While research shows that tentative audiences are far more comfortable returning to arts outdoors, organising events that can flex around an ever-changing roster of restrictions has been no mean feat.

Despite public uncertainty about safety and changed habits, producers have been coming up with ingenious solutions to the challenges of organising outdoor arts and festivals – from creative social distancing to presenting in new places and spaces and developing digital-physical hybrids. There’s much to learn from these practices and the research is clearly telling us that if ever there was a time to do it, it’s now.

The most accessible of all artforms

These innovations are more important than ever because the challenge to include the whole community is getting tougher. Our Covid-19 Cultural Participation Monitor shows the pandemic has driven greater inequality in arts engagement across the population. The already normally lower culturally engaged are less motivated or able than ever, and that we need to work hard to encourage them if we’re going to prevent that gap from widening further still.

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The good news, however – as we see above – is that ALL groups are happier about attending events outdoors. Given that our previous research consistently demonstrated that Outdoor Arts attract a wider cross-section of the public than many other parts of the cultural sector, the importance of opening up new channels and approaches in order to tackle the pandemic-induced widening cultural inequalities is clear.

Bringing communities together

Not only has COVID-19 led us outside because it is safer there, but it has also made us even more appreciative of the environments and communities around us – especially the hyper-local. Outdoor festivals have always been at the forefront of opening up cultural experiences for all. Now, more than ever, it seems as though other organisations need to follow where they lead. There is much to learn from innovators in the Outdoor Arts community that will be relevant, not just immediately post-pandemic, but much further into the future as well.

This autumn, the job continues to bring little moments of joy to a beleaguered and tentative public by programming in different ways. In places lucky enough to have a festival, you might sensibly anticipate a more personal, fleeting and unexpected experience this year. There will be short pop-up performances in shop windows, interactive mobile experiences, installations in the city centre, walkabout work, and more.

Some will be digitised for wider reach and to engage those who can’t get out. QR codes will lead to interactive maps, up to date information and audio-description. TikTok will drive and engage motivation in entirely new ways, and internationally recognised artists and residents will showcase their creativity at a local level. All pulled together by a triumvirate of artists, local authorities and event producers.