TORCH’s ‘FRIGHTFriday: the art and science of hope and fear’


TORCH’s ‘FRIGHTFriday: the art and science of hope and fear’

We asked Victoria McGuinness at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), to reflect on the success of ‘FRIGHTFriday: the art and science of hope and fear’. Supported by a grant from Being Human alongside funding from the Wellcome Trust, this museum late at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum drew a crowd of over 3,000 and acted as the official festival finale for Being Human on Friday 25 November 2016.  We asked Victoria about the rewards, and the challenges, of working with a high-profile partner to coordinate such a large scale research-led festival event.

Tell us a bit about your event. What subject areas did you cover and what did you want to achieve?

For Being Human 2016, TORCH teamed up with the Ashmolean Museum for ‘FRIGHTFriday’, a special late night opening of the museum to explore the art and science of Hope & Fear. With sensational live performances of dance and music, digital installations, film, workshops and interactive talks and exhibits. The evening was made up of several large performances in the main atrium of the Museum (orchestras, performances, processions) and around 30 activities and events throughout the museum, led by researchers from across the university and local community groups.

Our intended audiences for FRIGHTFriday were the often hard to reach 16-25 year olds, but we were also particularly interested in attracting families with children aged 8-16, as well as mid 20s-30s.

We wanted to showcase the diversity of humanities research at Oxford University and how it can engage with public and often hard to reach audiences. We also used this as an opportunity to use ideas and evaluation methodologies which can feed back into academics’ research projects, as well as potential REF Impact Case Studies in the future. Therefore, evaluation and recording of the evening’s activities was a very important part.

What worked particularly well in the planning, design and delivery of your event(s)?

The Ashmolean LiveFriday format helped to break down many barriers for new audiences, and created an excellent opportunity for academics to do Public Engagement with Research on a large scale, and in many different engaging ways.

Collaborating with an established, recognised institution like the Ashmolean created an opportunity to reach 3000 people in one night. It also allowed us to shape research projects into engaging and diverse activities for a late-night audience. Activities included – games, interactive presentations, installations, and performances.

We also collaborated with local community groups and other institutions (MyNormal, LGBT groups, local schools) to expand what could include in the programme.

What, if any, audience outcomes did you identify? What were the main outcomes for you and /or your organisation?

The event had a number of good outcomes for researchers from range of career levels, variety of different research projects and also for academics from the humanities taking part in public engagement activities for the first time.

FRIGHTFriday was also good for TORCH as a platform. It helped to raise our visibility with a number of communities and to raise awareness of the support for research and public engagement available at the University of Oxford.

In terms of audience outcomes, 57% had never been to an Ashmolean LiveFriday event before FRIGHTFriday, and 29% of the audience were below the age of 29 years old. The event really helped us to reach and engage the younger audience we were targeting.

The audience feedback was very positive. For example, people liked:

‘How un-quiet the museum was, but full of life of all ages enjoying being in the museum after the rush of the day’

‘[How] people are actually really excited by and interested in humanities research if you invite them in and explain / present engagingly’

What were the main challenges you encountered and how did you overcome these?

Having so much activity (30 researchers) on one night meant that there was not only a lot of preparation, but on the night it was physically hard to go around and see everyone, and check on everyone. However, as well as the success of the night itself, the preparation was helpful for ongoing facilitation and engagement of research following the event.

Funding for such a large event is not always easy to put together, which then creates the pressure and need to maximise the use of funds and the potential for the researchers.

Audiences have different expectations – from a museum; from a late night event; from the theme; from a research centre like TORCH. These make creating the programme tricky in terms of appealing and reaching out to our target audiences, without alienating the rest.

What top tips would you give to anyone contemplating or running a similar event or events in the future?

  1. Maximise impact and build up from solid foundations – make the most of opportunities to extend your audience.
  2. Work with people who want to be there and want to engage others with their research and also, in turn, learn from public.
  3. Together you can do more – make good and genuine partnerships

We got a lot out of taking part in the festival. Being part of Being Human is like being part of a much wider community, supported by an experienced and inclusive team.