By Josephine Burns, chair, Without Walls

A visionary teacher once taught me about ‘critical studies’. The way we understand art and culture is complex, but always about debate and meaning. Much of our AAA world lives outside the academy, living on the edge of what is judged to be ‘art/culture’. Not in the spirit of grumpiness, but more of enquiry, let’s have a look at this.

In part, it’s provoked by the termination of longstanding theatre critic Lyn Gardner’s contract with The Guardian where she was one of the few to review outdoor arts.

Does work that happens at (mostly) free outdoor festivals mean it’s of less ‘value’? We could point to the massive audiences who see shows regardless of whether it had a five-star review because it is in a place they know as home.

Data shows that outdoor arts attracts an audience which represents the population, showing its capacity to reach people other art forms rarely reach. Our experience with Without Walls is that mainstream reviews mostly focus on the overall event, or on large-scale work. But what about all those other artists?

Of course, there’s social media, but reflection and critical acknowledgement is vital to valuing the artists whose work is in danger of not being taken seriously. Do we care? I think we should – must.