Irish Audience Studies Network – Symposium Report

01st January 2019 5 Minute Read

The Irish Audience Studies Network aims to gather together studies into Irish audiences across all art forms. We asked QUB's Dr Sam Manning to tell us what occurred at the inaugural meeting.

On 5 December, Maynooth University hosted the inaugural symposium of the Irish Audience Studies Network.

The event’s organisers, Sarah Culhane and Denis Condon, describe the network as:

A multidisciplinary research group that aims to bring together scholars working on historical and contemporary audience research across a range of media… [it] is for anyone who is interested in the dynamics of media exhibition, distribution and consumption in Ireland from the beginning of the twentieth century up to current day. Encompassing diverse theoretical and methodological approaches… the network will address questions related to national, gender sexual, political, and class identities of Irish audiences.

The symposium featured a wide range of participants from across Ireland, who each gave short presentations outlining their current projects and research interests. The diversity of speakers demonstrates the health of audience studies in Ireland and the desire to form connections between them.

The day’s first panel considered historical cinema audiences. Rather than focusing on film texts, the speakers were connected by a desire to investigate the social experience of cinema-going and the cinema as cultural institution.

Denis Condon outlined the challenges of researching early Irish cinema audiences with limited primary source material. In the absence of box-office data and first-hand testimony, he turned to  local newspapers and personal diaries to trace cinema’s emergence in the early twentieth century.

Carol Sullivan then discussed the reception of Italian feature films with Irish language subtitles, using the examples of Rome, Open City and Bicycle Thieves. Discussion then turned to the Cork Movie Memories project, as Gwenda Young and Dan O’Connell shared their experiences of gathering memories of cinema attendance in rural Cork from the 1940s to the present. They later screened their Movie Going Memories documentary, which received a warm reception from participants. Further screenings are planned across Ireland (and further afield) in the near future.

Sarah Culhane then introduced her Irish Cinema Audiences (1950-1960) project, detailing her partnership with Age Action Ireland and promoting the benefits of engaging older audiences to celebrate Ireland’s cultural heritage. It was then my turn take the stage, outlining the history of Queen’s Film Theatre, and the events organised for its fiftieth anniversary.

Though the event’s organisers both research historical cinema audiences, this was a diverse symposium including discussion of a wide range of historical and contemporary media. The second panel included presentations on the reception of cross-cultural film adaptations, the history of radio and television audiences in Ireland, and the use of media by Irish migrants in Britain.

The final panel then assessed audiences in the new media landscape, including several papers on cinema audiences in contemporary Ireland. For instance, Chris Palmer, Strategic Insights Director at Thrive, used the results of a recent survey to assess audiences for mainstream and cultural cinema in Belfast. This complemented presentations by Aileen O’Driscoll, who introduced her project mapping audience engagement with Irish film festivals and Maeve Cooke, who discussed how Access Cinema acts as an intermediary between part-time cinema venues and distributors.

The event successfully launched the network, showing both the diversity of audience research and the cultural impact of Irish media. The range of papers highlighted differences between rural and urban communities in Ireland, and the influence of age, class and gender on media consumption. The chronological range of projects was impressive – the fact that papers considered all periods from the early twentieth century onwards allows us to make connections between past and contemporary audiences.  The presentations also detailed the relationship between producers, distributors and consumers of media, showing how these parties interact with audiences.

Finally, the wide-ranging use of primary sources, such as oral history interviews, surveys and press articles, was impressive, demonstrating the methodological diversity of the network and its means of assessing audience participation levels.

This event is hopefully the first of many that will take place across Ireland. The network is interested to hear both from people engaged in audience studies and those who wish to participate in future events.

The Irish Audience Network can be found on Twitter or Facebook