Cultural industries receive boost to help recover from COVID-19 – The University of Sheffield

Person looking at art in a gallery

A new research project that will play a key role in helping the cultural sector recover from the impact of Covid-19 is being launched by researchers at the University of Sheffield.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through the UK Research and Innovation Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund, the project is led by Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture at the University and Chair in Early Film and Popular Entertainment, with colleagues from the Music, English and Urban Studies and Planning departments.

In partnership with key cultural organisations in Sheffield, the one-year project will collect crucial data on audiences, venues and freelancers that can be fed directly into policies and economic recovery plans for the cultural industry in the Sheffield City Region and across the UK.

With many other businesses and industries already reopened after the easing of lockdown restrictions, a large proportion of the cultural and heritage sectors are still closed. This is having a catastrophic impact on the industry and endangering the future of many of its venues and workers in a sector that was worth £111 billion to the UK’s economy before Covid-19.

The true economic impact of Covid-19 on the cultural sector is not yet fully understood beyond the short term, so researchers from the University’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning will help with economic recovery modelling, develop strategies for external funding priorities and provide a robust picture of the long term support required for the sector.

There are still huge uncertainties around how some cultural venues can safely reopen and attract and maintain the audiences needed to support their businesses.

The University of Sheffield study will draw on the expertise of colleagues in its Department of Music to collect key data to help the sector better understand how audiences could feel comfortable in safely returning to venues.

Dr Sarah Price, Professor Stephannie Pitts and Professor Renee Timmers, who are experts on audiences and music psychology through their work with the Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre (SPARC) and Music Mind Machine Research Centre, will track the opinions of audiences who attend reopened venues to gather insight into how confident they are about returning to future events. Findings will help cultural organisations and venues understand the impact of social distancing measures and make improvements to help maintain audiences.

The study will work directly with freelancers to help identify gaps in support and inequalities, but also good practice and innovation.

Findings from the project will be shared with cultural venues, professionals and freelancers throughout the Sheffield City Region and nationally with the help of key partners such as the Music Venue Trust, Theatres Trust, Museums Association, Arts Council England, Core Cities UK, Local Government Association and Royal Town Planning Institute.

In Sheffield, insights will be shared with project partners across the city, including Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Culture Consortium, Museums Sheffield, Sheffield Theatres, Creative Guild and the Independent Festival Network. Partner organisations in arts, culture and heritage will ensure that key data can be fed into recovery plans across the Sheffield City Region.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture at the University of Sheffield, said: “This is a unique opportunity to bring together the expertise of my colleagues in the faculties of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences so our research can have an immediate impact and help the city that we love so much.

“As lovers of all of the wonderful things that make Sheffield such a great place to live, work, visit and study in, the impact of Covid-19 is particularly devastating. 49 per cent of leisure and cultural industries colleagues are still furloughed in the Sheffield City Region and the very things that make our city a fantastic place are under threat. We hope our research can make a difference.”

Professor John Flint from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning said: “This project enables the University’s expert researchers to work closely with our partners to jointly address the challenge of facilitating the sustainable return of these fantastic venues and events so that they may, once again, play a key role in the vitality of our city and region. In doing so, we will generate crucial insights about how best to support arts and culture across the whole of the UK in the years ahead.”

For more information on the University’s role in the city, visit:

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