Case Studies & Blog
What is Rural Touring and Why is it Important?
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
What is National Rural Touring Forum?
National Rural Touring Forum supports rural touring schemes, promoters, artists and communities to bring high quality and professional creative experiences to rural venues and audiences. It does this through advocating on behalf of the sector, creating national projects, networking, showcasing and hosting an annual conference.
What is rural touring and why is it different to urban touring?
Rural touring is where professional performances take place in rural venues. These rural venues usually take the form of a Village Hall or Community Centre, but can also be pubs, libraries and outdoors. They are rarely fully equipped arts venues. Performances are programmed by a rural touring scheme, who will curate a varied season of events. Instead of all the events taking place in a couple of rooms in one building, they take place in lots of venues across a specific geographical area, sometimes whole counties, sometimes even further. Rural touring work is very different from touring to city centres or venues in urban areas. Artists express high regard for rural touring venues and the level of professionalism from the promoters. They often talk about their appreciation of a certain “magic” and warmth of the audiences that happens at rural events which aren’t the same at larger halls or festivals.
“The heart of the reason why it’s different from a town centre art centre is that the audience knows 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.” François Matarasso, March
Touring is inherently greener than venue-based work. Large venues consume vast amounts of energy and expel lots of carbon. People invariably drive to them – or drive to a station to get a train to get to a city where the venue is. Small-scale touring – where one van is on the road for a small cast – has a low carbon footprint in comparison. Rural touring is generally set in villages where many audiences walk to the venue. And if they don’t walk, they live usually within a 10-mile radius, so journeys are short. Previous NRTF annual surveys report that 90% of audiences travel for less than 10 minutes to get to their village hall.
Rural touring couldn’t happen without promoters who host the events. They work with the schemes to identify which performance or artist is the most relevant for their audience and do everything from box-office to get-ins, promotion, hosting artists. Many know their audiences on a first name basis.
Volunteering sits at the heart of rural touring; most promoters are volunteers. Venues employing professional staff utilise the help of a network of dedicated helpers. Promoters maintain an engaged audience for shows, know what they like and are aware of the level of risk they are comfortable in taking in their programme.
All genres of work are represented in rural touring. Creative practitioners and performing companies are selected via recommendations, showcasing, introductions, festivals and seeking out shows independently. They all have a few things in common – flexibility, relevance to the audience, and professional quality work.
“It’s about putting artists in front of audiences and audiences in front of artists. Everything else is fundamentally about getting that moment working Properly. Our job is to make sure that that marriage is right and the right communities, the right shows and the right artists end up in the right place at the right time and that’s very important to us.” Director, rural touring scheme
Health in the Community
Rural touring brings high-quality arts to people who otherwise would not have access to it. This can contribute to reducing the effects of isolation and to developing community cohesion, while also strengthening the capacity of local people to organise and to develop themselves.
Bringing quality, diverse, and challenging arts activity has been shown to be integral to catalysing and supporting community life in rural areas, especially as other village ‘anchors’ such as shops and pubs have diminished. The act of programming touring arts into rural areas generates a range of individual and community benefits, including personal development, improved well-being and supporting community buildings and infrastructures such as pubs, halls and schools. The strengthening of existing community organisations through networking and volunteering and bringing people together positively fosters community cohesion by reducing loneliness, breaking down age barriers and even, enhanced local democracy.
The Rural Touring Dance Initiative (RTDI) began in 2015. Its aim was to introduce dance, in particular, contemporary dance, into rural areas where there was very little happening. RTDI offers a menu list to schemes and promoters alongside several incentives ranging from financial to marketing support. RTDI runs training labs and ongoing provision to artists who want to develop work in rural areas. The result has been a considerable increase in the number of contemporary dance performances taking place in rural areas as well as the number of creative practitioners developing work suitable for touring to rural venues.
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. 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.
Benefits and Impact of Rural Touring
- RT acts as an agent between the local agenda and creative work being made
- RT sector doesn’t just tour work that is already touring – it commissions and premiers too
- When the country is becoming more ‘place-based’ RT addresses localism by creating work with national appeal
- RT is ahead of the curve when it comes to non-traditional touring spaces in comparison to town and city-based touring
- It supports professional performance into rural areas, engaging residents in cultural experiences
- Thanks to RT, audiences in rural areas can enjoy the same opportunities to see and appreciate the arts on their doorsteps as urban counterparts
- RT supports skills development and cohesion
- RT gives opportunities to address social mobility and people living in deprivation
- RT contributes to local economic growth
- RT can change individual and community perceptions of art and culture, increasing confidence and a sense of belonging in people
- RT helps facilitate a greater understanding of what local provision should be delivered and how this could be achieved
- RT helps drive improvements in local facilities
- RT supports the development of strong local networks and volunteering in a range of activities.
- RT is a driver for promoting a year-round calendar of events and activities
- RT positively contributes to wellbeing including social and emotional development
- RT fosters the empowerment of young people
- RT encourages social inclusion and integration into the wider community
- RT encourages the arts to be more integrated into the school curriculum
- RT supports staff training in arts development