Artichoke: The role of mass gatherings in reclaiming public spaces

This research project, led by Dr Jacek Ludwig Scarso, focuses on the work of Artichoke, the UK's leading producer of public art mega-events, in championing ephemeral projects as ways to celebrate and challenge the public sphere. How may Artichoke be used as a case study to envision new strategies for cultural mass gatherings in a post-COVID-19 future? The project investigates the following three key emphases:

  1. The value of mass cultural gatherings.
  2. The impact of COVID-19 upon these.
  3. Future strategies for outdoor art post-pandemic.

The current research and development phase will lead to a larger scale research bid, with which we will develop a comprehensive and interactive digital platform. This will draw on Artichoke’s methodologies to function both as a digital archive of Artichoke’s work and as a blueprint for other organisations for envisioning new strategies for dealing with the impact of Covid-19. As the UK moves towards recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, this study will examine whether outdoor art can support individual and collective resilience, including whether mass cultural gatherings could help reconnect people to their communities and rebuild the sense of safety and belonging in public spaces, as well as how these events can be delivered safely. This knowledge is needed to inform long-term future Arts Council and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) investment policy and strategy as they transition from the context of emergency response. As a leader in their field, Artichoke’s work has historically influenced institutional approval and public appetite for mass cultural gatherings. Their first event, The Sultan's Elephant (2006), altered Arts Council and DCMS policy and arguably set a precedent that facilitated future mass cultural gatherings. Archiving Artichoke’s work will offer lessons for other arts organisations at this pivotal time for the sector eg how to work with non-specialist partners and audiences, how to work on a large scale and how to claim national significance for their work to enable its insertion in the public sphere.


Image: The Sultan's Elephant, Royal de Luxe, 2006. Produced by Artichoke in London. Photo by Matthew Andrews.

Actors performing on a big elephant structure in london

Project details

Research team 
Dr Jacek Ludwig Scarso, PI
Dr Kirsten Thompson, RA
Helen Marriage, Director of Artichoke
Emily Turner, Trust and Foundations Manager at Artichoke

Project partner 

Research group

Project duration 
Research and Development phase: March – June 2021

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