AHRC / ACE impact workshops

A series of workshops exploring what it's like to experience arts and culture, and how we can understand and measure the quality of those experiences.

Dr Beatriz García, Director of Impacts 08 and Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Liverpool, was awarded a one-year grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Arts Council England under the scheme: ‘Research Workshops on the Impact of Arts and Humanities Research’.

The workshops, which took place in 2009 and were co-programmed with the University for the Creative Arts, addressed the question: understanding the visitor/audience experience and impact. What is the nature of experience for visitors and audiences at arts and cultural organisations and events? What constitutes a ‘quality’ experience? How do we assess the impact of the experience?

We set up a dedicated impact workshops website to chart the progress of the project.


The workshop programme reviewed existing definitions of cultural engagement and outlining the main lines of assessment that have been tested within the Impacts 08 Programme and are being further explored in a diversity of special projects within Liverpool and the North West in the context of the 2008 European Capital of Culture. The programme also established a link with partners and stakeholders in the South East who aspire to maximise audience engagement in the lead up to the 2012 Olympic Games via Cultural Olympiad related activities.

The main issues we aimed to explore are interpretations of quality within arts and cultural experiences and approaches to measuring and fully assessing the impact of such experiences. Large-scale cultural events such as the European Capital of Culture and the Cultural Olympiad involve extensive collaborations and partnerships as well as targeted spending over brief, but intense, periods of time. However, understanding the value of experiencing such events and their long term impacts remains a contested issue.

In order to frame the debate and maximise opportunities for advanced research methodologies, as well as suggested lines of action for practitioners and policy-makers, we conducted three workshops that consider the same questions around quality and measurement.

The first workshop considered quality and measurement issues in the context of virtual environments. Key questions included: understanding the blurring of the amateur and the professional through virtual technology, and the potential for co-production, inclusion and exclusion; as well as the need to establish holistic impact measurements to capture audience engagement given the expanding range of platforms and media for online and virtual arts production and consumption. This workshop was led by Impacts 08 in collaboration with the Innovative Media for a Digital Economy (IMDE) Research Cluster and the Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology (FACT). A particular emphasis in this first workshop was the experiences of organisations in Liverpool in the wake of the city’s year as European Capital of Culture.

The second workshop focussed on an exploration of the programme’s overarching issues in the context of physical environments, with a particular focus on the experience within museums, galleries and public art. The workshop touched briefly on the key differences between engagement in the visual arts and the performing arts. Particular emphasis was placed on the notions of quality and excellence and related issues around critical stance, transparency, empowerment and the role of education but also intent, authenticity and accessibility of the artifact. The workshop was led by the University for the Creative Arts, and brought in the experiences of creative practitioners in different art forms and communities of interest.

The third workshop, led by Impacts 08, drew together some of the issues and themes which arose from the sessions on digital and physical spaces, and also looked specifically at the issue of measuring cultural engagement>