

An Interview with…

Having undertaken the research and visited some of the schemes that featured in the original research, one of our researchers was able to interview François himself about his reflections on rural touring and, most particularly, what had changed since he published his original report.

The thing about rural touring is that it changes very slowly as a practice. I’m not sure that anything that I said fifteen years ago, I would see much need to change. The pace and ways in which I think it will have changed, or is changing, are to do with changes in society as a whole. Rural England isn’t where it was fifteen years ago, for a variety of reasons but they’re not changes that are specific to rural touring. It’s more to do with the context in which rural touring happens.”
So, what is it that is so distinctive about Rural Touring Arts?
“We need to remember that people have been gathering in halls for as long as there have been communities to listen to story tellers, to listen to musicians, to be entertained and consequently what happens in rural touring, without sentimentalising it at all, or romanticising it, is part of that long continuity. The heart of the reason why it’s different from a town centre arts centre is because the audience know each other. That contributes to the other thing that is distinctive, which is that rural touring events become part of shared memory, part of what builds community. So, for both of those reasons, I think that it is a very distinctive kind of artistic experience.”
How valid is it to be looking at its impacts?
“I think that there are problems with how things get justified, The foundation of justifying public expenditure on rural touring should be that the people in rural areas have the same rights as people anywhere else. There shouldn’t be a need to prove change to justify your access to funding, because people who go to the national theatre are not required to prove that they have changed. I think rural touring does have significant outcomes for people who are involved in it, in whatever way they’re involved in it, and a rural touring performance can be disproportionately important and consequently, it does create ripples that run on. I don’t happen to think that equipping village halls with expensive arts equipment is a particularly important or necessarily desirable outcome of that but that’s a personal view. I think the more important things are the relationships and confidence and the empowerment that comes with that work.”
For the Arts Council it is very important that Rural Touring is undertaken by professional artists and companies because they believe this is an indication of quality, is that a necessary connection?
“I don’t connect professional and non-professional with questions of quality. They’re entirely separate: whether something is good or not does not relate to whether it is professional. Whatever professional is, it’s defined by whoever’s doing the defining. I believe what the Arts Council does and supports is very important and valuable, but it’s not always as important and valuable as those concerned think it is!”
In our research, what appeared to be important was that artists were bringing in something unfamiliar, perhaps the only thing that was important was that they were good artists?
“I think that’s exactly the point, one of the things that I question in some of the discourse about publicly funded art is there’s a kind of implicit belief that somehow people who are not professional, people who are not part of that arts world, are not interested in quality.”
Another important issue for the research has been about the sustainability of Rural Touring Arts especially in working through voluntary promoters and centres.
“I think the art world has a very simplistic idea of what sustainability means. All communities go through cycles and in small communities those cycles are more evident than in, in most. So, you can have a dynamic councillor or somebody on the village hall committee who is full of energy and makes a lot of things happen for a while and then for all sorts of reasons, that person either ages or their job takes them away somewhere or they just run out of steam, then there will be a dip. I’m not sure that the dip is a problem. Often, sooner or later, somebody else puts their head above the parapet and says, I want to make something happen. It’s in the nature of voluntary and community-led work that it fluctuates like that.”
“I think the underlying truth of these villages is that most of them have been there for between one and two thousand years and they have survived a lot more than the Arts Council. They change and adapt themselves, I grew up in a village that is today nothing like what it was when I was a child: to take just one simple example, when I was a child, everybody worked on farms except the vicar, now hardly anybody works on farms. The whole character of that place has been turned inside out but it’s still carrying on. It’s finding out what place it’s going to be now.”
Should we be concerned about the people who live in villages but don’t attend rural touring events?
“It’s back to the missionary idea. The arts council is very concerned that everybody should love what they do. I think the audiences for rural touring are more diverse socially and more representative of the places where it’s happening than audiences often are. They reach a lot of people: in communities, people doing voluntary work are using their own networks. You can have expectations about a professional marketer in an arts centre and how they should be reaching the whole of their potential local audience but I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to bring those expectations to a sixty-year-old lady who’s programming things in her village hall because she thinks it’s good for the community to have social events.”
We are living in a time when funding is being reduced for the arts as in public services generally, are there any specific issues that relate to Rural Touring Arts?
“I think the mantra of doing more with less is, frankly, dishonest. I don’t hear anybody saying that public schools should be doing more for less: somehow it only applies to people who already don’t have very much.”
Fifteen years after the publication of Only Connects, any final reflections?
“When I was originally approached to do that research, I had very low expectations. I couldn’t see how something that was so small scale could have very much of an impact, but my thinking was completely transformed. I’ve often used rural touring as an example of the value of community development as a practice and as a principle, of how it is possible to empower people in very profound ways. That remains true, but, like a lot of things that rely on non-professionals, I think that it is massively under-estimated and under-valued by people who think that professional work, whatever that means – they usually it means their work – is more valuable and more than necessary than anything else.”


The Team

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