Has the pandemic changed the way the arts industry presents its work? Maxine Gordon asks if "outdoors" is the new "indoors" in the new normal

The Covid pandemic has made the notion of being outdoors - whatever the weather - a lot more appealing to the public.

After all, under Covid restrictions, so much of our social interactions and entertainment had to take place outdoors.

But as restrictions ease and the pandemic recedes will we about-turn and head back inside to indoor theatres, cinemas and galleries?

Or has the pandemic changed our cultural life permanently and, with it, how we access the arts?

Here are three views from the artistic frontline across North Yorkshire.

Tom Bird, chief executive of York Theatre Royal

The past year has been a year of frustration - but also innovation - at York Theatre Royal which has been determined to reach audiences, one way or another.

"As soon as outdoor events were allowed last summer, we built a pop-up theatre on our patio on St Leonard’s Place. It was a wonderful and unforgettable summer of comedy, music, puppetry and more," says Tom.

York Press: York Theatre RoyalYork Theatre Royal

"Then after we took the Travelling Pantomime around York at Christmas 2020 so successfully, we decided we wanted to move around the city again this summer, to reach different parts of the community." This summer, the theatre adapted a new version of Around the World in 80 Days and performed it in outdoor spaces in Acomb, New Earswick, Copmanthorpe and Hull Road, as well as at the theatre, throughout August.

Tom says it is too early to know what the long-term effects of the pandemic will be on the arts.

"I imagine there’ll be some fabulous art that comes out of it that makes us understand our experience better.

"For theatres it’s been a horrendously difficult time, but it’s also made us flex our creative muscles even more than we normally would. I don’t think we’d ever have done a Travelling Pantomime if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, and that project entertained people right across York during the darkest moment, as well as receiving national and international attention in the press.

"This has become a bit of a cliché since the pandemic, but it has really made us stop and think carefully about what we do and why we do it."

However, he is confident people will come back to live shows - indoor and outdoors - after months of watching box sets on sofas.

"We offer something that the box set never can – the real, communal, in-person experience. So we’re delighted that audiences are returning to YTR in their droves since we re-opened on May 17. We’re seeing so much interest in the Love Season and we’re loving that!

"Also, our lovely café is now back open and we hope people will come back in for a cup of tea."


Alexander Flanagan-Wright, North Yorkshire-based writer, director and founder of Flanagan Collective theatre company

Alex has been a theatre director for 13 years and during lockdown built an outdoor performance space at The Mill at Stillington, alongside a pop-up cafe and supper club.

Alex has form in creating interesting places for artists to perform and for audiences to enjoy experiences. A highlight was his immersive version of The Great Gatsby.

York Press: Outdoor performance at The MillOutdoor performance at The Mill

In the pandemic, he has focussed his creative energies on The Mill.

"We have built an outdoor, flexible, performance space with a programme that is running through until the end of September."

Is he nervous about restrictions re-appearing and scuppering best-laid plans?

"No - public health must come first. Whatever the announcement, we ask ourselves, what can we do that is exciting and within the rules?

"We are very keen to do a dance party - no one has danced for a very long time. But even if people still have to sit in their houses we will send them instructions on how to have a dance party in the living room.

"Our jobs as artists is to find routes through."

Alex hope and believes the momentum of outdoor performance is not going to stop once we are through the pandemic.

"The world looks too different now. I think the best route is found forwards.

"A lot of artists are re-imagining work and thinking about going outdoors. We are all excited about meeting audiences again."

In some ways, the decision to take entertainment and art outdoors is a simple one. "Outdoors is where people are allowed to be!"

He cites the example of Home in Manchester which has established an outdoor venue catering for 500 people. He says it takes ingenuity to answer the question: "Where can we do something, where can we be confident?".

He hopes this shift is permanent. "I hope the way we think about events and audiences and locations change - about people's access and capacity to attend. And that all the things we have learnt this year and a half breeds useful practices going forward."


Jeff Clark, director of Art of Protest Projects that champions street art

As we came out of the third lockdown this spring, people in York were greeted by the sight of colourful life-size posters of various local lockdown heroes across the city.

This Guardians of York project was from the stable of Jeff Clark, who pioneers public art.

His organisation also created the new benches in York's Parliament Street, complete with posters reflecting scenes of the city.

York Press: Jeff Clark of Art of Protest ProjectsJeff Clark of Art of Protest Projects

Crucially, these lockdown projects have been in conjunction with York BID - York Business Improvement District, which brings businesses together to invest in services, special projects and events.

The fact that civic authorities and local artists can work together in this way bodes well for the future, believes Jeff - who has ambitious plans for York's outdoor spaces.

"Covid is a stepping stone to moving art more outdoors," insists York-born Jeff.

He is already planning several future projects which are likely to include more murals in the city as well as sculptures, street furniture and a colourful carnival procession of floats featuring art made in each ward of York.

He says it's about being inclusive and challenging the elitism of some artistic settings.

"We are creating engagement. We make people stop - or sit - and think, which makes them part of the art."