About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Opening up arts listings

We think that it’s time for arts and cultural listings to be made available as open data.

At present, if you want to put together arts and cultural listings services, you need to set aside a lot of time. You’ll need to get in touch with each of the venues that you want listings from - find the right person to talk to, tell them what you need, hope that they can send it over in a format you can use - and repeat that across whichever place, genre or theme that you’re representing to your audience. It’s a business killer.

As a venue or arts organisation, imagine this scenario repeating for all the listings services that want your data - every month a large group of people get in touch demanding slightly different things, in slightly different formats - it’s time-consuming. Do you make sure you send them exactly what they need (which takes even more time) or standardise your output (which they might not be able to use or choose not to)?

I used to be part of a team that programmed around 400 performances a year on just one of our stages - I know how cumbersome this process can be in a large organisation - I can only imagine what it must be like in smaller venues.

A close up image of someone holding a phone with an app open on the screen with a question about a work as part of Artes Mundi exhibition.

User testing for digital methods of audience feedback at Artes Mundi 2016

We think that there’s a way to reduce the impact of the listings process and make it easier for broader, more diverse audience groups to find the things they’re interested in.

We need to start making this data open.


Finding a way to make this data available in a standardised, machine-readable and free to use format should mean that it’s cheaper and quicker for arts organisations to make this data available - they produce it once and put it in one place.

It should make it quicker and easier for listings services to gather and process - they only need to go to one place to access all the data they need.

A photo of a group of people taking part in a movement workshop in a dance studio.

Open data should allow smaller or niche organisations to emerge by enabling them to provide listings to potential audiences more easily.

It should allow new (and importantly) smaller or niche organisations to emerge by enabling them to provide listings to potential audiences more easily, freeing up time to focus on other more important aspects of what might be their work (like generating high-quality content or editorial).

So we’re going to do some work on this.


At the moment I’m making lots of assumptions - that people agree that listings need fixing and are willing to prioritise this; that there are communities of people willing and able to do something with the data; and that it’s even technically and financially possible to make this happen. We need to test these.

To that end, we’re working with Satori Lab, to do some research and engagement work that will bring key players together to tell us what’s currently going on, whether or not there’s a problem and how they might like to see it fixed.

If you work with listings data, we’d love to hear about how your experience might be improved - what would make life easier? How could data delivered in new ways be used more creatively? Please get in touch so we can add your voice to the research.

Please get in touch


Rob Ashelford

Rob Ashelford

Rob Ashelford

Pennaeth Nesta Cymru / Head of Nesta Cymru

Rob is Head of Nesta Cymru - responsible for the delivery of Nesta's strategy in Wales.

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