This discussion paper, written in 2016 and drafted by the Culture Forum North project group on Research, sets out the beginnings of a strategy that relates to research, but is open to interaction with, and will be influenced by, the other two project themes of the Civic Agenda and Cultural and Creative Careers.

We welcome your involvement in the conversation, and any information you would like to contribute.  Please contact Dominic Gray, Projects Director, Opera North at


Over recent years there has been an organic growth in the number and depth of relationships between the worlds of Higher Education (HE) research and arts/culture. Often driven by curiosity and shared areas of interest, this development has led to an increased porosity between the two sectors. From this we have seen how the embedded knowledge held by artists and the cultural sector can be valued in partnerships with the HE sector, and how HE research can inform and contribute to the creation of art and cultural practice. Our aim is to explore how this porosity might be further developed to increase the depth and impact of research, and to benefit the arts/cultural sector.

At the same time as this relatively organic drawing together, there is a growing strategic interest in the HE sector about how HEIs generate and narrate their research impact. In this context, programmes and partnerships with public-facing artists and cultural organisations can provide an invaluable impact vehicle, as well as contributing to the research itself. Meanwhile, arts and cultural organisations are seeking innovative ways to demonstrate their own impact outside their immediate stakeholder communities, and see the sharing of their embedded knowledge with the research community as a means through which they can improve their resilience and articulate their wider societal value.

Yet, while artists and cultural organisations have always carried out some kinds of ‘research’ – from market research to artistic R&D – there is a gap in their understanding of what HE research can offer them, and how to maximise the benefits of collaboration for their own work. There is a common perception in the arts/cultural sector that in the past, arts and culture have provided content, but not driven the questions.

 This paper therefore proposes that research is encouraged, developed and supported, and at the same time that the understanding of research is developed to make future collaborations easier, more transparent and more productive.

All parties recognise that in times of financial challenge, it is often necessary to ‘follow the money’ in terms of prioritising research projects; however, Culture Forum North aims to encourage longer-term research partnerships which can help to drive strategic development outside of short-term funding. We aim to encourage the ‘leap of faith’ in partnership research, in the belief that this will help organisations achieve greater resilience in the longer term.


For the purposes of this paper we will draw a distinction between research as carried out by HEIs, which we will call ‘research’, and the ‘lay’ research undertaken by artistic and cultural organisations and artists, which we will call ‘market research’ or ‘R&D’.

Research practices will include practice-based research, action-based research, jointly-shaped academic research and models of co-authorship. It also includes Knowledge Exchange models.

It was concluded at an earlier Culture Forum North meeting that while our research programme will support PhD activity, this should not be a major driver of it.



  1. Defining research practices and the role of partnership within them. This includes developing shared understanding of research, research questions and research methodologies.
  2. Developing relationships between researchers, research institutions and cultural organisations (and individual artists, curators etc.). Knowledge sharing on research models and metrics; brokering dialogues that have the potential to lead to new research; exploring the potential of cultural/artistic R&D to contribute to and shape research. Updating and advising on new research funding streams.
  3. Undertaking research in partnership. Commissioning, producing and up-keeping a portfolio of current research partnership projects.
  4. Advocating for the unique qualities of partnership-based research.
  5. Supporting PhD and ECR research –the next generation of researchers, at the same time as supporting cultural organisations new to partnership research in getting started and developing their own research programmes.


  1. Is there enough understanding in the cultural sector about the use and value of research? How can we encourage and empower cultural organisations to request research from HEIs? How do they find the right person to go to, and what language do they use when they get there?
  2. How can Culture Forum North add value to partnership research through the collation and sharing of research carried out by its members?
  3. What opportunities / added value can the forum bring – i.e. how can the forum enable consortia of partnerships from across the north (and beyond)?
  4. Should Culture Forum North define its own set of criteria/best practice in relation to public engagement with research?

Potential actions:

  1. Events and actions designed to further inform the cultural sector about research, research questions and research methodologies. Including evidencing the tangible and practical values and benefits of research.
  2. Events and actions designed to further inform the HE sector about cultural/artistic practices and how these might be beneficial to research projects.
  3. Connections to key strategic bodies to develop our agenda in championing partnerships. This will include nationally recognised bodies such as ACE, NESTA and the CIF, Higher Education consortia (e.g. White Rose, N8 etc.) and local consortia within Culture Forum North city regions.
  4. Use Case Studies to create a dialogue around information sharing, and the distinctions between different research approaches (action-based, co-authorship etc.).

 Case Studies to support the strategy:

University of Liverpool: Patterns of Thought

Patterns of Thought is a research project developed by the University of Liverpool’s Department of Philosophy and led by Dr. Panayiota Vassilopoulou, which aims to develop a new pedagogy for teaching aesthetics to young children and families. The programme consists in the development of a methodology and resources for early-years philosophy and art teaching in museum and gallery spaces. Its objective is to promote aesthetic reflection as a pedagogical resource for early-years curators and other educationalists, and so to promote the important contribution that academic research on aesthetics could make in this respect. Cultural partners included Liverpool Biennial, FACT, The Bluecoat, National Museums Liverpool, Metal and Fact

University of Leeds & Opera North: Performing Violence

Performing Violence is a research project developed by Opera North and the University of Leeds in association with Bristol University. It explores the aesthetics and ethics of performing violent acts in theatre, film and other art forms, and engages with researchers from across arts and humanities fields as well as Politics and social sciences. Performing and staging violence is the critical focus of our project, including but not limited to symptomologies of violence, invisible violence, critique of concepts of ‘verbal assault’, music as assault and as resistance, structural violence, how art reveals, stages, invites and resists violence, and biopolitics. We are seeking to create new critical perspectives on violence grounded in cultural studies, exploring dimensions beyond the positivistic, such as the affective. A public-facing symposium (‘A Beautiful Death’) was held in Feb 2015, and the programme will feature in the AHRC’s ‘Being Human’ Festival in November 2015. The project involves directors, singers and other performers at its core, and enables them to explore more deeply their aesthetic decisions in the context of the historical, social and political.