Producing Performance, Producing Atmosphere: Looking Beyond Development in the Production of Art and Performance in East Africa

Poppy Spowage

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This practice-based research took place in East Africa, which has a vibrant, diverse and dynamic contemporary cultural scene. However, with limited government support and commercial opportunities, artists and organisations remain reliant on international donors, who maintain a strong focus on addressing economic and human-centred development goals. In response, this research project explores the affective, collective and material qualities of art and performance. This is done through an examination of the author’s work as a producer with Nyege Nyege International Music Festival in Uganda (2016 - 2018) and East African Soul Train (2016 – 2020), a creative adventure and pop-up residency for artists centred around a journey on the region’s historic railway. This research addresses the role of the producer, recognising that this practice has been overlooked in the academy. It also considers how the producer works across – and integrates – the social, aesthetic and material worlds of a project. Taking production as a starting point, this thesis then investigates how atmosphere, uncertainty and empathy can be experienced in the moment of performance and open up new possibilities for artists and audiences. The central argument is that affect is crucial in art and performance, and atmosphere offers a way of recognising its relational, contingent and contagious qualities. The proposition is that although atmospheres are inherently uncertain, they are also generative, future-orientated and can open up new possibilities. This thesis argues that atmospheres have a change-making potential, which offers a way of conceptualising creative practice beyond instrumental paradigms. Finally, drawing on the methodologies of the producer, this research explores one way of bringing artists, thinkers and their patrons together to reimagine ways of making and supporting contemporary East African art and performance.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Nicholson, Helen, Supervisor
  • Willis, Katie, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jul 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • East Africa
  • Contemporary Art
  • Performance
  • Development
  • Atmosphere
  • Affect
  • Uncertainty
  • Festivals
  • Producing
  • Producer
  • Change-making
  • Applied Performance
  • Nyege Nyege
  • East African Soul Train

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