Project: Sheffield DocFest

Sheffield Doc/Fest is an annual international documentary festival held in Sheffield, which attracts 3,000 delegates each year. It was supported by the Digital R&D Fund to turn a public place into a digital arts space, with partners EE and Sheffield Hallam University.

Technology Partner
EE (Everything Everywhere)
Research Partner
Institute of Cultural Capital C3RI at Sheffield Hallam University
Festivals Theatre Gaming Mobile & location
Grant Awarded
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Research Report Insights

Project Name

Sheffield DocFest

What they did

With a desire to engage members of the public and reach out to its online community, Sheffield Doc/Fest and its partners aimed to turn a public place into a digital art space.

They set out to explore the technical and economic challenges of presenting interactive digital works in public and provide clear pathways for arts organisations interested in such opportunities. The research question was:

Can arts organisations use high-speed broadband to turn public places into digital art spaces?

After selecting Tudor Square as the best location for the work, various technical solutions were investigated including 3G, 4G, fixed Wi-Fi, temporary Wi-Fi and pop-up Wi-Fi.

Ultimately the partners used a combination of 4G supplemented with the provision of public Wi-Fi in key locations to create pop-up “game-playing” café/labs in key locations during the event. Alongside the technical aspects, the project considered regulations, ethics, research requirements and health and safety.

Project in action

Blast Theory’s I’d Hide You was selected as the work to be used to test the digital art space.

The combination of live street performance and online game made I’d Hide You the perfect project with which to record the creation of a digital arts space, and was fun, exciting and eye-catching to appeal to the Sheffield public and online audiences.


The digital art space enabled several thousand people across digital and non-digital domains to connect in a single performance, including:

  • 1,875 players online away from the physical space
  • 407 players online in the physical space
  • Approximately 6,000 spectators exposed to the work in the physical space.

Qualitative findings confirm the game/performance had an “addictive” and engaging quality. Players in the physical space enjoyed the chance to explore the city streets, whilst players online were found to be fully immersed, leaning in to engage in the performance, in a similar fashion to playing a game.

However, the work also highlighted issues for interactive technology in public spaces, where people are not expecting cameras and frenetic “game-play”. The partners also noted that not all members of the public have equal access to technology and capacity engage.


Image courtesy Blast Theory

Tips and tricks

The partners have produced a Roadmap for those thinking about digital art spaces, which outlines the key considerations and technical solutions for working in the area.

Other take-aways include:

  • Generating viral sharing – Art works which have social media at their core have potential to attract online audiences at an exponential rate
  • Engaging new audiences – Works staged in public places have strong potential to reach audiences who might not otherwise enter a cultural venue
  • Producing interactive works – There is important potential to grow the number of creators experimenting with the possibilities of digital art spaces
  • Testing and testing again – Allowing time for a range of technical tests, and putting contingencies in place during the live performance
  • Defining roles – Clearly allocating responsibilities among the team so everyone understands their role.



Immersing your audience in technology: an interview with Matt Adams

William Drew

“For a while, I might have called myself a games designer because we were making a lot of games. The word artist does recognise that there’s a continuity through the…


Tools & methods

Roadmap for arts organisations

The project partners developed a roadmap for arts organisations who want to turn public places into digital art spaces, entitled ‘Unlocking Digital Artspace’

Research findings

Effects of using a private network for game participants

Regulatory requirements have an impact on many aspects of the project, some of which are not obvious, which may render the event non-viable. This situation arises due to the use…

Tools & methods

Using a ‘personas’ exercise to understand an audiences needs

The most useful tool in determining how to organise audience when mounting a cross-sectorial project of scale is to jointly identify different audience members, and to profile them carefully, in…

General insights

The implications of upgrading from 3G to 4G

Upgrading the hardware for the pilot project, I’d Hide You, to bonded 4G from 3G raised unforeseen problems for the Blast Theory’s technical team. Issues arose around compatibility between EE…

Research findings

Moving away from Flash to allow for more users

The decision was made to build on an existing public player client interface developed in Adobe Flash. Due to the limited timeframe for the project’s delivery and limitations in the…

Tools & methods

Managing varying network speeds

Given the project’s extensive use of streaming video, network usage had to be considered across the project. This comprised of load testing for web, application and streaming servers, and on…

Research findings

Creating a public network in a private sphere

When making a public space into a digital arts space the main regulatory questions are determined by whether the digital infrastructure – networks, WiFi, Internet access and communications technologies –…

General insights

Creating a digital framework for best results

The details of the specific technical features of the Blast Theory performance have been explored in a number of prior academic papers and a number of key features developed prior…

Decision Points

Finding a common language

The project found a morass of terminology to refer to different elements of the activity from different stakeholder perspectives.  Throughout this project we have as a team contended with issues…

Tools & methods

Finding a live streaming solution for high quality video

The key feature of I’d Hide You is the live streaming of the player/performer viewpoint and the overlay on this of other features and interactions.  This required the use of…