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Understanding the liminality of individual giving to the arts

Stephanie E. Pitts (Department of Music, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Marta Herrero (School of Management, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Sarah M. Price (Department of Music, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

Arts and the Market

ISSN: 2056-4945

Article publication date: 2 March 2020

Issue publication date: 19 March 2020



The purpose of this paper is to explore the experiences of donors to a UK-based contemporary music organisation fundraising scheme through the theoretical lens of liminality.


In-depth interviews with 16 members of the Sound Investment scheme investigated the motivations and experiences of individual donors to the commissioning of new music. Thematic analysis suggested parallels with the framework of “liminality,” which shed new light on the ways in which membership changed donors' relationships with the organisation and audience.


Motivations for supporting contemporary music commissioning included personal interest, cultural responsibility and alignment to the values of the organisation. Tangible benefits, particularly access to rehearsals, brought donors into closer connection with the creative and managerial working of the organisation.

Research limitations/implications

The sample did not include any lapsed donors, or people who had chosen not to participate. Future research could test the liminal framework in different artforms and through different tangible benefits.

Practical implications

Understanding donors as liminals could help arts organisations to develop membership schemes that more effectively sustain individual giving. Key elements of involvement and access are identified that could engage audiences more widely.


This case study foregrounds lived experience of arts donors where previous literature has primarily focussed on motivations for donating. It highlights the liminal elements of becoming an individual donor, namely, the integration and socialisation processes, the space-and time-bound interactions with the organisation and the alignment of values with the organisation. This framework offers a new way for arts organisations to understand and enhance individual giving in a time of austerity.



The authors would like to thank all our collaborators and participants in the research, particularly the staff at Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, former Marketing Manager Tim Rushby and current Executive Director Seb Huckle, whose ideas and support launched the project with contemporary arts audiences and have been central to its ongoing development. The author gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Dr Jonathan Gross, research associate on the pilot phase of the Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts project and the support of Dr Elizabeth Dobson with interview transcription and project administration. Pilot stage funding of the project through the University of Sheffield Impact, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange fund has been followed by an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant (AH/P00590X/1), through which this project has continued into a 30 month, national research project: see


Pitts, S.E., Herrero, M. and Price, S.M. (2020), "Understanding the liminality of individual giving to the arts", Arts and the Market, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 18-33.



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