Our role as a creative intermediary

At the beginning of July, Senior Creative Producer Jan Ford presented a paper at the Audience Research in the Arts conference hosted by Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre (SPARC). Here she explains the importance of putting audiences at the heart of the creative process…


How do you change the negative preconceptions about what orchestral music is?

Attending an academic conference was a totally new experience for me but Sheffield University’s Performer and Audience Research Centre (SPARC) Conference made us ‘muggles’ feel very welcome and everyone was highly engaged with what arts practitioners had to share about audiences. When our proposal was I accepted, I was excited to share Orchestras Live’s experience as a creative intermediary in developing audiences with some of the most highly respected academics researching audience development from across the world. When I was faced with a room full of them, I was a little more apprehensive. Needless to say, I shouldn’t have worried and our well-attended presentation was warmly received.

At Orchestras Live we see ourselves as agents for change, sometimes an ‘irritant’ or a challenger of the orchestral sector, but essentially a creative intermediary. This role means we are driven to dispel misconceptions and bring enthusiasm for live orchestral music and what orchestras can and should be. 

Focusing on how Orchestras Live’s role as a creative intermediary drives audience development across a range of partners, I showed how we play a pivotal role in enabling audiences to impact on the creative process, particularly those who have never experienced orchestral music before. Drawing on recent research undertaken with our partners, the presentation demonstrated how our interventions add value to the audience experience; enhance the interface between the audience and the artist, challenge norms, reinforce the business case for cultural investment, bring new ideas and partners to the table and achieve economies of scale that organisations alone cannot achieve.

There was much common ground with Orchestras Live’s work, revealed in papers presented by academics and practitioners from Belgium (Maastricht University’s Peter Peter’s Artful Participation research), Denmark (Applaus, a national audience development initiative), Portugal (regional orchestras audience development initiative led by Brazilian conductor Alba Bomfim) and Italy (audience development in Italian cultural institutions). 

As a creative intermediary we need to constantly put the audience first, bringing all our knowledge and experience to the table and carefully crafting work that is relevant to audiences and participants. I rarely step into a traditional concert hall these days and if I do the event is usually very different to what you would expect an orchestra to be doing. Sometimes it doesn’t even look like an orchestra.

Putting the audiences, the participants, at the heart of what we and our partners do is vital. We need to be listening to them and giving them a voice within the work we produce, so that we can create inspiring music experiences that are truly relevant to them.

Jan Ford
Senior Creative Producer


Details of the conference programme and speakers can be found on the SPARC website.