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The social impact of opera: the case of Opera Spanga.


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Thesis MA A&C: Policy & Entrepreneurs

The Social Impact of Opera:

The case of Opera Spanga

University of Groningen

Name: Persefoni Michou Student Number: S4902904 Supervisor: dr. J.A.C. Kolsteeg Second reader: dr. J. van Gessel

Track: Arts Policy, and Cultural Entrepreneurship Telephone: +30 6943499642

E-mail:p.michou@student.rug.nl Date: 10-03-2021



In a time when opera is trying to reconstruct its image and abandon its elitist character in an attempt to connect with a wider audience, it has moved out of the opera houses but also developed social awareness and engagement. The social impact of arts and the ways it can be measured have been researched since 1992. The independent research organisation Comedia was one of the first to develop and publish studies around this concept like the influential research on participatory art projects Use or Ornament? (1997) by Matarasso. In this context, the present thesis examines the case of Opera Spanga, an opera company that produces alternative operas in the region of Friesland. The social impact of the opera to the local community of Spanga is examined through a combination of ethnographic data from my personal experience as a production assistant in the project After the flood (2022), analysis of the company’s policy plan for the period 2021-2024 and data from open-type questionnaires filled out by local volunteers. The findings of this research revealed that the Opera Spanga projects have a positive impact on the categories of personal development, social cohesion and local image.


Special thanks to all my colleagues; cast, crew and local volunteers at Opera Spanga for their collaboration and friendship during the summer of 2022 and also for their help in the completion of this thesis: Corina van Eijk, Ewa Pradzynska-Kostecka, Tjalling Wijnstra, Johnathan Levi, Zahra Belkaid, Hella Merkenhof, Mieke Pressley, Edu de Jonge, Mark van Nispen, Itzel Medecigo, Klara Uleman, Merlijn Runia, Sinan Vural, David Visser, Sabra El Bahri Khatri, Wivineke van Groningen, Jantje, Fred Turner, Rosa Ensemble, Tania Fernandez, Arnold Helmantel, Rene Sloot, Jan Veenhouwer, Marianne Veenhouwer, Arend Bron, Janna Bron, Cock Swart, Wiesje Mulder, Geert Slagter, Lutske and Anneke Slagter.



1. Introduction 5

2. Opera and the social domain 8

2.1 Historical review 8

2.2 Opera as community art 10

3. Literature review 14

3.1 Measuring the social impact of arts 14

3.1.2 Comedia’s Influencial Studies 15

3.1.3 Critical voices 17

3.1.4 Other perspectives 18

3.1.5 Evaluation issues 19

3.2 The social value of art in Dutch public policy 23

3.2.1 Main themes in Dutch cultural policy 24

3.2.2 The value of aesthetic experience 28

3.3 Categories of social impact 29

3.3.1 Health and Well-being 30

3.3.2 Personal Development and identity 31

3.3.3 Social Cohesion and collective identity 32

3.3.4 Revitalising the community 33

4. Methodology 34

5. Case study 36

5.1 About Opera Spanga 37

5.2 Thematic analysis of Opera Spanga policy plan for 2021-2024 39

5.3 Ethnographic observations 43


5.4 Thematic analysis of questionnaire responses 46

5.4.1 Motivation 46

5.5.2 Personal Development 48

5.5.3 Health and Well-Being 49

5.5.4 Identity Development 50

5.5.5 Local Image 50

5.5.5 Social Cohesion 51

5.5.6 Community Revitalisation 52

6. Conclusions 53

6.1 Community art or not? 53

6.2 Participation motives 54

6.3 The social Impact of Opera Spanga 55

6.4 Limitations and further research 58

7. References 59

Appendix 64

I. Questionnaires 64

II. After the flood summary 82

III. Visual content 85


1. Introduction

Nowadays opera has been trying to reconstruct its image and abandon its elitist character in an attempt to connect with a wider audience as well as adopt alternative artistic approaches. In this context, an increased interest in involving the public or the location in the artistic outcome has been developed by opera organisations. For this reason, the opera has moved out of the opera houses with the use of open-air or unconventional stages away from urban centres. Through this process, opera companies approach a larger and more diverse audience and at the same time, the local communities benefit in several ways such as cultural, social and economic development. (Matarasso; 1997, Landry & Bianchini; 1995)

We can identify the first earnest artist's concerns for social issues in the 1920s when the experimental art movement Dada created interactive and participatory art events with a strong political agenda (Bishop, 2006). The interaction between the artists and their audience has grown since the 1950s with installations and theatre performances that include the viewer as a part of the artistic outcome and make them engage with the political concepts they demonstrate. (Goldbard, 2006) This social approach to arts has recently become popular again in several countries, including the Netherlands, where the benefits of arts for society are appreciated by the governments who tend to support such initiatives. (De Bruyne & Gielen, 2011)

Nowadays several art projects have endorsed the participation of local communities and emerging talents and so are characterised as community arts. Based on the definition of Trienekens (2004) community arts refer to “art projects with a societal aim and with a process and group-oriented method.” In this framework, the impact of arts on individuals and communities has been the subject of wide research in the last decades. The first focus was set on the economic benefits of arts and the so-called

“creative industries”, however, it was soon discovered that there is something more fundamental. (Crossick, 2006). The independent research organisation Comedia was


the first to publish a number of studies about the social impact of arts that were based on both qualitative and quantitative methods.

In the present thesis, we are going to examine the case of Opera Spanga, a small opera company that produces alternative operas annually alongside the local community of Spanga. Since 1989 The Foundation Spanga: the Verona of Weststellingwerf has been making alternative and often controversial productions of operas and opera films in the small Frisian village of Spanga. Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, Tosca by Giacomo Puccini and Carmen by Georges Bizet are only a few examples of the operas that the company has produced with a rebellious and unconventional approach. The director and founder Corina van Eijk views the classic pieces through a modern prism but always with respect. Through these universal artworks, she aims to make meaningful productions that highlight contemporary issues like feminism, exclusion, marginalisation of groups etc. As van Eijk argues, the classics of opera through their strength and quality are used as a means to stimulate awareness and ethical thinking.” (Opera Spanga, 2020)

In all these projects the local community of Spanga plays an active role and a podium is provided to young talents who work alongside a multicultural cast of professional singers and musicians. During the summer of 2022, I joined Opera Spanga as a production assistant and I experienced the intense preparation period of the opera After the Flood but also the bohemian way of living in the village of Spanga. Through this working experience, I observed the active participation of the local community in the making of the production but also their interaction with the cast, crew and audience. It was remarkable to see how many of the villagers (young or old) joined as volunteer workers, cooks or sometimes actors on stage without having any previous experience or preference for opera. At the same time, what surprised me was also the fact that cast, crew and volunteers return to Spanga every year with pleasure and anticipation for every upcoming production as they seem to have created their own

“Spanga family” through the years.


Inspired by this experience I decided to conduct research and try to identify the social impact of the Opera Spanga production on the local community. The hypothesis will be based on the impact categories set in the discussion document of Landry et al. (1993) but the focus will be set on three interconnected categories, as will be explained in chapteρ 3.1. Accordingly, we will try to investigate the impact of Opera Spanga on personal development, social cohesion and local image of the community of Spanga.

The focus on these categories was decided because of their relevance to the case study but also because of the need to narrow the scope of research given the short amount of time and data sources.

Furthermore, we will try to answer some sub-questions that emerged during the literature and case study review. First of all, although the existing literature on community arts can be considered relevant to other cases of art’s social impact and therefore, useful to the present research, we still need to come to a conclusion on whether or not Opera Spanga can be characterised as community art. Subsequently, in most of the cases of art projects with societal aims, participation is one of the most important factors for their success. Therefore, it is also relevant to investigate the motivations that lead to a large audience and volunteer participation from the local community.

In addition, although we will focus on the impact categories of personal development, social cohesion and local image, our research will inevitably reveal perspectives on the other categories. For this reason, it is interesting to examine if Opera Spanga had a social impact that falls under two other relevant categories described in the reports produced by Comedia, like health and well-being and community revitalisation. Finally, as this thesis is addressed to artists, social researchers but also cultural policy makers, a comment should be made about the support of these projects by government funding. Since Opera Spanga is already receiving governmental support we would like to prove if this support is fairly provided or not and by extension, if similar projects should be supported in the future.


2. Opera and the social domain

2.1 Historical review

The operatic genre is still considered part of high-class society in people’s consciousness. Although there are several commercial uses of opera and so the mainstream audience is getting familiar with melodies from Carmen or Magic Flute, there is still an elitist aura covering this kind of music. Adorno argues in his Introduction to the Sociology of Music (1988, p. 80) that opera is a rather popular music genre, except from some avant-garde works like the compositions of Schoenberg and his school and claimed that the opera audience of the 18th and 19th century became the audience in cinemas of the 20th century. However, it is believed that opera is appealing to those who understand it and for this to happen a certain education is necessary.

Thus, when researching opera’s social impact we have to reconsider to whom this impact is addressed. Based on Bourdieu and the Outline of a Sociological Theory of Art Perception, the social impact of arts only affects those who can afford to be engaged with them; a small elite group of educated people. (Bourdieu, 1968)

However, this was not the case in the 17th century when the opera house was the “first musical institution to open its doors to the general public” (Zelechow, 1993: 261) In fact the first opera house opened in Venice in 1637 and by the 19th century, opera was established as a widely available form of popular entertainment, consumed by people of all social classes. (Storey, 2003) It was only at the beginning of the 19th that opera was turned into “high culture” by elite social groups in New York who tried to impose certain rules regarding content and audience behaviour. In other words, opera was appropriated by the higher social classes to affirm their identity and superiority through cultural consumption.


This relationship between opera and social classification was revealed in the groundbreaking Distinction by Pierre Bourdieu (1984) who tried to analyse the differences between the cultural values and ways of consumption of the social classes in France. In this study three operas are included in the survey’s results: La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner and L'Enfant et les sortilèges by Maurice Ravel. It is interesting to see that even within the genre of opera classification is also evident. The results revealed that la traviata as a more classic and well known piece was favoured by the petite bourgeoisie while L’Enfant et les sortilèges was listed in the preferences of the upper classes probably because of its musical complexity.

Nevertheless, the transformative power and social influence of the operatic experience were soon acknowledged. As Oscar Hammerstein claimed in 1910 “grand opera [is]...the most elevating influence upon modern society, after religion. From the earliest days it has ever been the most elegant of all forms of entertainment (...) it employs and unifies all the arts (...) I sincerely believe that nothing will make better citizenship than familiarity with grand opera.” (DiMaggio, 1992: 35) This quote certainly proves the influential character of opera through its communal aesthetic experience and implies that it is essential in order to pursue social solidarity.

Nowadays, opera can be seen as a cultural form that is simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. It is understood both as a shared public culture and entertainment for the mass audience but at the same time, it is still a means of social confirmation for the elite. For Storey (2003) this distinction is not influenced by the content but by the place and the way opera is consumed. In other words, there is a difference between when opera is performed in the opera house and when it is a part of a TV commercial, a film, a sports event1 etc. At the same time, although opera houses are receiving huge subsidies and have made attempts to widen their audience, ticket pricing is still not

1 Storey (2003, p. 21) mentions the use of Pavarotti’s recording “Nessun Dorma” for the official BBC Grandstand World Cup theme and the “Three Tenors” performance before the finals in 1990.


affordable for those with lower incomes. Not to mention the centralisation of opera houses which is the cause of the exclusion of the population living in small towns and villages.

In this context, Opera Spanga was created with an inclusive character and a concern for the community. First and foremost, the transformative power of the operatic genre was acknowledged. As mentioned in their policy plan (2021-2024) an opera play becomes a classic due to its strength and quality. Subsequently, the classic subjects and musical themes gain a reputation over the years and a place in our universal consciousness. For this reason, they are suitable to stimulate awareness and ethical thinking. (Opera Spanga, 2020)

Their artistic innovation is accompanied by the elimination of the distance obstacle by producing opera out of the opera houses and away from the big urban centres. By transforming an animal barn into a theatre stage and by accommodating the cast and crew in camping caravans, Opera Spanga managed to cast away the elitist aura related to opera in the past and adopted a more inclusive and bohemian one instead. In this way, a wider audience was approached and the local community was welcome to join the performances without having to follow a certain code of dressing or behaviour.

Moreover, although there is always a ticket that needs to be purchased by someone who wants to watch the performance, all the villagers of Spanga are invited free of charge out of gratitude and friendship. Consequently, the people who otherwise would be excluded because of the ticket price are given the opportunity to watch the show every year.

2.2 Opera as community art

Nowadays the term “community art” has come to describe short term arts projects aimed at the development of a community (Goldbard, 2006). In other words, the primary focus of these projects is to achieve community outcomes with the use of art


and by including this community under a bottom-up principle. As defined by Knight and Swarzman “Any form or work of art that emerges from a community and consciously seeks to increase the social economic and political power of that community”(Knight and Swarzman, 2005, 16).

As mentioned before, the world of opera is covered by a veil of elitism and exclusion, something that seems very contradicting with the democratic and participatory philosophy of community based arts. However, there are several attempts to combine opera productions with small communities in order to make the genre more accessible to the wide audience but also gain social benefits. The concept of community arts has a wide range of interpretations and synonyms like participatory arts and community cultural development. All of the terms are referred to participatory practices (Goldbard, 2006) however, the lack of clear definition is often a cause of misunderstanding between stakeholders, participants and policy makers. In each case the goal is different, for example, in some cases the aime is social cohesion and local identity through art, while other community project’s objective is arts education exclusively. A representative example of this type of community project is amateur choirs.

Examples of Opera companies that try to include communities in their productions can be found in different countries. Los Angeles Opera is one of them, the Opera House offers public talks, performances and educational programmes in collaboration with local centres and schools in an attempt to boost audience participation in the professional LA Opera performances. In the United Kingdom, Blackheath Halls Opera of London organises performances with the collaboration of local singers and instrumentalists, children and adolescents from local schools, students from conservatories and a cast of professionals who perform together on stage. (Clements, 2016) Similarly, the National Greek Opera has developed an education programme with the name “Interactive Opera for Primary Schools” with the objective to bring specially designed opera from children in more than 70 primary schools around the country.

Since 2012 students from different places in Greece are given the opportunity to have


an insight into the world of opera by taking part in all the different steps of producing a performance.

Opera Spanga has recently developed an educational focus with specially designed performances for young people, schools and conservatories. As stated in their policy plan which will be widely analysed in the following paragraphs, their objective is to

“create the future performers and future audience”. For this reason, schools from the north region are invited to watch exclusive performances and discuss with the cast, instrumentalist and director in order to give them the inside perspective and elaborate on the messages conveyed by the play. On a second level, Opera Spanga develops productions exclusively for the young audience with relevant topics like Madame Scrooge (2022) and Anne and Zef (1018). Also within the framework of talent development, the organisation includes beginner artists in their creative team and provides them with useful experience and visibility. An example of that program is their latest opera production “After the Flood” which was composed by conservatory students who were given the opportunity to see their creation going on stage for the first time.

All these cases have a strong educational orientation as they aim at talent development. At the same time they also strive for audience engagement and community empowerment through their activities. However, we cannot align all of them with community arts. According to van den Hoogen (2010) such projects appear to have a) active participation by a community b) this community is not accustomed to consuming institutionalised art forms and cultural education. c) The use of artistic professionals with the aim of an artistic outcome d) art disciplines which can fall outside the classical canon and e) The project has societal aims and outcomes. In most of the cases mentioned above, social impact is not the main objective but rather a side activity that is developed in parallel with the casual program of commercial performances.


A case of socially oriented opera in the Netherlands is Yo! Opera. The organisation’s main goal is to renew youth opera and have a critical look on the genre’s repertoire.

Subsequently, talent development became the second objective of Yo! Opera in order to train the next generation of creative makers. Since 2001, they have developed educational projects that include public and professional musicians and produce annual festivals. Yo! Opera aims at developing the creativity of the young artists based on practical experience but also tries to strengthen the bonds between opera and society. For these reasons, the opera group organises educational programs and workshops at schools and performances with the collaboration of students from several Dutch conservatories and professionals of the contemporary opera scene.

Another representative example in the Netherlands is the project “Carmen in Delfzijl”

which took place in 2010 in the Dutch town of Delfzijl. The production that was initiated by the Ivak Community Arts Institute achieved both artistic and social outcomes through the collaboration of professional artists and amateur performers from the local community. The collaboration of Opera Spanga and the Frisian orchestra was asked in order to assure the high quality of the outcome. The opera organisation collected an international cast of singers and support staff that accompanied the local musicians and emerging talents. The project aimed at the growth of local reputation and identity but also the development of social capital through social cohesion among local residents. Initially the programme was designed around these goals and principles in order to fight the declining population and high unemployment rates. Eventually, a wide participation from people unfamiliar with opera was achieved while managing to make no compromises regarding the artistic quality. (Clements, 2016)

However, based on the definition by van den Hoogen, regular Opera Spanga projects do not seem to match with the type of community arts. First of all, the main goal is the artistic outcome and the community development seems to come later as a side effect.

In addition, the local community does not interfere in any way in the process of decision making but it supports the production in other ways that I am going to discuss


later on. Because of the complexity of the genre and the proficiency required for a flawless artistic outcome there is no space for bottom-up approaches. In our case study, the decisions are exclusively made by the management board, the artistic director Corina van Eijk and the conductor Tjalling Wijnstra. However, after examining all the available data we can come to a more concrete conclusion about this assumption.

However, an Opera Spanga acknowledges that their productions share a strong connection with the natural surroundings and the people who are involved in them. As stated in their name there can be no Opera Spanga without Spanga. According to De Bruyne and Gielen (2011, 6) “The ‘authorising’ of collective creative processes reduces them to the (genius) work of an individual, despite a more generalised acceptance that new creations imply shared responsibility and thus a common achievement”. Clements (2016) also argues that opera projects can still be relevant to community arts through the realisation that “every creation is ultimately a result of the individuals involved, and that classical music rises from a communal effort”. In this context, it is essential to further investigate in the following paragraphs whether Opera Spanga can be seen or is self-defined as a community art organisation based on its identity, objectives and social impact.

3. Literature review

3.1 Measuring the social impact of arts

Since the 90s there is growing literature on the impact of arts on individuals and communities or in other words, the role of arts in a creative society. The first focus was set on the economic benefits of arts and the so-called “creative industries”, however, it was soon discovered that there is something more fundamental. (Crossick, 2006). The


discussion started with the document produced by the independent research organisation Comedia on behalf of the UK Arts Council The Social Impact of the Arts (1993) where impact is described as “those effects that go beyond the artefacts and the enactment of the event or performance itself and have a continuing influence upon, and directly touch, people's lives.” (Landry et al, 1993, p. 50).

Comedia organisation was founded in 1978 by Charles Landry and developed research projects around the concepts of town centre vitality (Out of Hours, 1991), public libraries (Borrowed Time?, 1993) and parks (Park Life, 1995). Comedia’s team of experts was one of the first to highlight the connection between culture and economy by introducing the concept of creative economy and highlighting the importance of creative industries. A turning point was the publication The Creative City (1995) by Charled Landry and Franco Bianchini, an innovative and influential paper that shook the waters of urban life and planning. Comedia’s continuous contribution to cultural policy and the social impact of arts research was made by several empirical studies like: How the Arts Measure Up by Deidre Williams (1997) and Use or Ornament? by François Matarasso (1997).

3.1.2 Comedia’s Influencial Studies

Landry, Bianchini et al. (1993) developed the first conceptual study on the social impact of arts on behalf of the Arts Council of England in 1993 and published a discussion document that initiated Comedia’s study, The Social Impact of Arts Programs. This document was developed in order to examine the way tha cultural bodies in the UK evaluated the social impact of their projects. The conclusion was that there was no substantive and satisfactory work in the field and so further research was demanded. Finally, the document identified six areas of social impact: personal development, social cohesion, community empowerment and self-determination, local image and identity, imagination and vision, health and wellbeing. These categories were


later used in the planning of Matarasso’s empirical research on the participatory art projects Use or Ornament? (1997).

Williams conducted a large-scale research (1994-95) to identify the social, educational, artistic and economic benefits deriving from community art projects in Australia. The study examined 89 project based projects that were funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and its results report Creating Social Capital was published in 1996. The methodology used included a survey of a large number (132) of participants and members of the community who evaluated the long term impacts of the project on their community as observed after two years of its competition. The study revealed the strong influence of these projects to community development and renewal as well as the participants’ individual development. The different areas of impact identified in this research were: Building and developing communities, Increasing social capital, Activating social change, Developing human capital and Improving economic performance.

Since this research was one of the first regarding the social impact of community art projects, the theoretical framework and methodology used was inadequate. Although there was a large number of people participating in the survey, quantitative data is not considered ideal for the specific area of study as stated in the following paragraph. The conclusions were based only on the opinions and observations of participants, without making use of any other source of information like policy documents or municipality reports of economic growth regarding the case of improvement of economic performance. Nevertheless, Williams was the first to conduct empirical research in the field and his paper set the basis for the development of further study.

Matarasso enforced Comedia’s study on the social impact of arts with his controversial, yet influential, paper “Use or Ornament” (1997). This extensive research was the first attempt to measure social impact of arts in the UK and tried to prove the positive benefits of participatory art projects to local communities. Its findings were


structured according to the six main axes of social effect introduced in the discussion document by Landry et al. (1993): personal development, social cohesion, community empowerment and self-determination, local image and identity, imagination and vision, health and well-being.

From the methodology perspective, Matarasso developed quantitative research by distributing questionnaires to more than 500 participants of participatory arts projects in order to prove his hypothesis. In this way, he intended to “quantify some of the qualitative evidence” although acknowledging the debatable value of questionnaires in social research. However, unlike in William’s study, other research methods were used as well like focus group discussions and interviews to achieve a more satisfactory and multidimensional understanding of the projects. Although Matarasso made use of different methods still he was more based on quantitative data, in addition, his positive predisposition that is evidence in his objectives and questionnaires, seems to have influenced the participants and the conclusions drawn.

3.1.3 Critical voices

Inevitably, the first attempts to measure the social impact of arts were criticised by many scholars for their design and methodology. In the present paragraph we are going to review two critics on Matarasso’s research: Evaluating the social impact of participation in art activities by Paopla Merli (2002) and

Merli was the first to critically analyse the work produced by Comedia and especially Matarasso’s research that she accused of being “flawed in its design, execution and conceptual basis” (Merli, 2002). First of all, she claimed that in Matarasso’s study the impact of participatory art projects is delivered from a specific political ideology. This failure το objectivity was caused, according to Merli, because of the researcher’s intentions to provoke policy changes and advocate funding for participatory art projects that inevitably damaged the quality of the study. The methodology used was


also criticised, on the one hand, it was accused of being based on unmeasurable concepts and on the other hand these concepts were not connected with the questionnaires distributed to the participants. Furthermore, the used wording of questions was believed to lead the participants to biassed answers.

Belfiore also criticised the methodology used in Matarasso’s research. First of all, she characterises the large number (nearly 50) of social impacts identified in the study as

“broad-ranging and positively vague” and thus hard to be measured by an objective evaluation method. (Belfiore, 2006, p.25). Furthermore, she accuses the research to have a “lack of internal validity” in the sense that the questions included in the evaluation process are not connected to the hypothesis. Regarding the questionnaires, she agrees with Merli about the possibility of biassed answers due to the ambiguous wording used. Belfiore also argues that more time was needed in order to evaluate long-term and life changing impacts, something that is also stated in many Comedia reports. Finally, as viewed from the input-output perspective, the research was accused of failing to establish a convincing link between any changes observed in the participants and their involvement in the art activity.

3.1.4 Other perspectives

At the same time with Comedia’s development, a research centre with the name The Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP), was created at the University of Pennsylvania, USA in 1994. As White and Rentschler point out in their paper “Toward a New Understanding of the Social Impact of the Arts” (2005) Comedia and SIAP developed research on more general social impacts of the arts, with studies that examined only particular thematic categories like education (Fiske, 1999), health (Health Development Agency, 2000), social exclusion (DCMS, 1999) and creative cities (Florida, 2002).

The social impact of arts was also seen from quantitative perspectives by some scholars who also proposed methods of measuring it. Lingayah et al (1996) introduced


three basic components of measuring impact: inputs, outputs and outcomes. They developed a “measurement spectrum” where they illustrate at one side easy and objective measurements that gradually change to more difficult and subjective ones on the other side. They argue that to effectively measure the impact of artistic projects one should first acknowledge the purpose of these projects and that should be the basis on which the effects will be judged. In addition, they highlight that failing to clearly define the purposes and achievements of artistic activities is what causes less support for them in policy agendas.

Subsequently researchers made more use of qualitative methods for measuring the social impact of arts. Lowe (2000) provided empirical evidence about the transformative power of community arts and proved that they increase the sense of

“neighbourhood identity” by fostering new relationships and networks among the participants. Lowe’s research was based on observations, focus groups, evaluations reports with participants and artists for two community projects.

During the same year Kay and Watt (2000) published their research on the contribution of art projects to the regeneration of a community where they utilised interviews, discussion groups and questionnaires.

3.1.5 Evaluation issues

The above research has helped in changing the direction of the cultural policy field during the past decades. As we are going to analyse in the next paragraph, public stakeholders seem to have acknowledged the contribution of participatory art projects in the wealth and growth of our society and economy. However, it is obvious that regardless of the growing literature of reviews around the concept and measurement of the social impact of arts, the research methods as well as the quality of the evidence used still remain unsatisfactory. Beliore tried to identify the basic issues regarding the


failure of evaluating the social impact(s) of arts in the report The social impacts of the arts – myth or reality? that was published in 2006.

The first pitfall she pointed out was “The issue of the causality link” in the sense that the reports fail to establish a causal relationship between the change that has happened in the participant’s life and his participatory experience in the reviewed art project. The cause of this failure is probably the incapability or neglect to assess the participants’ views before their engagement with the art projects, something that is also missing from the Opera Spanga case. “The opportunity cost issue” is also noted as a missing perspective of the social impact narratives. This argument is based on the fact that policy makers are often seeking the less costly way to resolve a problem, in our cases social issues like exclusion or unemployment, while the reports of art project evaluations fail to provide evidence of opportunity cost.

Moreover, “The question of outcome versus outputs” is also mentioned. As seen in many of the cases discussed in this thesis, some categories of social impact take time to become observable. Consequently, assessments that take place soon after the completion of an art programme are likely to have questionable validity. “The issue of successfully transforming anecdotal evidence into robust qualitative data” is a problem that a lot of researchers try to deal with in the social impact field and often causes criticism. Belfiore argues that although research on social impact of participatory arts is mostly based on qualitative data drawn from the experiences and views of the participants and organisers, still this data cannot be conceived as totally reliable. Thus, there is always a risk regarding the evaluation reports that in our opinion needs to be supported by other sources of information as well.

“The question of the distinction between active and passive participation” is often a point of conflict in discussions about the social impact of arts. Impact evaluation has undoubtedly concerned mostly the participatory art projects, however this only happens because the regular “passive” art consumption programmes, like exhibitions,


operas etc. are often receiving the largest amount of government support. As we will analyse in the next paragraph the impact of anaesthetic experience on a passive audience can prove as much effective as the active participation in the arts. Belfiore concludes that more importance should be addressed to the evaluation of this kind of art consumption and because of its large number of participants it will probably lead to the development of more satisfactory methods.

“The issue of artistic quality” is explained as the significance of the social outcomes over the aesthetic ones that emerged in the assessment reports and cultural policy documents. In that case, more evaluation criteria regarding the artistic quality should be included in the process. “The question of negative impacts” is most of the time what is missing from evaluation processes. The positive preoccupation of the researchers is often leading to biassed evidence but also failed to reveal points of failure of an art project. As discussed in the article by Jancovich and Stevenson in Conjunctions (2020) often those evaluating an art programme are the organisations that developed it and their incapability to face their mistakes is what leads to a continuation of them in the future. Lastly “The ethical question” is often expressed as a concern by scholars like Merli and Fraser about the use of culture for coping with social issues like exclusion and social cohesion as being a distraction from the real causes of these social issues and their solutions.

Adding to the list of Belfiore we would like to suggest that the use of other sciences in the evaluating process like medicine and psychology could prove very helpful for revealing unexpected evidence. Since the assessments are based only on the subjective views of participants, some changes in their physical or mental health might not be visible without an expert’s observation. For example, in the case of health and wellbeing impact we could definitely use the contribution of medical tests in order to assure validity of evidence.


However, pointing out the mistakes of art’s social impact research was not enough. In order to improve this policy field a critical reflection of those failures as a whole is needed so that future projects can be designed and assessed successfully. Jancovich and Stevenson gathered in a special edition of Conjunctions (2020) unsuccessful stories of participatory projects and their assessments. They argue that instead of focusing on the “non-participation” issue in the funded projects the focus should be set on the method chosen for data collection and their evaluation. (p.3) It is also mentioned that although several cultural organisations are continuously subsidised for projects that aim at diversifying whom they are engaging with they keep on failing this objective because they are unable to learn from previous unsuccessful cases.

In this framework, there is a large number of so-called “successful cases” that are based on numeral criteria that are irrelevant to participational variety. (Jancovich &

Stevenson, 2020, p. 4). Furthermore, the successful evaluation of such projects, which mainly include recipients of cultural subsidies, is based on special “framed” questions that present the work done in as positive a manner as possible. The authors highlight that this kind of evaluation is “more of an exercise in public relations than a process of critically reflective learning”. At the same time, Bilton (2019) argues that the industry of cultural evaluation must be blamed for characterising failure as “individualised blame”.

In conclusion, although the discussion on the social impact of arts started in 1993 with the document by Lardy et al. researchers have still not reached a satisfactory method of measuring it. This failure comes from the fact that this area includes unmeasurable and subjective evidence and that becomes even harder when examining a project with no clearly defined purposes and achievements. Matarasso’s example should teach us that a coherent and solid conceptual basis is crucial for this kind of research but also an over-optimistic and preoccupied hypothesis may lead to misinterpretation of data.

Apart from methodological issues though there are several ethical and artistic parameters, that should be taken into account through this process.


Lastly, It seems that policymakers and stakeholders are unwilling to accept failures in cultural projects and so there is a gap in policy learning literature. In addition, advocacy rhetoric did not allow a clear and critical assessment of the value and social impact of the arts. Although the projects of Opera Spanga are not considered participatory, the organisation aims at cultural funding based on its social engagement and impact.

Nonetheless, in order to avoid the pitfalls of the previous researchers in assessing the social impact in this case the qualitative questionnaires should be designed with objectivity avoiding any influence on the participants.

3.2 The social value of art in Dutch public policy

The literature mentioned above advocates the positive impact of the arts on society and more profoundly their “power to transform lives and communities.” (Arts Council England 2003, p. 2), Belfiore and Bennett argue that “the arts occupy a particularly fragile position in public policy, on account of the fact that the claims made for them, especially those relating to their transformative power, are extremely hard to substantiate.” and they conclude that this is happening due to “the growing prominence of evidence-based policy making.” (2008, p. 5)

At the same time, there has been an ongoing debate about the “intrinsic” and

“instrumental” values of the arts with the latter being overpraised and having supplanted the first. In public policy context, the aesthetic experience as the real purpose of art was overlooked while the contribution to economic and social issues was seen as more important to politicians2. Nonetheless, the rhetoric soon would acknowledge the concern about the instrumentalisation of the arts by governments and so many policy makers3 would agree with James Purnell’s (2007) argument “arts

3See Tessa Jowell 2004 Government and the Value of Culture.

2See New Labour policy in Britain.


would still matter if they did none of those things. They are intrinsically valuable before they are instrumentally so.”

3.2.1 Main themes in Dutch cultural policy

With regard to Dutch public policy, Van den Hoogen (2010) reviews in his PHD research the narrative of the social functions of art in policy documents and political statements from 1993 to 2008. Initially he explains that Dutch cultural policy includes national, provincial and municipal levels, while the biggest subsidies to performing arts comes from national governments and municipalities. Since the end of World War II and the adoption of the Wet op het Specifieke Cultuurbeleid (Act Governing Specific Cultural Policy) in 1993, the central objectives of the Dutch cultural policy are quality and diversity.

In general, Dutch public policy acknowledges both intrinsic and extrinsic values of art.

The legitimacy and first priority seems to be the artistic quality though this priority has resulted in the growing autonomy of cultural institutions. Especially during the 90s the needs of the art world itself seemed to outweighed the impact of arts in society in the development of cultural policy. This so-called autonomization of art remained a point of concern in cultural policy for the next decades, as the effort to achieve artistic quality developed a culture that the general public could not understand. (Oosterbaan Martinius, 1990) This concern is also evident in the policy document Cultuur als Confrontatie (Culture as Confrontation) where the growing autonomy of the subsidised cultural institutions in the Netherlands is highlighted.

Especially after World War II, the national government began to play an essential role in the conservation, production and innovation, mainly by granting subsidies. These subsidies were nearly always directed (…) at the wishes and requirements of the specialists (…) and to the preferences of other insiders, and not, at least not primarily, at a broad audience. (Ministerie van OCW, 2000)


Thus, the legitimacy of cultural policy through participation and audience diversity was seen as a measure to counterbalance this autonomy trend. For this reason, cultural education was seen as an important part of cultural policy and the Ministry of Education was responsible for its development. In addition, especially after 2000 the attraction of a new audience became an important part of the cultural intuitions’

strategy. In other words, not only the number but also the social and geographical background are also important for the legitimacy of a cultural institution. Policy makers suggested that this outreach can be accomplished through research and experimentation as started in the document Cultuur als Confrontatie (Ministerie van OCW, 2000). In the same document other solutions are suggested like art addressed to specific social groups and cooperation with amateurs (ibid., p. 31) and similar activities that are often included in community art projects as discussed in the previous paragraphs.

Although the distribution of cultural subsidies is based on criteria of artistic quality and audience participation, cultural policy in the Netherlands is also legitimised because of its social impacts. In the policy letter of Meer dan de som (More than the Sum) (2003) Medy van der Laan4 refers to the impacts of culture on personal development as the

“immaterial enrichment for those who actively take part in it” while she proposes that the enforcement of the autonomy of art can help in this process. In addition, she also implies societal impacts with the phrase “to increase the flexibility of society as a whole” (Ministerie van OCW, 2003, p.1) Some years earlier in the document Pantser of Ruggegraat (Armour or Backbone, Ministerie van OCW, 1995) culture’s influence on identity development is acknowledged as well as the the meaning it give to people’s life. “What does culture mean to a person? In a broad sense, everything that people make, think, know or believe they know, the way in which they become aware of their feelings and give shape to their actions, belongs to culture.” (p.4) In the same text,

4State secretary for culture in the government of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2003.


culture also includes a societal level, and it is seen as a means to develop social cohesion and highlight social issues as it provides a “different look on things”.

Identity and social cohesion are also connected to cultural heritage in several Dutch policy documents. Namely, in Armour or Backbone (Ministerie van OCW, 1995) focuses on the passing of cultural heritage from one generation to another. The importance of one’s connection to their past as a means to develop and affirm their identity is highlighted as well as the result of gaining tolerance and respect towards other cultures through this process. “Contact with the past nourishes the feeling of cultural identity of people and the community of which they are a part.” (Ministerie van OCW, 1995, p. 18) At the same time, heritage is seen as a tool for boosting national prestige, a function that was also related to the economic impact of culture. “For a thriving culture not only contributes to the creative and innovative powers of a society, to entrepreneurship and the prestige of our country, it also works as a social binding agent as well.” (Ministerie van OCW, 2003, p. 2) Although most of the time cultural heritage is related to museums, Opera Spanga is a case of performing arts project that deals with Dutch history and national identity with a critical view.

The contribution of culture to the creative economy and its benefits on city life were soon realised. From the attractions of businesses and the flourishing of tourism in Dutch cities to the innovation and development of local entrepreneurship, creativity is seen as an important element of a successful economy. This function of culture in the social domain is widely discussed in the document Meer dan de som.

Businesses do consider the cultural climate of a city to decide whether or not to settle there. In turn, employees find it important that the city in which they work boasts high-quality cultural services. Moreover, the cultural sector has a considerable influence on adjacent sectors such as tourism, the catering business, and the trade sector.

(Ministerie van OCW, 2003, p. 13)


The economic impact of arts is also seen in relation to the economic struggle between cities and regions because of the so-called internationalisation of Dutch culture. Thus, according to the stakeholders, a vibrant cultural scene in regional areas can attract branches of international business as it has already happened in Randstad (Rim City), as the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague are named.

However, it is not only the economic focus that is set on these four central cities of the Netherlands. Another major theme in Dutch cultural policy is the support and development of culture in the different regions. As the largest part of government funding is allocated to big institutions located in the centre of the country, the smaller theatre groups and music orchestras in the provinces are left unsupported. The decline of arts in the regional areas is something that concerns policy makers who recognised its importance for national identity. In the document Investeren in Cultuur (Investing in Culture , 1992) we find the following quote with regard to performing arts:

I acknowledge that the settlement of large-scale performing arts facilities in the region can have exceptional allure for regional cultural life that is not achieved by an assortment that only consists of ‘touring’ performances. Especially when institutions are successful in taking root in regional cultural life, they are able to achieve a cultural added value that cannot only be measured by the number of performances and the quality of these. (Ministerie van WVC, 1992, p. 147)

At the same time, cultural institutions that are related to their environment and local history are believed to bring more diversity in the artistic scene but also make regional audiences relate to them. This theme is very relevant to the case of Opera Spanga as the organisation of performing arts is strongly connected with the province of Friesland and contributes to the development of the cultural scene in the area.

To sum up, Dutch cultural policy has been concerned with several different themes related to the intrinsic and extrinsic values of art. The most important of them are: the regional cultural development, the connection between culture and economy, the preservation of Dutch cultural heritage but also the issue of art autonomization, the need to diversify the audience and the


acknowledgment of the social impacts of art on individuals and communities. The case of Opera Spanga is relevant to most of these categories as a provincial opera company that contributes to the local cultural and community development but also to audience diversity through educational programs. The social character of Opera Spanga as well as their specific impacts on the local area will be widely discussed in the following paragraphs.

3.2.2 The value of aesthetic experience

As seen in the previous paragraph, social policy is often related to cultural policy, however most of the time this link is not clearly explained. At this point Van den Hoogen includes the concept of the aesthetic experience and its value in the social domain and focuses on performing arts as they include the concept of action in their nature. Based on the theory of aesthetic experience by Van Maanen (2009) who suggests that there is an instrumental relationship between values (extrinsic or intrinsic), functions on a personal level, and societal functions. The function of identity formation, personal at first and collective later is very important here.

Van den Hoogen argues that this functioning happens in three stages. The starting point is the private one, the function of personal development where individuals widen their horizons, develop their skills and affirm their identities. The next step is where the private becomes social, the effect of social bonding and development of tolerance among the community members which lead to the expression of communal meaning and the development of social capital5 that also McCarthy et al. (2004) identify as one of the main functions of aesthetic experience in the social domain. This function can also be translated to social cohesion or as Jeannotte (2003, p. 47) puts it “cultural participation encourages individuals to buy into institutional rules and shared norms of behaviour”. Consequently, the third stage according to van den Hoogen is the

5The connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. (Putnam, 2000, p. 19)


revitalization of the communities and the common action that can lead to both social and economic benefits. Of course, we cannot overlook the extrinsic values of well-being from socialising and breaking one’s routine but also the development of organisational and leadership skills through cultural participation that both lead to the same third stage of revitalization.

Although there is a distinction that both van den Hoogen and Matarasso (1997, p. 74) make between participants and attendees of an artistic project, they both admit that the impacts on these groups overlap in many cases. For this reason, the theories regarding the contribution of aesthetic experience to the social domain can support the present thesis. There is an obvious advantage for the participatory arts where personal benefits easily become collective ones. This theory is based on the fact that community art projects are usually directed towards specific groups and participants and its members are likely to meet each other outside of the artistic activities as well.

(van den Hoogen, 2010 p.307)

In conclusion, based on the aesthetic experience theory, attendance and participation in artistic projects can be considered to contribute to the formation of personal and collective identity. Starting from the personal development of an individual the next step is social cohesion and the development of social capital and finally the third stage of community revitalisation. Consequently, to examine the social impact in the case of Opera Spanga we have to go through the three stages named by Van den Hoogen (2010). In other words, it is essential for the preset thesis to start from the personal level towards the social, but also take into account the final phase of revitalisation.

3.3 Categories of social impact

From the above literature review we can identify several categories of social impact deriving from culture. Based on our case study and research questions we four of them were chosen to be analysed in the following paragraphs. The names of the categories


follow the wording used in the works of Comedia, namely The Social Impact of Arts Programs (1993) by Landry et al. and Use or Ornament? (1997) by Matarasso.

3.3.1 Health and Well-being

An acclaimed benefit of the arts to the social domain is the health and well-being of those engaged with them. The connection between the arts and mental health has been long established. In ancient times, Greek drama was written so as to lead the audience to catharsis and emotional healing through narrative engagement and situational recognition. (Belfiore and Bennett, 2008; Shannon, 2015) Contemporary theories like the “flow experience” by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) and “aesthetic experience” by Van Maanen (2009) describe the link between the engagement with arts and the human affect. There is also a lot of research on the effect of music on human beings but also its use for psychological and physical treatment. (Madden and Bloom, 2004)

Participation in art projects is believed to have a positive effect on well-being, especially on mental health. However, Mattarasso reports that this area often overlaps with personal development as “people do not always feel a clear division between increased confidence, better social contacts and improved health.” (Matarrasso, 1997, p. 64) Indeed, the development and affirmation of one's identity which is mostly included in this category of benefits is also an element that leads to mental stability.

Moreover, Madden and Bloom (2004,p. 140) highlight the importance of self-expression and stress relief through arts as determining factors for mental health.

In the case of Opera Spanga, most of the local participants are above the age of 50 and so they are considered a vulnerable group regarding health. Especially for retired people, the sense of well-being is also affected by the need to stay active and useful to others. Furthermore, social isolation and repeated life routines that are more common


in residents of rural areas can cause melancholia and depression. Thus, the examination of this category of social effect is highly relevant to the present thesis.

3.3.2 Personal Development and identity

As van den Hoogen highlighted “personal identity is a key factor of relating the aesthetic experience to the social domain” (2010, p. 275). The personal development of an individual is closely linked with the creation and affirmation of their identity which in turn is crucial for their relationships and interactions with other people. According to Newman (2004, p. 34), personal identity or someone’s position in society is characterised by elements like race, ethnicity, religion and gender. However, in today’s society of globalisation, class mobility, and gender fluidity these factors are not enough to form an identity. Thus, this process is considered an “endless self-creation” by sociologists (Elliott, 2001, p. 131) and can be influenced by personal interest, relationships and cultural experiences.

Cultural participation helps the development of personal and, as we will see later collective identity and encourages individuals to self-improvement. Matarasso (1997,p.

14) reported that participation in artistic activities resulted in personal achievements like the boost of self-confidence in creativity, development of social contacts through cooperation, acquisition of new skills (employability), widening of their horizons and following further educational opportunities. However, these findings are not 100%

objective as they were mostly based on participants with low educational level and sometimes belonging to disadvantaged groups. In our case, the biggest part of the Opera Spanga volunteers examined are people above the age of 50 and with a medium level of education, however, there are also subjects of younger age and lower education status. It is interesting to see what results will be drawn based on this variety.


3.3.3 Social Cohesion and collective identity

Our personal identity and position in society is what helps us connect with the individual around us. At the same time, personal identity is formed by the social groups someone belongs to. The place where an individual is born or lives is one of the elements that form their personal identity but it can also form a collective identity shared with all the other people that live in the same place. Consequently, cultural or aesthetic experience is a process that can affirm and develop this collective identity.

For example, Fisher-Lichte (2002) refers to the art of theatre in ancient Greece which was used to shape the collective identity of the ancient city-states.

Social cohesion is often mentioned in social policy documents and it is often a connecting link between social and cultural policies. For example, in Rotterdam’s policy document Uitgangspunten voor het cultuurbeleid 2005-2008 (2003) the social cohesion, as well as other social goals, are reached through identity building, both for the city and its groups. In particular, this identity building is linked to cultural heritage and creating a cultural climate in the public space. (van den Hoogen, 2010, p.96)

Matarasso reports that through participatory art projects, people become more active and involved in local affairs (1997, p.74) while Jeannotte (2003) argues that they “buy into the norms of the community”. Moreover, not only is the confidence of marginalised groups boosted but also tolerance is created among the other members of this community. Eventually, the bonds created between individuals lead to the formation of social capital and according to McCarthy et al (2004), it is the first stage of the community revitalization process.

The small village of Spanga can be seen as a micrography of society. Indeed, participants in the production tend to spend more time together and cooperate to achieve common goals. Although some of them already have some family or friendly bonds, there are also cases of people who came closer through this project. However, we have to keep in mind that there is not a large variety of groups or even people that


need to be represented. For example, although there are many immigrants and people of colour living in the Netherlands that is not the case in the Frisian rural area.

Nonetheless, tolerance among community members is always a valuable social element regardless of the diversity of groups.

3.3.4 Revitalising the community

McCarthy et al. (2004, p. 86-7) developed a schema that represents the process of community revitalisation. They argue that the first stage is the development of social capital that results from social cohesion and communal identity. In turn, social capital results in the development of organisational and leadership skills that are needed for the creation of structured forms of collective action. Finally, the third and last stage of community revitalisation consists of economic, political and social processes. It requires advanced collective actions with more intense and long-term civic engagement as well as intergroup cooperation.

A political action that occurred in the summer of 2022 was the riots of farmers coming from the Dutch countryside including Friesland. Connections between the participation in the opera production and the farmers’ movement cannot be directly seen. The performance itself raised a lot of socio-political issues such as antisemitism, colonisation, and police violence as seen throughout Dutch history. The farmers’

movement was only “mentioned” through a characteristic red scarf that a singer was holding in the second scene. It is safe to say that through the aesthetic experience of the performance awareness was raised regarding these issues but this does not necessarily link any social changes or political action to the volunteering participation.

From an economic perspective, the change can be seen more clearly. The opera productions bring every year visitors to the area that would not be there otherwise. Not only the audience but also the production members who stay there for more than two months contribute to the local economy by renting rooms, buying from local stores or


eating in restaurants and cafes. This contribution can not be overseen and it is also mentioned in policy documents conducted by Opera Spanga that we will analyse in the next paragraphs.

4. Methodology

Research on the social and economic impact of community-based art projects is not so wide as the kind of evaluation involves challenges because of the typically large numbers of stakeholders and the variety of possible outcomes (Landry et al., 1995).

However, in most cases, these outcomes are measured through quantitative and qualitative methods, for example in the works of Williams (1997) and Lowe (2000) data is collected from observations, interviews, discussions and questionnaires with participants, staff, volunteers and artists. Matarasso (1997) acknowledged the unreliability of quantitative methods in social research and his work was criticised for using them. (Merli; 2002, Belfiore; 2006).

The present research used a small sample of participants to gather qualitative data from open-type questionnaires. These questionnaires were seen as “written interviews”

and this method was chosen because the participants felt more comfortable in sharing their answers on paper after having thought about them than in a live interview. In addition, due to the geographical distance between the researcher and the participants, interviews were only possible through video-calls and some of the older interviewees were not very familiar with that kind of technology. Last but not least, the questionnaires were sent both in English and Dutch and the participants were given the option to answer back in any language they preferred. Since most of them come from the Netherlands they felt more capable and comfortable to elaborate on their ideas and experiences in their mother language and so the answers were subsequently translated in english for the purposes of the research. After receiving and translating the answers, additional questions needed to be send back in some cases for further


clarifications.This process took place 4 months after the summer production “After the flood” however some of the volunteers also participated in the winter production

“Madame Scrooge” that ended some weeks before the questionnaires were sent.

Thus, the experience was still fresh in the participants’ memories, although some of the impacts, like the revitalisation of the community, could probably be observed after a certain amount of time.

The design of the questions as well as the data analysis were driven and built around the previously mentioned theories and literature but also focused on the research questions set in the beginning. The hypothesis was based on the impact categories introduced in the discussion document of Landry et al. (1993) and the research report Use or Ornament? by Matarasso (1997) but the focus was set on two interconnected categories. Accordingly, the present research tries to prove that the project of Opera Spanga had a positive impact on the personal development, social cohesion and local image of the community of Spanga. In addition, some questions were addressed to reveal the participants’ motivation for joining the Opera Spanga projects, their role time of participation in the production and some indicators of community revitalisation (like the boost of local economy). Subsequently, the thematic analysis method was used in order to examine the opinions and perspectives of the participants within our theoretical framework but also highlight new and unexpected approaches.

According to Atkinson and Hammersley “ethnography usually involves the researcher participating, overtly or covertly, in people’s daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, and/or asking questions through informal and formal interviews, collecting documents and artefacts” (2007, p.3.) Anthropological ethnography has been widely used since the second half 20th century in research of western sociology with the rise of the community study movement.

Cultural studies was also a growing field of investigation at the time and was often overlapping with anthropology and sociology while the methods used were mostly textual and historical reviews. Subsequently the use of ethnographic methods was also


used in this area mostly for audience and cultural consumption studies. Although I am not a part of the Spanga local community, I became a member of the opera production

“After the flood” as a worker and I lived in the village of Spanga for almost 3 months.

Throughout this period I came in contact with the people of Spanga, observed them, listened to their conversation (as far as my understanding of Dutch allowed me to) and asked them a lot of questions regarding their everyday lives. For this reason, ethnographic research is ideal for this study as I also provide evidence based on my personal experience and the notes I kept during this period.

Moreover, the policy plan of Opera Spanga for the years 2021-2024 was analysed in order to reveal the narrative of the organisation with regard to their main objectives, artistic view and social impact. This policy document was also very useful in order to identify the company’s relation to community arts but also reveal any other relevant to the research information. The thematic analysis method was also used in this case and was based on the literature mentioned in the first part of the thesis but also the research questions.

Finally, in the present thesis a combination of ethnographic and qualitative research methods was used and was based on four main data sources: 1) my personal observations and notes from the three-month period I worked as a production assistant in the Opera Spanga project “After the flood”, 2) thematic analysis of the policy plan for the 2021-2024 period produced by the Opera Spanga organisation, 3) thematic analysis of the six open-type questionnaires filled out by volunteers coming from the local community of Spanga.

5. Case study



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The title of this dissertation (‘The Relationship between Gesture, Affect, and Rhythmic Freedom in the Performance of French Tragic Opera from Lully to Rameau’), is indicative of