What is the Campaign about?

Welsh language information

The Family Arts Campaign is a national Sector Support Organisation funded by Arts Council England and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to raise family engagement with arts and culture.

Since our beginnings in 2012, we have focused on three main areas of work:

  • Increasing the amount and range of artistic work available to families
  • Increasing the quality of experience for families
  • Improving marketing to reach more families

We are here to support National Portfolio Organisations, museums, libraries, community groups, individuals, and anyone else looking to better connect families with arts and culture.

You can take part by signing up to the free Family Arts Standards and Age-Friendly Standards quality-marks, by attending training and events, or accessing our online resources library. You can also promote all of your family and age-friendly events for free as part of our Fantastic for Families  campaign.


Who is running the Campaign?

We are a cross-sector and cross-artform initiative steered by a consortium of ten organisations and trade bodies. Our lead partner organisation is The Albany.

Logos of consortium partners: AMA, CVAN, ITS, One Dance UK, Society of London Theatre, UK Theatre, The Albany, Kids in Museums, ABO, The Audience Agency


The campaign is overseen by a Project Board:

Matthew Swann(Interim chair) Chief Executive, City of London Sinfonia
Sebastian CaterHead of UK Theatre and Workforce Development, UK Theatre
Charlotte JonesChief Executive, Independent Theatre Council
Cath HumeExecutive Director, Arts Marketing Association
Robert O’DowdChief Executive, Rose Theatre Kingston
Gavin BarlowChief Executive/Artistic Director, The Albany
Mark PembertonDirector, Association of British Orchestras
Anne TorreggianiExecutive Director, The Audience Agency
Karla Barnacle-Best CEO, Discover Children’s Story Centre
Alison Bowyer and Laura BedfordExecutive Director and Head of Programmes, Kids in Museums
Paula OrrellDirector, Contemporary Visual Arts Network
Frederick HopkinsHead of Business Development and Membership, One Dance UK
Sarah Mears and Liz McMillanProgramme Manager, Libraries Connected / Libraries and Culture Services Manager, Slough Borough Council 


Central co-ordination team:

Anna DeverHead of Campaign
Rukhsana JahangirCampaign Manager
Sophie EvansDigital Marketing Manager
Daniela GerstmannDigital Marketing Officer

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StrongWomen Science: Using Circus to increase science ambition in new audiences in unusual places

Fantastic for Families Award 2020 Case Studies

We’re pleased to bring you a series of Case Studies from this year’s Shortlisted Organisations for the Fantastic for Families Awards.

Circus250 was one of the winners of the 2020 Best Family Event Award, for their StrongWomen Science series. Here we find out how they are bringing live performance to communities using the accessibility of circus.

Female juggler wearing red Strong Women Science jumpsuit, in front of crowd of families and an aeroplane

Circus250 is a production company that creates and tours ‘circus with purpose’, using astounding live performance to raise issues, challenge and increase audiences, and bring joy.

In late 2018, we were looking at figures for women in engineering. Ten years earlier, 11 per cent of women were engineers. A decade later, and with millions spent on broadening access to STEM initiatives, the figure for women in engineering was … 11 per cent. As a production company, we like a challenge. We use circus to invoke change. So we thought, if everything else has failed, why not try circus to tackle the persistent under representation of women in science, from early education through to careers.

So together with two scientists turned circus performers – Aoife Raleigh (an engineer) and Maria Corcoran (an environmental scientist) we devised StrongWomen Science, a circus science show and accompanying workshops for families.

Next we sought out places that wouldn’t usually have live performance, in particular museums. Our aim was to make science seem attractive and enticing and families with low science capital, and in particular girls. But soon it became clear that StrongWomen Science was also a powerful way to draw more non-visiting families to museums.

Our approach was ‘science by stealth’, to attract families that wouldn’t sign up to see a science show. Nowhere do we say girls should be interested in or pursue careers in science. Everything is by example and implication, not preaching. So we’re particularly pleased to get girls in the workshops saying they didn’t realise science could be such fun, and comments such as this from a parent, ‘If ever there was role models I would like my own daughter to have – the two StrongWomen would be it!’

Another benefit was StrongWomen Science attracted more girls to museums that usually relied on boy appeal. The RAF Museum wrote, ‘StrongWomen Science captivated our family audiences and was impressive for being equally strong on circus skills and science. 76% of our questionnaire came to the Museum specifically to see the show. I think this gives real potential to attract more families with girls to us.’

We are always marketed as circus, because circus is the most accessible of art forms. No one is worried that they ‘don’t understand’ what’s going on. Everyone can do a little bit of it. It is far less scary than museum visiting, theatre going, or opera watching. We wanted to use the marvellous accessibility of circus to draw more families in.

What else did we learn? That authenticity is very important. In our first performances, the performers didn’t introduce themselves as scientists. Now we do that at the very start, to establish that we’re speaking from first-hand experience and friendly expertise.

Proper paperwork is essential. StrongWomen was often the first live performance, and definitely the first live circus science show, in most venues we worked with. Comprehensive risk assessments and method statements reduced anxiety and helped everyone to understand what was possible, and what wasn’t. This has become even more acute with Covid-19.

We’ve subsequently spoken at museum and other conferences on how circus can be used in museums, not only for science but also, for example, reinterpretation of a collection to make it more accessible and meaningful to all. We’ve done this with fine art (the portrait of Belzoni at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) to geology (the Lapworth Museum, Birmingham).

Earlier this year, we took StrongWomen Science to Abu Dhabi where we delivered the performances and workshops bilingually in English and Arabic. We hope to be able to offer other languages soon. Circus is particularly suitable to this, using so few words.

What counts as success for us? As a provider to a venue, it’s sometimes difficult for us to conduct surveys and keep numbers. So we’ve gathered impact stories from audience and workshop participants, often on our phones. These stories inform and guide our future work.

We’re all about new audiences and fresh ideas, so it’s wonderful for our work to be shortlisted in recognition of this. We hope it encourages more venues, festivals and organisations to use live performance, and in particular circus, to attract new family audiences.

As for Covid-19 … well … it meant we went – overnight – from being fully booked to nothing in the diary. It was, as for all live performance companies, devastating. However, there are still things we can do in the short term, and we can plan for the long term when we hope it’s not ‘back to normal’ but ‘back to better’.

Our new show Breathe – Circus to make you gasp – is in development, funded by the British Ecological Society. The show explores breathing, from exhaustion to recovery, both for ourselves and the Earth. It asks how we can breathe safely together again.

We have also developed socially-distanced circus – Shopfront Circus – performances in empty shop windows. In the long tradition of circus, we bring performance to communities, we don’t ask them to find us. But we also want to use circus as a regeneration tool for small towns, bringing footfall back to high streets. We want to be easy to reach for all families.


Dea Birkett is ringmaster and director of Circus250

Circus250 a not-for-profit production company creating and touring family ‘circus with purpose’ that makes you gasp. We work with audiences and spaces, including museums, that haven’t experienced live performance before. Our aim is to use circus to challenge assumptions, tell new stories and bring joy. www.circus250.org

Find more Case Studies from the Fantastic For Families Awards Shortlist >

Add your event listings to the Fantastic for Families website >

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