PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


“It’s all so very normal”
Visitors’ experiences of engaging with science at an arts festival

Ann Grand  

Even in a digital age, the physical venues used for public engagement with science are many and various. One increasingly common route for public engagement is the inclusion of science-based activities in cultural festivals of arts, music, comedy and theatre. Festivals have become a ubiquitous component of the summer scene, ranging in size from small, local events that attract audiences in the hundreds to sprawling, city-wide international events that attract hundreds of thousands. While festivals are certainly celebrations of a common culture, there are also places where people meet, interact and exchange ideas and thus where new thinking can emerge. Festivals are locations for 'serious leisure' as well as dabbling and serendipity. The inclusion of science in arts festivals poses interesting questions for organisers: should they posit science as an alien visitor, with its attendant science-y tropes of white coats, explosions and fizzing glassware, or as a natural cog in the cultural mill; something that is "so very normal"? In 2014 and 2015 the Latitude Festival, a three-day festival of music, literature, poetry, theatre and comedy, held in the summer in parkland in the east of England, included a strand of science-themed events, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust. This paper presents the findings of the evaluations (conducted by the authors) of the science strand, focussing on audiences' engagement with the events and the presenters' motivations for participating, the challenges they faced and the value of including science in an arts festival, such as Latitude.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.