Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Curating the Audience: enhancing visitor/venue relationships through ethical personal data donation

  Harriet Cameron (2018 cohort)

Museums and galleries have always faced pressure to evolve and adapt to reflect the society and times within which they exist [1], and thus are uniquely situated to both reflect and pioneer social change [2]. However, there are an increasing number of challenges facing these institutions not only to maintain their relevance, but also to protect and enhance relationships with their audiences [3, 4]. Many of these challenges can begin to be addressed through the adaptation of technologies. The Nottingham Contemporary [5], an international, contemporary art gallery based in Nottingham, UK, is one such institution seeking ways of developing new and more meaningful relationships with their audiences through technological advances.

This PhD project seeks to encourage new and existing relationships to flourish between art, venue, and audience through novel use of technology. The technology utilised will enhance visitors’ experiences through an understanding of the individual’s identity related needs, motivations and goals, enabled by the donation of relevant, personal data by that visitor, in a transparent and ethical way. Using exploratory sequential design, three questions will be addressed in order to achieve this:

  • What is the perceived value of audience personal data to both venues and audiences?
  • Can an understanding of data as power enable a transparent data collection/donation process which benefits both audience and venues?
  • How can a deeper understanding of audiences’ situated data on attitudes, beliefs, habits and cultural interactions (place-based identity) be utilised by the venue to provide a more meaningful, personalised experience to the audience in return for their data?

Three key themes will be explored throughout this process; identity, place and power. Identity allows us to understand the behaviour, motivation and experience from the perspective of both the audience and the venue. Place allows us to examine experience and behaviours in a situated context, the affordances and limitations of the Nottingham Contemporary and other cultural institutions. A post-structural feminist approach will reframe data as power, allowing discussion on transparency, fair use and ownership of personal data. Power enables us to understand and critically examine personal data as a representation of those experiences in order to conceptualise the problematic areas in current data-gathering infrastructure, and work towards a fairer, more transparent means of data capture for all parties.

Subsequently, an instrument will be developed, deployed and evaluated to facilitate the donation of audience data, and offer something back to the visitor in return for their donation.


Dodd J. and Sandell R. (2001) Preface. In: J. Dodd and Sandell R. (eds) Including Museums: Perspectives on Museums, Galleries and Social Inclusion. Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester, 1-6.

Grincheva N. (2014) The Online Museum: A "Placeless" Space of the "Civic Laboratory". Museum Anthropology Review 8: 1-21.

Gross J. and Pitts S. (2015) Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts. Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre.

Allen S. and Petterson A. (2016) UK Contemporary Gallery Report 2015/2016; Opportunities and Challenges in a Rapidly Changing Market Place. Arts Council England.

Nottingham Contemporary. (2019, 04/03/2019). Homepage. Available: https://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and Nottingham Contemporary.