UK Outdoor Arts: An Exploratory Study into the Contemporary Practices of Performance in Public Space


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Focusing on the period since 2007, this thesis aims to deepen understandings of how the contemporary professional UK outdoor arts sector operates, how audiences engage with outdoor arts and how they might contribute to the construction of public space. The research examines UK outdoor arts from two viewpoints: firstly, using [auto]ethnography to study the people who create and produce it; and secondly, adapting Lefebvre’s concept of rhythmanalysis to consider live outdoor arts events, how they are organised, experienced and perceived. The events studied all occurred in the summer of 2018 and the main analysis centres around three case studies which occurred in Greenwich (London), Luton and Doncaster.

In order to study ephemeral, outdoor arts events I developed a new, efficient and replicable methodology, which responds to their unique features and can evaluate their ability to intervene in everyday life and produce festivalized space. This uses multiple time-lapse cameras and an embedded, expert researcher to make detailed observations of the triad of core categories identified: space/time, performance and audience. This approach generated both quantitative and qualitative datasets: on the one hand delivering, for the first time, accurate numbers for audience engagements and empirical evidence of audience flows, stay-lengths and proxemics; and on the other hand, documenting atmospheres, connections and identity shifts.

The thesis contributes to knowledge about the inspirations, motivations and priorities of those who create and produce outdoor arts today and their relationships to public space. It develops theory around the tendency for outdoor arts events to become more homogenous and increasingly codified in recent years, questioning the validity of the strategies and structures driving this process. It identifies and analyses a range of behaviours and techniques exclusively used by organisers, artists and audiences of outdoor arts and in doing so makes a case for scholars, policy makers, and practitioners to consider them as a discrete artform.
Date of Award4 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorHELEN NEWALL (Director of Studies) & VICTOR MERRIMAN (Supervisor)


  • Outdoor Arts
  • Time-Lapse
  • Street Theatre
  • Performance
  • Audience Research
  • Crowd
  • Rhythmanalysis
  • Lefebvre
  • Ethnography
  • Autoethnography
  • Everyday Life
  • Fete
  • Festival
  • Production of Space
  • Public Space
  • Festivalization

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