Case Study: How Innovation Lab 2021 diversified cinema audiences and programming

This year's (postponed) Innovation Lab focused on diversifying cinema audiences and programming through partnering venues with independent programmers who represented a wider diversity of experiences, cultures and heritages. Huttson Lo writes about how the event went.


Participants for the Innovation Lab were originally recruited in late 2019 and early 2020, but the Lab was postponed just as the pandemic and national lockdowns started. During the first lockdown, I realised that we could deliver the Lab as an online programme focused on individual and partnership outcomes, rather than the broader cohort-based residential we had originally planned. I reached out to the participants and found that almost all were still interested in taking part. Participants covered every English region, as well as Wales and Scotland.

To get a flavour of the online Lab, I will focus on the partnership between the Riverfront Theatre & Arts Centre in Newport and Cinema Golau, a network for emerging Black filmmakers in Wales. As in all of the partnerships, this was about not only the organisations involved but also the individuals who took part. Representing Riverfront was Danielle Rowlands, their Education and Participation Officer, and Yvonne Connikie is the Director and curator of Cinema Golau. Yvonne already knew Riverfront and was well-networked in Newport. Danielle admitted that she was not a film specialist but I advised her that her work with audiences and participation was much more important in this context.

Over three planned hour long meetings, we discussed the audiences that were important to Riverfront and Cinema Golau, and to Danielle and Yvonne, finding common ground in the need to build and maintain relationships with audiences, as well as the tension in developing new or different audiences while not alienating a core audience. Riverfront, as a multi-arts centre, had a broad audience interested in lots of different things, and cinema was "still an unformulated gift," a cultural offer which was neither mainstream nor independent. Yvonne suggested screening films that everyone will want to see, while at the same time cherry-picking key people from the community as advisors and advocates, in this case a Welsh Caribbean community that has been part of Newport for decades.

Our meetings looked at how Riverfront might participate in the Windrush Caribbean Film Festival in August 2022, which Yvonne is curating, with a series of smaller events leading up to the festival, perhaps monthly screenings curated by Cinema Golau, or other events that worked strategically across Riverfront. During the programme, the first of these was a launch for 2021's Black History Month in Newport, taking over the monthly Live At the Riverfront programme, with live music, performances and a screening of Summer of Soul.

Throughout our meetings, Yvonne and Danielle looked at how their partnership might go beyond simply screening films that represented more diverse narratives, and instead at how to involve and include a wider diversity of people as curators, audiences and participants: ideas including attracting alumni of the former Film School to share their experiences with young audiences and filmmakers in Newport; a training programme for young people as film curators; and developing a 'Cultural Mastermind' group.

Project aims

  • Diversifying audiences and programming with a focus on racial diversity: venues and independent programmers selected from applicants across all four Nations

  • Bespoke development programme for organisations and individuals: three remote, hourlong partnership meetings with email and phone support between meetings

  • Developing partnerships between venues and independent programmers: discussions on audience development, programming diverse narratives and personal approaches to this work


  • Providing safe spaces to discuss race and racial diversity: in a year of pandemic, lockdowns and Black Lives Matter, the Lab was an opportunity to address audience confidence in general and how screen exhibitors might respond to issues of race and racial diversity. For some White participants, the programme offered them a place to ask questions, to build their confidence and to start conversations within their organisations on race, racial diversity and equality. For participants who represented a diversity of lived experience, the programme was a blue sky opportunity, to look at what worked and to plan for the future.

Key partnerships

Africa In Motion, Amandeep Dhillon, ARC - Stockton Arts Centre, Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Black Country Touring, Brighton Community Cinematheque, Caribbean Pop Up Cinema, CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Cinema Golau, Dardishi, Day For Night, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Exeter Phoenix, Fabian’s Film, Glasgow Film Theatre, Other Cinemas, Rio Cinema, Riverfront Theatre & Arts Centre


The Innovation Lab aimed to develop partnerships between screen exhibition venues and independent programmers in order to diversify audiences and programming, particularly with a focus on racial diversity (and some partnerships discussed other diverse narratives and audiences). Potential plans included audience development that targeted underserved and under-represented communities; expertise in programming films with diverse narratives; and the involvement and inclusion of people from underserved and under-represented communities as curators, advisors and advocates.

What professionals, press and partners said

  • "We are about being informative with film, making 'small and mighty gestures'."

  • "We found common ground to build on, and it was good to get a sense of [venue partner]."

  • "Our partnership is special because we've been able to sit down and have these conversations, to get an understanding on how to support our partner."

  • "Evaluation needs its own space and to not be reactionary."

  • "This has been a consistent space to depressurise."

  • "It was really nice to make the contact, as we were not successful before in developing relationships."