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Evaluating impact in Torbay

  • Date: 16 March 2011
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: South West
A barn filled with tiny terracotta models Antony Gormley, Field for the British Isles 1993 © the artist. Spanish Barn, Torre Abbey, Torquay Summer 2009, Sarah Bagnall

Arts Council England works in partnership with local authorities to help us achieve our mission of great art for everyone. Through our funding, brokerage and development role, we aim to maximise our investment in the arts by building positive relationships with local councils and working with cultural organisations to increase engagement in the arts.

In 2009 and 2010 Torbay Council led on the delivery of two world-class art exhibitions: Field of the British Isles by Antony Gormley and the TAMED exhibition - which included work by Damien Hirst and an associated Extended Cloister public art project. This work demonstrates the value of data collection and analysis in evidencing the success of an arts initiative and also in securing repeat funding.

Both exhibitions took place at Torre Abbey, a local heritage site, and were used as an anchor to deliver smaller-scale community arts activities and projects. The exhibitions helped increased attendance at museums and galleries in Torbay, including by residents from more deprived wards, between 2008 and 2010 (Active People Survey).

Robust evaluation enabled a targeted engagement campaign to be developed, as well as successfully demonstrating the significant contribution that large-scale arts exhibitions can make to the local economy.

Visitors completed postcards to enter a competition draw and opted to give their permission to be contacted. Data was then collected through a short survey conducted via post or electronically. Questions covered: perceptions of the exhibition, visitor intentions, associated visitor activities, overnight stays, frequency of cultural participation, awareness of cultural events and postcode data. Just under 8,000 postcodes were mapped in each year, with 545 follow-up surveys completed in 2009 and 257 in 2010.

Analysis of the data included postcode mapping, secondary analysis of local attendances against the indices of multiple deprivation, economic modelling of levels of inward investment and the value of press coverage.

Main challenges and how they were tackled

Collecting data from visitors to the exhibitions

Persuading exhibition visitors to complete a survey at the exhibition can be difficult. To overcome this, a colourful competition-entry postcard was produced to win tickets to a local theatre. This provided address and postcode details and asked for permission to make contact about the exhibition at a later date. Follow-up surveys were then sent out. This also enabled contact details to be added to the arts marketing database, resulting in over 2,500 people now receiving the Creative Torbay newsletter, signposting them to other arts activities in the area.

Increasing engagement in the arts among residents in areas of deprivation

Data collected in 2009 provided evidence of the link between deprivation and access to culture by showing that footfall from deprived wards was lower than the average across Torbay. As a result the 2010 engagement campaign focused on the two most deprived wards and aimed to deliver above average increases in attendance.

A National Lottery-funded Creative Play Journey was run next to the exhibition where young people from the deprived areas could attend free workshops and had priority booking. In addition, a special viewing of the exhibition before the public opening was held entitled Community Ambassadors Day. Key members of the community were invited, predominantly from the target wards, including: traffic controllers, hairdressers, publicans, teachers and taxi drivers.

Securing funding to run large-scale exhibitions

After the 2009 exhibition, additional funding was required to enable a comparable exhibition to take place the following year. Having robust evaluation data including on attendances, inward investment, tourism impact and access, enabled the council's arts team to present a convincing business case to secure additional funding.


Results over the two years:

  • overall attendances for the 2009 exhibition were 38,307, and 24,123 people attended the 2010 exhibition
  • attendance at the 2010 exhibition from the two deprived wards showed an increase
  • inward investment from the exhibitions was estimated to be over £680k in 2009 and £500k in 2010
  • there was a 115% increase in paying visits to Torre Abbey in 2009 and other local attractions have also benefited
  • the value of the press coverage in 2009/10 was estimated at £300k, with significant positive portrayal of Torbay in the national and local press

The data collected has been used for a number of different purposes. It has:

  • raised awareness of the important contribution that world-class art exhibitions can make to the local economy
  • influenced local tourism campaigns
  • helped build new partnerships between the council, local businesses and arts and community organisations
  • helped identify priority areas for targeted outreach work
  • demonstrated high levels of public support (91%) for hosting more large-scale arts exhibitions in Torbay
  • supported funding applications


  • robust data collection and analysis is key to evidencing success or failure. Knowing what data you want to collect at the start is critical - you may want to use it for a number of different purposes
  • the collection of postcodes is key
  • having two years' strong evidence has meant the culture team can move to planning exhibitions years in advance

Next  steps

The 2010/11 data will be used to help secure funding from the council and other sources for 2011/12. For more information, contact

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