Written evidence submitted by OutdoorArtsUK



UK Parliament Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors


This evidence is submitted by OutdoorArtsUK. OAUK is an Arts Council England-funded membership, networking and strategic organisation that brings together the many diverse parts of the Outdoor Arts sector offering advice, leadership, connection and community. OutdoorArtsUK currently represents over 300 members working in the Outdoor Arts sector, including agents, artists, companies, curators, festivals, funders, producers, local authorities, production companies, programmers and venues.


About Outdoor Arts


In 2019 OutdoorArtsUK listed 592 Outdoor Arts events on our website for that year, including 13 major city-based festivals, 18 melas and 35 carnivals across the UK. Participation ranges from a mass community cast of hundreds, to a cast of just one. Events are not just concentrated in the summer months, with the recent expansion and popularity of winter events, we listed 31 light-art themed events in 2019 and 23 lantern parades and winter carnivals.

Outdoor Arts performances and festivals

take place all over the public realm, from streets and parks, rooftops and rivers, to high streets and marketplaces.

encompass a wide range of artforms including dance, puppetry, comedy, mela, pyrotechnics, visual art, digital art, carnival and circus.

scale up from solo performers to large companies producing, city-sized work, such as Royal de Luxe’s Giants in Liverpool and the Manchester Day Parade; alongside smaller local events, such as Cohesion Plus’s Gravesend Fusion Festival and Creative Barking and Dagenham’s Dagfest.

producers range from community organisations and local authorities, to theatres and arts venues, such as Winchester’s Hat Fair; and to commercial organisations producing greenfield festivals, such as Boomtown and Greenman.

… are seasonal, with the majority of festivals taking place from May to September, with LightNights and pyrotechnic events in the winter.

Outdoor Arts Audiences

Outdoor Arts engage the widest-ranging audiences of all artforms: all ages, socio-economic and cultural groupings, genuinely reflecting local populations; individuals least likely to engage with the arts (Audience Agency evidence).

Audiences attend for social and entertainment reasons, in adult and family groups, and demonstrate a high degree of satisfaction with both the quality of performances and the overall experience.

Evidence shows Outdoor Arts contribute to local pride, encourage community cohesion, fuel cultural tourism and generate significant economic impact:

OutdoorArtsUK reached out to the whole sector to compile this evidence for the DCMS and conducted an extensive survey and received 151 responses.


Because it is not constrained by buildings, Outdoor Arts may well be the first artform able to start up again to help repair communities, public confidence and help get the economy and other art sectors working again. It is worth reiterating that Outdoor Arts

… has unique qualities in bringing communities together.

… can be mobile and perform in local neighbourhoods, high streets and market places, helping bring back confidence and encourage people into town centres.

has skills and experience to help other arts and cultural organisations present work outdoors.

What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector?

Like all of the cultural sector, bluntly, Outdoor Arts has been completely devastated. Most of those working in the sector have lost 90-100% of their income and work and due to the seasonal nature of Outdoor Arts, many now have no potential employment or revenue until next summer.





How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?

Of survey respondents:

SEIS, ACE Emergency and OAUK Benevolent funds were the major lifelines for artists and smaller companies.  Larger organisations, including NPOs, relied more heavily on furloughing staff and secured support from a wider range of sources.

Overall, the DCMS, government and arms-length bodies have provided short term stability:

Like the wider freelance community, there have been many discrepancies:

Outdoor artists and companies reinvest a considerable amount back into their businesses, so ‘profit’ is low compared to turnover, and overheads disregarded

Many have already lost the entire year’s income:

The withdrawal of ACE’s project grants to facilitate the Emergency Package caused uncertainty and the loss of invested money, time and resources in application development. There was a much longer wait for a response from cultural funding bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which was both unsettling and caused further insecurity.

What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?

Most urgent is the loss of the entire season of work and all income for the year:

The potential collapse of funding


A significant contraction, with job losses, closures and bankruptcies:

Public confidenceto gather at live events, exhibitions and festivals…. critical to the sector's survival.”

Making events safe:


Artistic Practice, Social Distancing and Travel

Current restrictions, impact the artistic model of creating, performance forms, structures, and touring:



  1. The sector needs an extension of financial support and a plugging of gaps until the Outdoor Arts sector is operating again - potentially until Summer 2021
  2. A New Deal Scheme recognising the potential for the sector in bringing people out again after the pandemic, helping to restore public confidence”
  1. ACE grants reinstatement to support the experimentation and development for the new environment, to be ready to present work when safety allows.


  1. Funds to “employ artists while there are restrictions rather than relying on grants creativity will suffer long term so it would be good to encourage people to continue with their practice” andstill be here for the 'recovery'”


  1. Dedicated funding for local authorities to support the sector to bring people back to high streets and help to restore public confidence 


  1. An effective and comprehensive approach from the government and local authorities is essential to ensure the public's safety when outside of their homes
  2. Funding for [new] skills/qualifications.  A lot of us will have to change career or industry or the nature of their jobs will change entirely

What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

Key lessons include:

How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

As a sector, we believe Outdoor Arts can help society recover emotionally and physically and, if managed well and sensibly. we can lead the way for other cultural sectors.

There is a multitude of ideas on how the sector might evolve:

Event Structures and Forms

Touring Structures and More Local Events

Reinventing the Artform


Experimentation and Audience Interaction

Outreach / Participation / Education

Providing skills and experience other sectors



Public Support

The Outdoor Arts sector covers all areas and forms of artistic works imaginable.  It is adept at creating and work adapting to the widest range of environments, and uniquely placed to assist with recovery.

Our work brings people together, engages all parts of society, and generates significant economic benefits for local economies; the sector can assist the recovery in the broadest sense.

To recover, evolve and assist, the whole of the cultural sector needs a New Deal style intervention and nationally agreed safety standards and guidelines.

Funding and funders’ support

Support to build new artistic models and financial viability

Enabling artists/promoters to:

National safety standards and guidelines

Infrastructure guidelines


Risk Assessment Support

Testing Guidance and Support

Liabilities and Insurance

Public Confidence - Joint Communications around Safety



A fuller report with more detail from the OutdoorArtsUK Survey will be available on the website in due course.








Survey and report commissioned and developed by OutdoorArtsUK’s Executive Director, Angus MacKechnie, and the evidence has been analysed, rationalised and prepared by Karen Poley, Creative Producer, KP-Projects.