Public Engagement and the Cultural Value of Performance: Performance Matters

Submitting Institution

Roehampton University

Unit of Assessment

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Art Theory and Criticism, Film, Television and Digital Media, Performing Arts and Creative Writing

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Summary of the impact

This case study focuses on the impact of Professor Adrian Heathfield's research. Heathfield curated numerous multi-form research exchanges with his Performance Matters Co-Directors over a four-year period, expanding non-academic beneficiaries of performance research, influencing prevailing professional discourses as well as creative and curatorial practices across the arts sector. Workshops, collaborative dialogues, symposia, talks, films, screenings and performances were conceived, realised and hosted by major cultural sector partners, involving an international array of leading academics, artists, activists and curators. Direct impacts for the non-academic partner-organisation — Live Art Development Agency (LADA) — were the expansion of its educational, archival and media activities, and user community. Specific professional development effects were delivered for a culturally diverse group of participating established and early-career artists.

Underpinning research

Heathfield was appointed Professor of Performance and Visual Culture in July 2007, based on his numerous internationally recognised research innovations in the field of Performance Studies. Performance Matters (PM), a collaborative project between two universities and a cultural sector organisation (registered charity) developed from Heathfield's

  • long-standing critical research into the aesthetics of contemporary performance
  • practice-as-research experience focused on curating live art
  • dialogic exchanges with artists through workshops, performance-lectures and films.

These research foci evolve from his numerous books on performance art [1] and his previous curatorial works in leading cultural sector institutions [2] integral to the UoA's RAE 2008 submission. Each of these research concerns was extended by PM through the facilitation of diverse examinations of the status of performance within social structures and dominant critical discourses. `Performing Idea', the first year of PM curated by Heathfield, interrogated performance's increased visibility in contemporary culture, the aesthetic shift toward durational performances that treat life as form, and the proliferation of artworks that foster embedded participation. It also investigated the changed position of performance in relation to validating institutions: its reformed relation to the museum, the archive and art criticism. A detailed account was thus drawn of the current stakes and paradoxes of the re-valuation and institutionalisation of performance. Heathfield's curatorial practice-as-research in these areas manifested in distinct forms:

  • leading international artists ran intensive five-day workshops with critical respondents and selected early-career artists
  • five days of public symposia on core research concerns (`Other Durations', `Reciprocal Aesthetics', `Living Archives', `Performative Writing' and `Dialogues') with international contributors from diverse intellectual and artistic disciplines
  • sustained collaborative dialogic research projects [eg. 5] by key artistic and academic figures in theatre, dance and performance, leading to public presentation
  • an evening programme of influential performance works investigating the project's themes
  • an archive of performance-lectures housed by Whitechapel Gallery alongside an archive screening event.
  • the production and dissemination of five filmed dialogues on performance with leading intellectual figures.

Throughout, research processes were founded on principles of public exchange across philosophical, aesthetic and disciplinary differences, producing outputs that not only captured state-of-the-art thinking on performance practice and theory, but generated new insights into the cultural value of performance. PM's thorough integration of early-career artists and a diverse national community of postgraduate researchers secured its immediate impacts on emergent creative practices and research agendas. These processes were documented by the British Library and accessed and contextualised through a well maintained website. An archival dissemination strategy [3], alongside non-academic distribution such as film screenings and DVDs [4], has secured further lasting international dissemination.

PM initially ran from April 2009 - October 2012 with two five-day events in October 2010 and 2011, and one two-day event in October 2012. Heathfield was the Co-Director, Co-Curator and Co- Investigator for the whole and Lead Curator of its first year, becoming Principal Investigator of an additional fourth year of research (2013) focused on knowledge exchange around media outputs. Other UoA participants: numerous PhD students (associate researchers), Prof. Kelleher, Honorary Visiting Professors Etchells (2010-12) and Burrows (2012-14) (commissioned dialogues).

References to the research

1. A.Heathfield (ed.), Live: Art and Performance, Tate Publishing, 2004.

2. A.Heathfield (co-curator), L.Keidan, D.Brine, Live Culture, Tate Modern, March 2003.

3. G.Butt, A.Heathfield, L.Keidan, Performance Matters Archive, 2010-2012, a boxed DVD archive of all PM events (40 DVDs and contextualising booklets), recorded by the British Library Sound Archive and located in 15 archives globally: LADA and the British Library, London; Tanzquartier Vienna, Austria; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, USA; University of Exeter Library, UK; Flaxman Library Special Collections, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA; Solyanka State Gallery, Moscow, Russia; Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, China; Live Art Archive, University of Bristol, UK; Gordon Institute for Creative and Performing Arts, Cape Town, South Africa; Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne, Australia; Artea, Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; Mediateque, Centre National de la Danse, Paris, France; Fales Library & Special Collections, NYU, New York, USA; Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, Lebanon.


4. A.Heathfield, H.Glendinning, Performance Dialogues, 2010-2012, a series of three films published and distributed on DVD by Performance Matters: Writing Not Yet Thought, in conversation with Hélène Cixous; Transfigured Night: a conversation with Alphonso Lingis; No Such Thing as Rest: a walk with Brian Massumi.

5. A.Heathfield, J. Burrows, Moving Writing, Choreographic Practices, Vol. 4, No. 2, Intellect, 2013.


6. Performance Matters project website: (Static Copy)

References 1 & 2 were assessed in RAE 2008 and references 3-6 form a portfolio output for Performance Matters submitted in REF2. PM received an Arts and Humanities Research Council Research Grant (with partners Goldsmiths, University of London and LADA), £379,809 (£269,809 + £110,000 PhD Scholarships), 1st Apr 2009 - 31st Oct 2012. Heathfield (Co-Investigator) with Butt (Goldsmiths, Principal Investigator). In November 2012 PM was awarded Follow-on Funding, with the same partners but with Heathfield as Principal Investigator (AHRC £94,941), Feb 2013-14.

Performance Matters commissioned high-calibre participants working in art and performance theory, art making and curatorial practice from around the world. The location of its research processes in important cultural institutions (Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Modern, Toynbee Studios) led to large attendance figures from diverse non-academic constituencies. Participating artists and the main cultural sector partner LADA all evidence marked positive transformations in their modes of practice and the extent and nature of the audience for their activities as a result of this project.

The location of the DVD documentation of these events in highly respected archives globally indicates the international standing and reach of the project, including the dissemination of cutting- edge film works to media professionals and more extensive non-academic audiences through a published series of DVDs and contextualizing events. Heathfield's curatorial practice-as-research has subsequently been recognised through the award of an ERC Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship based on a related project: Curating the Ephemeral.

Details of the impact

PM enacted knowledge exchange between international specialists from different sectors of the academy and of cultural production, resulting in a series of public-facing events over four years in which academics and cultural workers presented, discussed and evaluated key insights on the cultural value of performance. Further documentary, textual and filmic outcomes of this research were disseminated to new audiences and readerships internationally. Contributors were leading figures in the practice and theorisation of the visual arts, dance, theatre, live art, political activism and club culture. The interdisciplinary and dialogic model deployed by the curators generated dynamic exchanges between previously discrete areas of thought, critical vocabulary and practice: it identified formative agreements, differences and paradoxes, resulting in unique contributions to a range of current cultural debates. Curatorial, aesthetic and critical agendas initiated and promoted by `Performing Idea' such as `Living Archives', `Reciprocal Aesthetics' and `Other Durations' have since become recurrent themes of cultural and critical discourse. These public research exchanges had a resounding impact on the gathered audiences at the events, including early-career artists and diverse cultural practitioners, alongside frequent attendees of performance.

The initial reach of the discussions in `Performing Idea' was significant and is evidenced in audited audience figures produced by the respective box offices of partner venues: 1,413 people attended symposia events and performances over five days; 270 people consulted the digital archive of performance-lectures at Whitechapel Gallery with a further 104 attending an accompanying archival screening event. For the project as a whole, spanning two five-day international events in October 2010 and 2011, and one two-day event in October 2012 attendance figures were: workshops 64; symposia, talks and performances 3,920. [source 2] Wider dissemination of the findings of these exchanges took place through the production of comprehensive DVD documentation located in 15 archives globally, securing lasting international public reach. Deeper specific influence across cultural and institutional divisions was later achieved through a series of films published and distributed on DVD with associated knowledge exchange activities with key media professionals. The award of AHRC follow-on funding to facilitate these impacts, alongside the evidence of the AHRC evaluator's assessment, indicates the cultural significance of the existing funded research. [1]

Direct impact on the work of the main cultural sector partner LADA, as evidenced through the Director's statement, includes the development of its educational and artistic training programmes; the generation of partnerships with major new organisational collaborators; the growth of its archival resources, media strategy and commercial publishing activities and a considerable expansion of its user community in terms of its reach and interdisciplinarity. [3] These shifts in the organisation's cultural activities and engagements meant that PM was `one of the most significant and instrumental projects that the Live Art Development Agency has undertaken since it was established in 1999.' [3] The events cemented the Agency's status as an influential organization in artistic development and support. Other cultural sector collaborators, including Artsadmin, recorded impacts in terms of programme development and audience expansion, with the Director noting that `the packed week-long programmes turned Toynbee Studios into a public venue, modelled new forms of public engagement with critical ideas, and gave us a taste of our potential to be a key venue for ground-breaking work in London.' [4]

Leading international arts figures commissioned as `Performing Idea' participants experienced dynamic benefits in terms of their development of new creative and critical practices that have subsequently circulated around the globe. [5] A prominent participant dramaturge and writer remarks that the events produced `landmark works that I return to repeatedly for guidance in my dramaturgical role of interfacing with audiences', whilst a leading participant performance artist states that the project's facilitation of rich dialogue across generations of artists and thinkers `not only enriched my own practice but led to new contacts, connections and energies' directly engendering new professional collaborations and new artworks.[5-6] Specific targeted impacts were delivered for a group of early career artists who underwent transformative training experiences with these leading individuals. [7] In `Performing Idea' 41 early-career artists undertook intensive workshop processes with three influential art practitioners and three critical interlocutors. Renowned interlocutors were drawn from distinct terrains of practice or thinking thus enhancing the knowledge exchange dynamics of the process. [5,6] These workshops have had lasting impact for participating early-career artists in terms of their innovation of new forms of expression, as well as providing high-level access to key figures in their professional milieu. [7] The influential quality and significance of these training interactions is evidenced in impact statements from both participants and leading artists, with two participants naming this experience `a pivotal moment in the development of our artistic careers.' [7] Of the overall curatorial impact, a prominent performance artist remarks, `Theirs is the work of connection via relationship-building, movement- making, space exploration, legacy, agency, as well as independent and lively scholarship.' [5]

Heathfield worked as Lead Curator of year one `Performing Idea', with Butt lead curator of year two `Trashing Performance'; PM's two doctoral students, one of whom is based in the UoA, collaboratively curated year three. A wider body of research spanning the four and a half years of PM includes numerous other outputs and impacts curated and realised in collaboration with Butt (Goldsmiths) and Keidan (LADA). Except where there is overarching co-authorship of the curation of the whole project, the references and impact cited here relate to the specific activities curated by Heathfield in the first and the final year of the project.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. AHRC Follow-On Funding Assessor's Report. Evidences the reach and significance of the overall impact of the first three years of PM and the continuing impact on the work and reach of the cultural sector partner.
  2. LADA Summary Attendance Figures (produced for and audited by Arts Council England), gathered from Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Modern, Arts Admin Toynbee Studios, Bethnal Green Working Men's Club. Evidences scale and reach of cultural impact.
  3. Live Art Development Agency Impact Statement, Director. Impact on the cultural sector partner's educational and artistic training programmes; the generation of partnerships with major new organisational collaborators; the growth of its archival resources, media strategy and commercial publishing activities and expansion of its user community in terms of its diversity and interdisciplinarity.
  4. Artsadmin, Toynbee Studios, Impact Statement, Director. Impact on the programme development and audience of the host organisation.
  5. Participating Artist Impact Statement 1. Impact on the development, understanding and audience of the artist's work.
  6. Participating Artist Impact Statement 2. Impact on the development, understanding and audience of the artist's work.
  7. Workshop Participant Artists' Impact Statement. Impact on the development, understanding and audience of early-career artists' work.