Creative Arts

Staff research

Arts in the Public Sphere

The Public Sphere research group aims to explore the historical and contemporary relation between the artist-as-producer to a variety of public spheres, to investigate how contemporary social groups understand matters of ‘public interest’, and to assess how the idea of the ‘common good’ is approached and represented in the arts and humanities.

Our research involves investigations into the Arts in the Public Sphere from the eighteenth century through the contemporary period. Group members represent a multiplicity of disciplinary specialisms within the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, embracing history, sociology, literary and cultural theory, drama, sociolinguistics, art and design. Key areas of interest include: the relation between the arts and the public realm; ethics and cultural production, how artists and writers negotiate ideas of the public in order to communicate effectively, the factors underpinning new cultural production, and the role of the University in the public sphere.

The Group would welcome interest not only from potential academic partners and practitioners, but also prospective postgraduates. Contact details: Dr Mary F. Brewer ( or Prof. Nigel Wood (

John Atkin (Fine Art)

John’s creative output is exhibited worldwide, with solo and group exhibitions in Australia, China, USA and Europe, supported by The British Council, Australia Council, Elephant Trust, AHRC, Arts Council, Cass Sculpture Foundation, Rootstein Hopkins Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, as well as independent and institution-based supporters. His research involves several fields of contemporary fine art practice: drawing, installation, film and video, digital collage, public art and urban design.

His work is frequently commissioned by public and private organisations. For example, his 2008 collaboration with The San Francisco Mayor’s Office eventuated in a revitalized public realm for the Fillmore District of San Francisco that explored the locale’s indelible heritage as the home of West Coast Jazz.

John was the UK representative for the EU-China touring exhibition, Dialogue with the Emperor Qin’s Warriors, which has toured nine major museums in China between 2012-2014, and several important destinations within the EU, and he recently curated a landmark exhibition of this unique group show at Loughborough University London - in conjunction with Here East, Stratford Olympic Park. The exhibition has received widespread critical acclaim in news media as well as online journals.

As Principal Investigator for the EPSRC funded Bridging the Gaps project, he is currently exploring novel ways by which interdisciplinary practice can be stimulated across a range of Schools at Loughborough University, increasing the cross-fertilization of ideas and enabling multi-disciplinary research.

Mary Brewer (English and Drama)

My research interests centre on modern and contemporary American and British literature and cultural theory, with particular reference to the representation of social identity (e.g. gender, race, and sexuality, religious, national) in dramatic literature. Current research projects include: “Christopher Fry and the Religious Drama Society: Interconnections between Church and Theatre in Post-War Britain,” which explores how Fry’s religious plays challenge the ‘secularization hypothesis’ concerning post-war British society. The founders of the Religious Drama Society perceived the theatre as having a potentially decisive influence in the public sphere concerning religious identification and observance; using Fry’s plays as case studies, I explore the validity of this claim, as well as what the drama tells us about the limits of British liberalism post-Holocaust given to extend to which Fry’s Christological discourse relies upon anti-Judaic tropes. I am also writing a monograph that assesses more broadly the uses that modern British dramatists have made of the Bible as a source text.

In July 2015, I co-convened an international conference on “Violence in the American Imagination” at Loughborough’s main campus. I am currently on the editorial board of New Theatre Quarterly.

Kathryn Brown (Art History and Visual Studies)

My research interests range from 19th- and 20th-century French painting and literature to word-image relations in artists’ books, modernism, contemporary art, and the art market. My latest book is entitled Matisse’s Poets: Critical Performance in the Artist’s Book (forthcoming Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). It offers a new account of Matisse’s position in the literary cross-currents of twentieth-century France and shows how the livre d’artiste became the privileged means by which Matisse enfolded literature into his own idiom and demonstrated the centrality of his aesthetic to modernist debates about authorship and creativity.

Prior to becoming an art historian I was a corporate lawyer in the City of London. During my fourteen-year career in the City, I led teams of lawyers on large-scale mergers and acquisitions, private equity transactions, and IPOs (initial public offerings). I became a partner in a leading international law firm in 2006. My legal career has provided me with an invaluable background to my recent work on the contemporary art market. It has also informed my teaching and publication in the field of law and popular culture.

I have served on the International Committee of the College Art Association (2010– 2014). I was Chair of the Modern and Contemporary Art section of the Dutch Research School of Art History from 2011–14, and I was a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences Foresight Committee on Art History (2012–13). I am currently on the editorial board of H-France. I am the Series Editor of Contextualizing Art Markets for Bloomsbury Academic.

Antoinette Burchill (Street theatre)

Dr Antoinette Burchill is a visual artist, mischief-maker and interdisciplinary researcher. She holds a BA in Fine Art (University of Derby, 1998), and MA in Art and the Public Sphere (Loughborough University, 2013). Her doctoral thesis Exploring Agonism with Mischief: Participatory Performance in the Public Realm (Loughborough University, 2018) examined Chantal Mouffe’s application of agonism through art practice. She has performed at street arts festivals including Mintfest, Bedlam Fair, Derby Festé, Devizes International Street Festival, and Widcombe Rising. In 2015 she founded Freckled Mischief Street Theatre. Antoinette’s research interests focus on art, participation, politicised practice, and public engagement in the public realm. She teaches Fine Art Studio Practice, and Art History and Visual Culture at Loughborough University alongside her role as AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fellow at the CAMEo Research Institute, University of Leicester.

Rob Harland (Graphic Design)

Robert is involved in a project to assess the role of graphic objects as urban signs, which is positioned at the multidisciplinary interface between design studies, visual culture and urban geography. The focus is on how urban graphic objects contribute to the identity, structure and meaning of cities, undertaken from the perspective of graphic design as urban design.  Viewed through a continuum between type/typographic/graphic/urban designs, this challenges ideas about what graphic design is, why it is relevant, what it can be, and how it is understood as a visual form of knowledge production. Key aspects of this are discussed in my his first book, Graphic Design in Urban Environments (2016).

He has undertaken the role of guest editor for a special issue of Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education on the theme ‘Territories of Graphic Design Education’, due to be published in 2017., and he is an editorial board member for the journals Communication Design, and The Poster.

Line Nyhagen (Social Sciences)

Dr Line Nyhagen is Reader in Sociology. Trained as a sociologist in the USA and as a political scientist in Norway, her research focuses on gender, religion, secularism, citizenship, feminism and women’s movements. Much of her research has a ‘bottom-up’ approach as well as a comparative focus, and she is particularly interested in how ‘ordinary citizens’ approach questions about religious faith, citizenship, gender and feminism. She has written several books, including Religion, Gender and Citizenship: Faithful Women, Gender Equality and Feminism with Beatrice Halsaa (Palgrave Macmillan 2016) and Majority-Minority Relations in Contemporary Women’s Movements: Strategic Sisterhood, also with Beatrice Halsaa (Palgrave Macmillan 2012).

Arianna Maiorani (Linguistics)

Dr. Maiorani’s main research interests are Discourse Analysis and Multimodal Semiotics. This mainly involves interdisciplinary work that focuses on New Media Communication and the application of the Systemic Functional analytical framework to the study of multimodal discourse strategies, i.e. the evolving networks of linguistic public engagement. Between 2012 and 2014, she took part in an international research project on The Languages of Film with the University of Pavia (IT) and the University of Malta. She is currently involved in an interdisciplinary research project that involves the use of her Functional Grammar of Dance.

She has been a member of the ERLA (Equipe de Recherche en Languistique Appliquée, France) since 2007, and a member of the Scientific Committee of the European Systemic Functional Linguistic Conferences since 2010.

Nigel Wood (English)

Nigel is editing a Special Number of Shakespeare (“Shakespeare and the Public Sphere”) – due for publication in September 2018 and also convening a Countertext symposium (“Public Sphere Contexts and Futures”) – November, 2017 and an International Conference on “The Arts in the Public Sphere” for September, 2019 (at Loughborough’s London campus). His present Public Sphere interests include an AHRC “Connected Communities” bid to investigate the potential for Art as Social Practice involving community groups in the Hackney Wick and Tower Hamlets areas of East London, centred on collaboration with the Yard and Stratford East theatres and several multimedia arts groups centred on the Space Studios in the HereEast building. He has written widely on Habermas’s legacy and is working on a study of Public Literature for Routledge. 

Please visit the individual group members’ staff profiles for information about outputs and publications.

John Atkin

Mary F. Brewer

Robert Harland  

Arianna Maiorani

Nigel Wood 

In November 2017, the Public Sphere research group will convene a Countertext symposium, “Public Sphere Contexts and Futures.”

In September 2019, we will host an international conference at Loughborough University, London campus on the theme of “The Arts in the Public Sphere.”