There is a long tradition of hosting festivals and events in urban public spaces, and in recent years the number of events staged in European cities has grown. Cities across Europe are using festivals and events to achieve place marketing and economic development objectives, but also to encourage cultural engagement and social cohesion.

Festivals and events staged in urban public spaces take various forms; there are many free cultural festivals and sport events hosted in street settings, but more commercially oriented events are increasingly staged in plazas and parks too.

Festivals and events are, by definition, time-limited phenomena but they can have enduring effects on the people and places involved. They may affect who uses public spaces and how they are used, both in the short and longer terms.

In the contemporary era, festivals and events offer opportunities for urban public spaces to be reimagined as more welcoming and more diverse spaces encouraging different behaviours and producing the inter-subjectivity that can foster the integration of migrants and other socially excluded people. However, there is also a risk that festivals and events represent merely a superficial ‘quick fix’ to social problems or worse – they might exacerbate social and economic exclusion. In their planning, and in their realisation and legacies, festivals and events include and exclude people and they allow (and restrict) the celebration of certain identities.

They have the power to disrupt the fixed nature of public space and to change the dynamics of spaces. Like the spaces they inhabit, urban festivals and events are contested – with different interests competing to secure their own objectives.

The FESTSPACE project focuses on how festivals and events enable or restrict access to, and use of, public spaces, including the extent to which they might effectively host interactions and exchanges between people from different cultural, ethnic, socio-economic and socio-demographic backgrounds. We are interested in how the design and operation of urban festivals and events might help to dismantle existing divisions. However, we acknowledge that festivals and events have the potential to symbolically, financially and physically exclude marginal populations from conventional public spaces, hence making spaces less public or less diverse.

This provides even more justification for a study that seeks to establish if and how festivals and events affect the inclusivity of urban public spaces. There is the potential for cities to go beyond multi-culturalism towards inter-culturalism by harnessing the “the dialogue and exchange between people of different cultural backgrounds to facilitate the transformation of public space, civic culture and institutions”. Therefore, FESTSPACE will also examine the extent to which diversity is embedded in the conception, organisation and delivery of festivals and events and the wider effects of this involvement.

Project Research Aim:

To explore how festivals and events affect the inclusivity of Europe’s urban public spaces

Project Research Questions:

RQ1 What different types of festive public space exists across Europe and what lessons can we learn about inclusivity from these models?

RQ2: How do festivals and events affect who uses outdoor and indoor urban public spaces and how they interact within them?

RQ3: What are the enduring effects on inclusivity of festivals and events staged in public spaces?

FESTSPACE focuses on Western European cities that are dealing with significant demographic changes caused by in-migration. The project examines the festivals and events staged in three archetypal public spaces – streets, squares, parks – whilst acknowledging the potential implications for indoor public spaces (particularly museums and libraries). To progress beyond the state of the art, FESTSPACE will adopt a series of innovative methodological approaches to study the influence of festivals and events on urban public spaces, including video and auditory ethnographies, go-along interviews, and participatory planning charrettes and salons. These methods are designed to produce an in-depth appraisal of the role of festivals and events in (re) shaping public space, over time. We will make use of existing secondary data, and complement this with primary data collection using research methods that involve proposed beneficiaries at each stage. Though there is a need to accommodate ‘local’ distinctiveness in the implementation of FESTSPACE’s overall methodology, common methods will be employed in each of the five Individual Projects (IP) in Glasgow, London, Dublin, Barcelona and Gothenburg.

FESTSPACE seeks to contribute to a research gap, advance theoretical and methodological approaches, and create impact by working closely with influential academic and non-academic partners from across Europe. Through our academic network and Associate Partners’ reach we will establish a pan-European academic network studying the effects of festivalisation processes; inform European policy by recommending new urban design and cultural policy approaches; and, advise festival organisers and city planners as to how festivals and events can be deployed more effectively to improve social inclusion. We will produce an accessible rapid review of literature, annual academic symposia, open access publications, an open access teaching resource and a Handbook of Methods for Researching Festive Spaces as academic outputs from FESTSPACE.