Researchers based at the University of Huddersfield have, supported by Arts Council policies and funding, introduced new audiences to contemporary art and design through the ROTOЯ programme of exhibitions and events.

What was the problem?

In 2010 a Work Foundation report warned that the UK’s creative industries were at risk of failing to fulfil their potential to drive growth and innovation. The drive for greater engagement and collaboration has been supported by Arts Council policy goals aiming to attract and inspire new audiences to ensure the arts sector is sustainable.

Benefits of this research

As well as raising awareness, inspiring curiosity and providing cultural enrichment, the programme has initiated changes to local authority policies on providing cost-effective, high-quality cultural services. The impact ROTOЯ has had on the community has been a prime example of local authority and university sectors working together to offer innovative public services whilst generating and measuring engagement.

What did we do?

Launched in 2012 in partnership with Huddersfield Art Gallery, the ROTOЯ programme aimed to address these concerns by providing a broad spectrum of exhibitions to engage and involve a wide range of new audiences with the UK’s diverse creative and cultural industries. ROTOЯ is underpinned by and continues to nurture research into public engagement and impact measurement, particularly in relation to how practice based research can be communicated effectively beyond academia.

ROTOЯ exhibitions have covered a diverse range of forms and subject material, including Flight, an exhibition of work by Dr Lisa Stansbie exploring the idea of ‘flight’ through sculpture, film and the use of re-appropriated Airfix model aeroplane kits, Insufficient Allure, a curated exhibition by Dr Kevin Almond and Kathryn Brennand investigating historical and contemporary aspects of creative pattern cutting, and Mining Couture, an exhibition by Claire Barber and Professor Steve Swindells exploring conceptual connections between coalmining and fashion through the metaphor of ‘seam’. The first programme of exhibitions attracted over 14,300 visitors, increasing access, opportunity and understanding of the arts for a diverse range of new audiences.

What happened next?

Through a programme of exhibitions developed and delivered in partnership with the local authority, ROTOЯ has transformed public views on the significance of contemporary art and design and initiated change to local authority policy decisions to provide cost-effective, high-quality cultural services. It has also generated practical models, good practice and further research on public engagement strategies for partnerships between universities and cultural sectors.

Dr Steve Swindells and Dr Anna Powell published an edited book looking at engagement with the arts. What is to be Done? - Cultural Leadership and Public Engagement in Art and Design Education, introduces the different meanings and motivations that underpin public engagement, drawing upon initiatives and challenges set by Arts Council policies, Research Excellence Framework (REF) guidance and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Introducing the landscape of public engagement in the context of broader social, cultural and political challenges, the book is of interest to postgraduate students and those working in Higher Education and the cultural industries, particularly in the museums and galleries sector.