Working in Non-Traditional Spaces

Working in non-traditional spaces can be exciting and liberating from traditional venue experiences. It can open up new possibilities for creative exploration and reach unexpected audiences. Non-traditional spaces, however, can pose a number of logistical issues. Non-traditional spaces can be any space that is not normally used for cultural purposes, including houses, shop-fronts, natural parks, public spaces and industrial sites. Site-specific work is work that relates directly to a place and environment.

In non-traditional spaces, you will more likely be responsible for providing the technical equipment. You need to consider where your power sources will be, particularly if it is outdoors; you may need to hire a generator. You will need to do a risk assessment to ensure the building or site can withstand various kinds of activity and ensure audiences will not be harmed in the project. You will need to consider the security implications of bringing technical equipment into this non-venue space, particularly if kit must be left on site overnight.

For unusual sites or locations, you may need to coordinate transportation or find public transportation routes to the site. Buses or vans can be hired to move groups of people to and from the site. Be sure to note times and meeting points if travel is pre-arranged.


  • Exciting to work in new spaces and sites
  • Potential to engage and reach new audiences
  • Possibilities to explore new environments for art


  • Dealing with people who are unfamiliar with your work
  • Getting site permissions
  • Sourcing power for electronic equipment
  • Potential on-site risks or hazards

Risk Assessment

For non-traditional spaces, take precautions to ensure that you have taken the necessary steps to protect yourself from blame for any injury of participants in the project. A basic risk assessment involves:

Identifying the hazards

  • Walk around the site and see if there is anything that might pose any danger
  • Ask others if they see any potential danger. This includes uneven ground, building construction, high levels of noise, harmful substances, live electricity, exposure to weather etc.

Thinking about who might be harmed

  • ie, children, elderly people, artists and audiences and how they may be harmed in the project

Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

  • Ask yourself: is it possible to avoid the hazard? If not, how can you take steps to avoid the hazard from happening?

Record your findings and implement them

  • Write down the potential risks and the steps you took and assess whether they were appropriate and reasonable for avoiding possibilities of hazard
  • Ask another person, such as a doctor, for their opinion if in doubt about potential health hazards

Review your assessment and update if necessary

  • For future projects, assess the risks again and prepare for any additional potential hazards

As long as you take the necessary steps to avoid potential hazards, you can instil trust in your funders or the authorities that the safety of the public is not at risk and you have taken responsibility for your project. For off-site projects, consult the local authority about a specific risk assessment procedure for such projects.

Also see: attached Example Event Risk Assessment document and the Home Office's The Good Practice Safety Guide


Artwork insurance may be useful to protect yourself against potential damage of artworks in the shipping process or during the set-up of an exhibition. Public liability insurance may be required for any work that engages the public or community; it can protect you from potential injury or health risks experienced due to your project. It may be helpful to partner up with an organisation with public liability insurance.

It is possible to create a form to be signed by the participants or their parents to ensure that they are aware of the potential harms and dangers and to include a disclaimer stating that participants are responsible for themselves. If in doubt about any health risks, consult a doctor as part of your risk assessment.

For further information on insurance, consult ArtQuest for a list of specialist insurance brokers.

Site Permissions

It may be a challenge to get permission to use certain sites, public spaces, industrial sites and private properties. It is often a matter of getting in touch with the right person. Take the time to find out the best contact person to approach. Opportunities will often arise to use a space through recommendations. At museum sites it is often the press or marketing department that handles site permission enquiries. In other instances, it may be the building management or owner. Getting hold of the right person can make a big difference to how smoothly your project will go.

Noise Issues

When working with live sound in non-traditional space, noise can become an issue, especially if there are residents living in the area and the event is particularly loud in the evening. Take precautions to ensure that the neighbours are aware of your event. If the space has bare walls, placing carpet or a curtain several inches away can help insulate the sound. Noise can also affect the structure of old buildings, so make sure you make appropriate risk assessments for noise and the effect on the infrastructure of the building. Carry out sound tests and notify any neighbours of your event activities. Be prepared to turn down the volume if complaints arise. Generally loud music should be off by 11pm. Venues are more likely to support you again in the future if you are considerate and responsible about noise levels.

Empty Shop Spaces

In view of the recession there are empty shops waiting to be revitalised. If you come across a great space in a prime location in your town, try contacting your local council to gain permission to use the space.

Empty Shops Network is a project facilitated by Artists and Makers which promotes the creative re-use of the nation's empty shops. The project helps to create a DIY Movement and shares resources like the Empty Shops Toolkit to help artists and entrepreneurs to reclaim their high streets and turn private spaces into public places.

Art in Empty Spaces: Arts Council England is also offering empty shop spaces and grants to support a range of cultural projects. Check on their website on how to apply.

Example_EventsRiskAssessment.xls21.5 KB
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