No space? No problem!

Even as pandemic restrictions ease, people feel much less apprehensive returning to culture if it’s outdoors rather than inside. 

Of the many recent studies on pandemic audiences – by us and others – this has been a universally consistent theme in the findings.

This is good news for clients with mainly outdoor offers such as zoos, heritage attractions with gardens.

But what about the many cultural organizations with no outdoor space? Well, they’ve had to innovate. Here are two very different approaches from two of our clients:

National Theatre of Scotland: Ghosts

National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) is a Theatre Without Walls. Creating performances in unusual locations (such as empty offices, swimming pools, a Ukranian Culture Club) is nothing new to them. 

Their most recent production is Ghosts: a relevant narrative, exploring the idea of ‘Scotland’s collective amnesia of slavery and racialised wealth, of empire and identity’.

Audiences download an app to their own device and follow the narrative on a tour around Glasgow city centre.

‘Surrounded by AR visuals, haunting voices and music, Ghosts takes listeners on a physical and emotional journey,’ letting them engage safely and independently. 

The £5 charge for the app allows income generation at an accessible price.

This project was first commissioned in 2019 and it felt even more relevant and urgent in 2021. Audiences have fed back about how this impassioned AR experience through the streets of Glasgow, with the voice of an enslaved fugitive whispering in their ears, radically changed their perception of the streets they thought they knew so well.

Charlotte Gross, NTS Director of Audiences and Media

We absolutely love this approach. 

Ghosts is a hybrid of a socially-distanced digital experience that is also physical.

It’s immersive, active and completely new in a time when every day has been feeling the same.

This approach perfectly fulfils another audience need identified in our recent research: while there’s a continued appetite for digital experiences, ‘Zoom burnout’ means they’d rather not have to stare at another screen.  

Anacostia Community Museum: Food for the People

As a small space rooted in their community, the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) in Washington, DC hasn’t yet felt safe to reopen in the way that some larger institutions in the area have been able to.

But that hasn’t stopped ACM’s greater mission to serve their community and encourage change.

Take their online content, which is evidently designed to consider ‘what do people really need right now?’ 

In addition to a digital exhibition, they’ve offered content that might not be considered typical of a museum such as gardening talks, personal finance workshops, stress relief, learning about coupons.

The concept for the exhibition Food for the People: Eating and Activism in Greater Washington had been in the works since 2017, but the topic of food justice became even more timely in the context of a global pandemic.  

There was no way we could wait until we could safely reopen the Museum doors when the pandemic has further highlighted and exacerbated food injustice right now. It would be missing a huge opportunity to explore an urgent, critical topic.

Melanie Adams, ACM Director

So ACM pivoted.

They used their grounds in front of the Museum to bring the exhibition outside.

The installations invite visitors to confront the reality that ‘across our nation and region, we have both an overabundance of food and a staggering number of people who struggle to find their next meal’ and consider questions like where our food comes from and what impact it has collectively. 

The exhibition includes a partnership with a local food non-profit, and a local restaurant donating free meals for people to take as needed. 

The decision to bring the indoor exhibition outdoors was smart.

Despite the museum’s closure, ACM can deliver the outcomes vital to its mission – and reach people in the community who pass the site but would normally not take the extra step of crossing the threshold.

Engaging audiences outside your usual space

We’re inspired by how cultural organisations are engaging with audiences outdoors, even when it isn’t part of their usual offer. If you’re considering it, here are a few things worth thinking about:

1. Audiences are seeking the benefits of experience you can offer, not the place in which you deliver it.

2. Focusing on your vision and cause brings clarity to what outdoor formats will best suit you and your audience.

3. Digital/physical hybrids can transform public spaces into personal theatres and exhibitions without inducing screen fatigue.

4. Materials such as maps or apps can be monetised to bring in revenue.

5. Being outside your physical space is an opportunity to engage with new audiences who wouldn’t otherwise visit.  

National Theatre Scotland
Anacostia Community Museum