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A new type of
A new type of “Third Place”? “Third Place”?
Alix Slater
Alix Slater Consultancy & Training Ltd, London, UK, and
Hee Jung Koo
London College of Communication, 99
University of the Arts London, London, UK

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the notion of “Third Place” in an arts context by
exploring the consumption of two arts venues, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre (SBC) on the
regenerated South Bank in London, UK.
Design/methodology/approach – An interpretative phenomenological approach was taken
drawing on 45 qualitative interviews that were conducted in and around Tate Modern and the SBC
during Autumn 2009.
Findings – Four audience groups were identified segmented by their motivations, experiences and
feelings about the two buildings. The first group “Place to see” visit Tate Modern and the SBC to
attend exhibitions and performances. The second meet friends and spend time in the cafes and bars
using them as a “Place to hang-out and meet”. The third group use the buildings as a “Place to drop-in”
on their way to somewhere else. The fourth group use the SBC as a “Third Place”, to study, for
meetings, to read, escape and rejuvenate.
Research limitations/implications – This was an exploratory paper. Further research is required
to test the findings in other art museums, arts venues, libraries, parks and other public and private
spaces within communities.
Originality/value – The paper fills a gap by drawing on the “Third Place” literature to explore the
consumption of art museums and venues. It provides us with a better understanding of the meanings
these public buildings have to individuals, the way they are used by the public and how arts managers
might attract new audiences from their communities. It also provides insights for planners and town
centre managers as to the types of places individuals are seeking during their daily lives.
Keywords Arts, Museums, United Kingdom
Paper type Research paper

In his book, The Great Good Place (1999) Oldenburg argues that gathering places such
as bars, coffee shops and barbers, places that are not home or work, are “Third Places”.
The idea of a third place is not a new notion. For years people have gathered in coffee
houses, social and sports clubs, pubs and taverns for informal association, to have a
drink and talk (Oldenburg and Brissett, 1982). Oldenburg and Brissett’s (1982) original
interest was in the decline of American community life and the loss of such places with
the result that many people spend most of their time at work or home. Oldenburg
(1999) argues that these places are essential to community and public life and provide
health benefits as they offer social interaction, combating loneliness and giving people Journal of Place Management and
a sense of reality through conversation. Putnum (2000) has brought the issue of Development
Vol. 3 No. 2, 2010
community life back to the fore with his bestselling title, Bowling Alone, the Collapse pp. 99-112
and Revival of American Community that discusses in some detail the ongoing q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
insularity of the American population. DOI 10.1108/17538331011062658
JPMD Although art museums and venues have been recognised as places to spend leisure
3,2 time they have not been considered as “Third Places”. The purpose of this study is to fill
this gap in the literature. Tate Modern, an art museum and the Southbank Centre (SBC), a
mixed arts venue were chosen as study sites. Both are situated on the regenerated South
Bank on the banks of the River Thames in Central London, UK alongside other
attractions such as the London Eye and Shakespeare’s Globe, restaurants, retail spaces,
100 private and public housing and community facilities. We sought to find out why and
when individuals come to Tate and SBC, with whom, what they do there, how they feel
about the buildings and the meanings people attach to these places. The paper is
organised into four parts. First, we review the extant literature on “Third Places” and the
consumption of art museums and venues. In the methodology, we describe the
qualitative approach to data collection and analysis. We then report the findings and
conclude the paper with theoretical and practical implications of this research.

Theoretical context
A “Third Place” describes public places that are not home or work where people gather
voluntarily, informally and frequently. One of the characteristics of a “Third Place” is
that it is homelike, where people feel psychologically comfortable and can unwind,
regenerate, feel at ease and find companionship. They are neutral places, easily
accessible and often in non-descript buildings that have a low profile in the community.
They are characterised by democracy and sociability, a place to sit and where
conversation is important, the mood is playful and everybody is treated as an equal.
Their users consider them as “their own” and they see them as part of themselves,
unique places where they can have experiences and relationships that they cannot
access elsewhere (Oldenburg and Brissett, 1982; Oldenburg, 1999). “Third Places” have
been described as places to escape to (Glover and Parry, 2009), however, Oldenburg
(1999, p. 282) argues that “Third Places” are not just a place to escape, but enabling
places, that provide a “temporary world within their ordinary world”.
Ironically, Oldenburg and Brissett (1982) would not have been able to predict that
home and work would merge with the creation of the world wide web and other
technological advances (Khermouch and Veronsky, 1995). In the UK, it is estimated
that 3.5 million people, 12 per cent of the working population, now work from home, an
increase of 600,000 people since 1997 (IT Forum Foundation, 2009). This has resulted in
a new trend, individuals working from home looking for public places for social
interaction during the week but not in the same way as in the past. Individuals want
people around them but do not necessarily want to interact in the same way. Their
engagement is more likely to be virtual as they communicate with others through their
laptop and mobile telephone. Bookstore and café owners have met this demand by
creating places in the community where individuals can access free Wi-Fi, buy
refreshments and read a book or do some work in a comfortable space where they feel
they belong. We suggest these spaces are still providing “Third Places”, not home or
work, but not quite as Oldenburg imagined.
In the extant literature restaurants (Cheang, 2002; Rosenbaum, 2006), curling clubs
in rural Canadian communities (Mair, 2009), sports stadiums (Suny, 1993), libraries
(Lawson, 2004), a farmer’s market (Tiemann, 2008) and “virtual” environments (Soukup,
2006) have all been explored as “Third Places”. Some of these studies have been
site specific, others comparative. Lawson (2004) argues that libraries are the best
type of “Third Place”, welcoming everybody regardless of creed, age and economic A new type of
status, providing social interaction, information and independent learning for a plethora “Third Place”?
of tastes. The physical stimuli, social experiences and interactions that occur in these
places make them meaningful to individuals transforming them from places of
consumption to places of significance, i.e. a “Third Place” (see Rosenbaum, 2006 for a
review). For example, Glover and Parry (2009) found cancer patients and their family
and friends use Gilda’s Club as a therapeutic landscape to seek refuge and escape from 101
home and hospital (for many work was no longer an option). This is similar to Stokowski
(2002) and Soja’s (1996) ideas of a “Thirdspace”, where space is seen as a combination of
the physical space and it’s social significance, as “real and imagined places” (Soja, 1996,
p. 6) and Lynch’s (1960, in Silva, 2009) “imageability” in a city context. As Stokowski
(2002, p. 372) summarises, the socio-cultural meanings attached to places are “created
and reproduced through interpersonal interaction, formalized in social behaviour and
ultimately persist in collective memory”.
A “Third Place” is not, however, a permanent state, places can lose their character if
a particular group dominate with a single purpose (Oldenburg and Brissett, 1982) or a
place changes, for example becomes touristic (Tiemann, 2008). This is important in the
context of this study as some arts venues are findings members’ rooms in particular
are being taken over by freelancers using them as free meeting rooms and work spaces.
Furthermore, iconic buildings such as Tate Modern attract large numbers of tourists
that for some visitors impairs their own experience.
At this point it is important to highlight what we know about the consumption of art
museums and venues drawing on the sociology, marketing and visitor studies literature.
There is an established body of work documenting who consumes the arts, with whom
(ACE, 2008; DiMaggio, 1996; Krackman, 1996; McCarthy and Jinnett, 2001; Slater, 2007b;
Trienkens, 2002; Verdaasdonk, 1996; van Eijck, 1997; Walker et al., 2002, 2008) and why
(see Slater, 2007a for a summary) and their behaviour in the museum (Falk and Dierking,
1992; Hein, 1998; ROM, 1976). In the same way, the “Third Place” literature has looked at
the building and social interactions that take place in it. Falk and Dierking (1992)
developed a model summarising the museum experience as the outcome of an
individual’s interactions with the physical, social and personal contexts. These insights
have led to the modern art museum that includes dedicated space for resting, eating,
drinking and shopping during the museum visit and has led some critics to comment
that museums have been “disneyfied” and become “experiencescapes” (Hall, 2008). It is
becoming evident that some visitors only use these retail and catering spaces and may
never look at a painting or attend a performance or event (Rentschler and Hede, 2007;
Slater, 2007a) although there is limited literature exploring this type of consumption.
In contrast, retailers put considerable effort into understanding how their customers
consume the “servicescape” and how they can use atmospherics and design to create
an image and influence behaviour, for example, extending the shopping experience
(Bitner, 1992). Rosenbaum’s (2006) study of a casual dining restaurant in the USA draw
on place research in a marketing context (Sherry, 2000). He identifies three types of
customers: place-as-practical, place-as-gathering and place-as-home. The first group
may or may not revisit, the second group’s loyalty might be temporal as it is dependent
on others wanting to meet there and the final group saw the restaurant as a home,
sometimes eating there six nights a week. They felt safe, as though they belonged,
JPMD were acknowledged and not surprisingly, expressed emotional attachments and
3,2 exhibited the greatest levels of loyalty.
Despite their diversity, these studies are insightful for this study as they reveal how
individuals consume different spaces and why places are meaningful to people. The
purpose of this study is to build on this literature by exploring art museums and
venues as “Third Places”. In the next section, we discuss the qualitative approach to
102 our research at Tate Modern and the SBC.

The study took an interpretative phenomenological approach (Smith et al., 2009) to
understand individuals’ consumption of Tate Modern and SBC, situated on the South
Bank of the River Thames in London, UK and the meaning the places hold for them.
The two venues were chosen due to their location, iconic buildings and differences.
They provide comparative case studies; one is an art museum, the other a mixed arts
venue. The Royal Festival Hall (RFH) opened in 1951 as the Festival of Britain’s
flagship. In 1967, the Queen Elizabeth Hall was built followed by the Hayward Gallery
in 1969. Following a fundraising campaign the three buildings were brought under a
new umbrella brand, the SBC when the RFH re-opened in 2007 (SBC, 2009 online).
Recently, SBC offers an eclectic programme of classical, rock, pop, jazz and world
music, dance, literature and visual arts that include a programme of paid-for and free
events including lunchtime performances, family events and talks. Tate Modern is one
of four Tate galleries, situated in a former power station a few hundred metres along
the South Bank. Since opening in 2000 as one of the UK’s flagship millennium projects
it was almost instantly popular and less than a decade later it was the second most
visited attraction in London with 4.8 million visitors (Visit London, 2009). Following
the demise of the South Bank area after the Second World War due to bomb damage
and the demolition of housing for the SBC few community facilities remained. In
response, the community set up an action group to reverse this decline. Some 40 years
later, the South Bank has a thriving community, a blend of commercial and community
housing, retail and gallery spaces and a riverside walkway and park that has become a
tourist destination (Coin Street Community Builders, 2010).
A total of 20 interviews were conducted on the 22 and 23 October 2009 as part of a
pilot study to test the clarity of the questions and the order in which they were asked.
As a result, minor modifications were made to the research instrument that was used in
a face to face semi-structured interview. A further thirty nine interviews were
conducted on nine separate days between 24 October and 2 November 2009 on the
South Bank, outside and within the venues. Consistent with a qualitative approach to
data collection, the sample was chosen deliberately and purposefully (Miles and
Huberman, 1994) to include males and females, individuals of different ages and ethnic
backgrounds and in a range of social groups. Individuals were asked to indicate
personal details on a consent form and this was used to ensure maximal variation in
the sample. The interviews were conducted between 12 pm and 9 pm to ensure that
individuals who might be working during the day were also included in the sample.
In total, 70 individuals were invited to participate in the research and 59 interviews
were conducted, 28 inside and in the vicinity of Tate Modern and 31 in and around
SBC’s buildings, a response rate of 84 per cent. For the purpose of this analysis
45 transcripts were included in the analysis, 11 from the original pilot and 34 from the
second tranche of interviews including 25 interviews from the SBC and 20 from Tate A new type of
Modern. The remaining 14 were not used as the interviewees were on their first visit to “Third Place”?
either Tate Modern or the SBC or the interview did not elicit substantive relevant data.
The final sample was comprised of 25 SBC and 20 Tate Modern visitors. Purposeful
sampling resulted in a mix of females (n ¼ 24) and males (n ¼ 21) that had visited
Monday to Thursday (n ¼ 13), on a Friday (n ¼ 15) and over the weekend (n ¼ 17).
The interview questions explored who the interviewee was accompanied by, their 103
reasons for visiting the SBC or Tate Modern that day and what they did whilst they
were there. The researchers probed to find out if this was a “typical” visit to the venue
and if not what else they do when they normally visit the venues and with whom.
Questions also encouraged participants to discuss their thoughts on the architecture
and internal spaces and to compare them with other places they visit. The interviews
were recorded electronically and transcribed verbatim by the researcher. They lasted
between three and 57 minutes with a median length of seven minutes. The transcripts
were then uploaded into Nvivo 8. The researcher also made notes after each interview
to enrich the analysis (Kvale, 2007).
In accordance with an interpretative phenomenological approach, the researchers
let the text talk for itself. The transcripts were read and emerging themes were coded
and discussed. This was an iterative process with re-reading and re-coding. This
process of transcribing, coding and checking was also undertaken to ensure reliability
and validity during data analysis. Verbatim quotes have been used in the text and have
been tagged by a number, the respondent’s gender, site and day of the interview in
order for readers to distinguish between interviewees.

Findings and discussion

In this section, we start by discussing how the respondents perceive the buildings and
area. The buildings that make up the SBC and Tate Modern are considered iconic.
Respondents have a love hate relationship with them, mostly disliking the architectural
design and 1950s concrete structure of the SBC yet liking the interior. Those more familiar
with the buildings recognise their value as an example of 1950s design and a legacy of the
1951 Festival of Britain as this interviewee who has been visiting since a child explains:
The architecture of this building [. . .] it’s one of the first modern movement buildings in
England [. . .] It’s brilliant (No. 4, SBC, Male, Friday).
In contrast, respondents like the architecture of Tate Modern and there are mixed
feelings about the actual galleries.
The location of SBC and Tate Modern in relation to individuals’ homes and work is
an important factor in their decision to visit. They are both within walking distance of
mainline train and underground stations and buses and are connected to the north side
of the River Thames by bridges, for example the Millennium Bridge connecting
St Paul’s Cathedral to Tate Modern. This supports the findings of the Project for Public
Spaces (PPS) in the USA that argues accessibility is one of four characteristics that
makes a place successful. This includes being close to public transport, easy to get to
and through and visible from a distance and close by. SBC and Tate Modern can boast
all of these elements (PPS, 2010).
The narratives reveal that the location and feelings about the buildings were common
across groups however SBC and Tate Modern fulfil different functions for respondents.
JPMD Four groups were identified and given the nomenclature: “Place to see art”, “Place to
3,2 meet and hang out”, “Place to drop into” and a “Third Place”. The first three groups were
seen at both sites to a lesser or greater extent and reflect how the interviewees perceive
and use the two buildings. Only SBC was perceived as a “Third Place”. We now discuss
each in turn and in the context of the extant literature before drawing our conclusions.

Place to see art
There is a small group of visitors who solely visit the SBC to attend ticketed and free
performances. For them, SBC is all about the programme, from classical music to free
events to the exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery. They may have a drink or meal
whilst at the SBC but they tend not to use the space to meet friends or as a quiet space
to wile away a few hours.
In contrast, at Tate Modern this was the largest group. Many of the respondents had
come to see the Pop Art exhibition or Miroslaw Balka’s installation, part of the
Unilever Series. They were visiting in family and adult groups and alone. Motivations
include: entertainment, fun, education – for themselves and their children, escapism
and aesthetic, the art. Visits often incorporate a visit to the shop or café and may have a
social element, for example meeting friends at Tate Modern or spending time together
as a family but their primary motivation is the art. They visit between one and four
times a year but are not necessarily “art experts”. As this lawyer, visiting alone on a
Friday evening explains. I am:
Trying to educate myself I guess [. . .] most of the time I go on my own, it’s as much as a kind
of a wander in a daze, to think, to interact with the, you know with the art [. . .] to experience
the building [. . .] I usually check if there is something new on [. . .] but most of the time I don’t
come here to see anything particular, I just walk ( No. 32, Tate Modern, male, Friday evening).
Their experiences at Tate Modern encompass more than the personal, social and
personal contexts in Falk and Dierking’s (1992) model. Tate Modern’s atmosphere and
building draws visitors in. The former power station is valued as a piece of industrial
heritage and they like the scale of it, the vastness, spaciousness and high ceilings:
What I like the most about Tate Modern is the uniqueness of the venue. The actual heritage
architecture, the Turbine Hall. It is just such a unique space ( No. 26, Tate Modern, Female,
Atmosphere was one of the strongest themes in our narratives. Tate Modern was
described as a “friendly, cool, vibrant, exciting, awakening, lively and relaxed place”
that was interesting due to the mix of people there, tolerance, lack of rules and something
for everyone as this quote illustrates:
I love that it is wide and open and for children, it’s especially for them, they can, there’s room
for them to run, to go closer to pieces of work more so than in any other gallery ( No. 27, Tate
Modern, Female, Weekday).
Yet this has a detrimental impact on some visitors’ experiences. For example, one
respondent highlighted her dilemma between loving Tate Modern for the democratic
principles that Tate Modern upholds against the noise impairing her own enjoyment.
This was reiterated by others that describe Tate Modern as a “landmark”, “too
touristy”, “soulless” and “mainstream”.
Place to meet and hang out A new type of
The second group we identify meet friends and family and “hang-out”. This group was “Third Place”?
more evident at the SBC than Tate Modern. The location of SBC on the river and as a
focus of cultural activities and the adjacency of Waterloo Station with trains, tubes
and bus stops serving north, south, west and east London is very important. This
influences their choice to meet friends and spend their leisure time inside and outside
the SBC, in particular the RFH as they and friends can meet and equally important, get 105
home easily. When asked what he liked best about SBC this respondent articulated
what many others in this group said, location was more important than the arts:
That’s a tricky one actually. I think I probably would say location more than anything else.
It’s a bit shocking, because it’s supposed to be what’s actually inside that matters (No. 7, SBC,
male, weekend).
This is not, however, entirely surprising as accessibility was one of the key
characteristics PPS (2010) identified as making public spaces successful. This group
are diverse in terms of their age, gender, the timing and frequency of their visits and
social groups. They visit SBC alone, to meet friends and with friends for social and
relaxing experiences during the day, evening, week and weekends with the majority
visiting at least once a fortnight. They eat, drink, talk, watch people and read books.
Some wander around to see what is going on and attend performances whilst others
meet at SBC before moving on somewhere else. Some prefer the outside spaces, others
inside. This lady waits for her husband in the RFH whilst he is having a tutorial:
Because it is near the river. It is convenient for me to Waterloo Station, there are lots of people
milling about, it is not a place you would ever feel intimidated coming to. It’s very nice to
come here, fine by yourself and there are a lot of other people about, nobody bothers you and
you can sit down (No. 3, SBC 3, female, weekday).
This respondent also likes the river and people milling around the SBC:
[. . .] we haven’t been here for three or four weeks by the river, that’s it really [. . .] I would sit
here someday, in an afternoon if there are people [. . .] it’s just because it is crowded, especially
if it’s sunny it’s good, we can look at the river [. . .] I mean on Sunday, there are only a few
places that are crowded, Liverpool Street, Camden, Notting Hill, maybe here [. . .] I am not too
much for the atmosphere inside, I just like it outside, that’s it ( No. 21, SBC, male, weekend).
The narratives explain how SBC is multi-faceted and changes according to the season,
day of the week and time of day. People find the place interesting because of the
cosmopolitan atmosphere and the fact it is not “too touristy” something Tiemann
(2008) has highlighted as a potential issue in “Third Places”. Sometimes SBC is quiet at
other times noisy and crowded and is described by respondents as “exciting, lively,
vibrant, thriving with a buzz”. These facets attract and repel individuals according to
how they feel as these narratives illustrate:
It’s really chilled. It’s a really nice atmosphere, it’s very, it’s very, you can just sit here and
relax [. . .] you can just chill out, you know ( No. 17, SBC, male, weekend).
Others describe it as their favourite, or a special place unlike any other in London
which they specifically choose as a meeting place. A singer who lives close to SBC
explained how she visits alone, with family and friends to see performances and to
hang out. For another respondent, a set designer her work and life appear to focus on
JPMD the SBC and surrounding area. She has visited since childhood and reminisces about
3,2 being brought to SBC by her nanny and sometimes treats herself by taking a boat to
and from her home in Greenwich:
If I come here there is always, something for me to be doing, maybe seeing an exhibition, or
ringing somebody or phoning and asking, do you want to come out for lunch time, or do you
want to meet for coffee? So it is a really easy place for me to socialize and spend my time
106 really ( No. 19, SBC, female, weekday).
Tate Modern is also seen as a place to meet friends and hang out but the group is much
smaller than at SBC. They exhibit similar behaviour to the “Place to see” group but the
narratives highlight a subtle difference, social and escapist motives dominate. They
tend to visit in their lunchtimes because they work nearby or Tate Modern is a place
where they meet up with family or friends or bring a book and sit on a sofa and read
after seeing an exhibition. This lady visits twice a week in her lunch break:
I work very close by, I just come to Tate Modern during my lunch break to have some snacks
and read the books [. . .] on my own [. . .] you see the families and the kids play and it’s just fun to
watch them [. . .] I’ve never seen anybody asking questions or just restricting you to not to do
this. It’s nice and free and warm [. . .] less rules. I like that (No. 29, Tate Modern, female, Friday).
This respondent often comes to the South Bank area to eat, drink and wander around,
people watching and seeing what is on. As part of this, she sometimes pops into Tate
Modern further along the river walk but more often than not uses it as a meeting point:
Well the truth is we both have no money left and were thinking where can we go which is free
and we can have a chat [. . .] it’s a good meeting place and a good spot [. . .] it’s easy to wind
into something else ( No. 38, Tate Modern, female, weekend).
There was one Tate Modern respondent that crossed both groups. In the past, prior to
having a family she used to visit exhibitions and hang-out in the coffee shops as she
had corporate membership. She now meets people at Tate Modern but as the children
are young they tend to drop into the Turbine Hall, see what is on and then leave. These
findings reflect the success of these two venues that have been part of the South Bank’s
regeneration. They are easily accessible, comfortable, have a safe image, are sociable
and people can engage in a range of activities (PPS, 2010). They also reflect the points
made by other authors (Soja, 1996; Stokowski, 2002) that a space is the combination of
the physical space and its social significance to individuals.

Place to drop into

There is a third, very small group that “drop-into” SBC and Tate Modern for a drink or
to one of the shops on their way home from work or during a walk along the South
Bank area. As this respondent explains:
We went to Tate Modern and had a meal here and we just popped in for a drink before we go
home [. . .] it’s a nice place to spend time with friends (No. 5, SBC, female, weekend).
They are different from the previous group as their visits are mostly unplanned,
short-lived and they are in transit and do not “hang around” in the same way. Their
shared interest is in the facilities, i.e. the cafés and bar rather than the arts and they do
not talk about the atmosphere of the spaces in the same way.
Third Place A new type of
The final group describe SBC as a “Third Place” (Oldenburg, 1999), as somewhere: that is “Third Place”?
accessible, where they can gather voluntarily and informally, where there is a regular
clientele, where informal associations develop, that has a playful, “homey”, democratic
mood, where they feel they have a sense of ownership and characteristics that others
have identified with “Third Places” including a place to escape (Glover and Parry, 2009).
The one characteristic from Oldenburg’s list (1999) that was not mentioned was 107
conversation. The frequency of their visits varies, from every day to once per month,
some visit to work, others to relax or to “get away”. The common thread is that these
respondents are all psychologically comfortable in the space and see it as a “Third Place”
rather than a place just to see art, to meet, hang out or drop into and this is what
distinguishes them from the groups that have already been discussed. Interestingly,
although some respondents work in SBC they do not see it as work in the same way
because of the place. This difference is illustrated through their narratives, from their
observations about the space and atmosphere, to how they use it and the feeling that they
belong in, and SBC belongs to them.
Not everybody in this group is fond of the exterior of SBC but they unanimously
like the refurbished interior and the functionality of the space including the bars, cafes
and particularly the free Wi-Fi. They see it as a welcoming, friendly and safe place,
particularly the RFH where they feel nobody will bother them. They also feel the
atmosphere has changed since refurbishment, from somewhere that was very
middle-class and “highbrow” to a more accessible space. Respondents constantly refer to
the size and openness inside the RFH as this makes them feel as if they have their own
personal space within this public space. They can find quiet or busier spaces according
to their mood or their reason for being there as these quotes illustrate:
You can sit, you do not have to pay to be there, you can actually have your own time and your
own space within a nice surrounding ( No. 19, SBC, female, weekday).
We are sitting here and it’s open but yet you feel slightly closed because you’ve got glass and
that thing in the front there [. . .] so there are places here, because we’ve got lots of columns
going on and we’ve got stairs which provide under-ways and you’ve got lovely walkways
[. . .] it doesn’t feel like you are exposed, it feels like there are lots of places to hide, and I think
that appeals to the child in all of us, and it is possible to feel quite private here, without
realizing that you are not ( No. 6, SBC, female, weekday).
This ability to use the space as you want led some respondents to describe it as a
democratic and accessible place that has a fun, playful atmosphere where people could
be individuals. They choose SBC over other venues as “no one is in your face” (No. 14,
SBC, Male, Weekday) and “you don’t get questions about why you are here by security
staff” (No. 13, SBC, Male, Weekend). This atmosphere, where everybody feels welcome
is valued by the interviewees as illustrated in this quote:
[. . .] you know there are not many places in Town that look like this, feel like this, and have
this kind of space. Where you can stretch your arms, run, walk if you choose to. It’s pretty
unique ( No. 10, SBC, Male, Friday).
For others SBC is a warm, safe haven. One respondent who works out of SBC most
days told long and detailed stories to the interviewer about daily events at SBC that
illustrate this. She pointed out individuals that she had observed over the months
JPMD including people who were homeless that “lived in” the SBC during the day. Here, she
3,2 explains how SBC was famously described as “London’s Living Room” in the 1950s
and how it is different to other spaces:
This is a place where people come and they can do nothing, they can stay here all day if they
like, it doesn’t matter. People come here at certain times of the year, as they have done for
decades, and they bring, for example, come up here or down there, they will bring lace table
108 clothes, they set out picnics, they come to a particular concert, they carry on the ceremonies
they have for years ( No. 6, SBC, female, weekday).
SBC is also seen as a creative and inspiring place resulting in some individuals
purposefully using it as a place to read, work and study, a place that is not work, or
home or the library:
Being interested in arts makes me come here, instead of going to the public library. I am
interested in the visual arts, so it’s nice to be surrounded by and seeing stuff all the time about
arts. I guess that is what brings me here [. . .] it’s to work in a more relaxed environment without
feeling that I am really in work, I feel that I am doing something more, nice and entertaining,
where you are sitting here and staring at the people ( No. 12, SBC, female, Friday).

I like this space, very much. Often I come here either to do a bit of work. I usually do work at
home but for example if I need a change of scene or just for peace and quiet with a novel
something like that. I caught the end of a lunch time concert today [. . .] It has the atmosphere
where people can calm down a little bit (No. 11, SBC, male, Friday).
For other respondents it is more than a place where they can relax, it is a sanctuary, not
home or work where they can escape and revitalise. One respondent described the SBC
as “warm, quite comforting” and revealed that he visits the SBC “when I am mentally
in trouble for therapy. Yes, it’s very welcoming” (No. 13, SBC, male, weekend). Another
man walks along the embankment during his lunch hour and then crosses over the
bridge to the SBC. He describes the walk as “therapeutic” and goes to the SBC to:
Maintain my balance. Today, I wanted some peace and quiet, and because I have a busy
weekend, and I just thought ‘Wow! Friday! Have a half day today’, and just do the walk, and
come and enjoy the music ( No. 10, SBC, male, Friday).
Other characteristics respondents mentioned that suggest SBC is a “Third Place” are
the people they have met:
I didn’t come here originally with other people but over time, I have met a set of people who
come here [. . .] and we are a little team [. . .] so we interact. After the refurbishment I met a
couple of young women who were studying like mad [. . .] we became great friends, even
though they are half of my age [. . .] I have created or found, or find I have a RFH family here,
and that’s not a bad thing [. . .] a lot of people come here to do other professional things like a
television producer who comes here who I got to know simply because he couldn’t find a table
so I said to him share mine ( No. 6, SBC, female, weekday).
The narratives reveal the meaning and emotional connections individuals have with
SBC; it is not home or the office but an open public space that welcomes and inspires
them and where they feel comfortable. We suggest that this is an alternative type of
“Third Place” to those described by Oldenburg (1999) and one that is indicative of the
twenty-first century, where more people are working from home, those in the office are
seeking places to escape in their leisure time and face to face conversation is often A new type of
replaced by electronic communication. “Third Place”?
The research suggests that Tate Modern has some of the characteristics of a
“Third Place”, for example it is comfortable and a democratic space but it is not
perceived or used as such. This was an interesting finding as in a previous study of Tate
Members respondents talked about both Galleries as a “Third Place” that was not home
or work (Slater and Armstrong, 2010). We suggest that this may be due to the different 109
samples with the previous study focusing on members and interviews being conducted
in the Members’ Rooms at Tate Modern and Britain. Whilst you can see art, hang-out,
have a coffee, use Wi-Fi, meet friends and get great views from both venues as a general
visit, perhaps the history of SBC as the flagship of the 1951 Festival of Britain and rituals
that individuals have developed over the years makes the public spaces in SBC different
to the equivalent spaces in Tate Modern.

The purpose of this paper was to explore the notion of “Third Place” in an arts context to
fill a gap in the consumer behaviour, arts and “Third Place” literatures. Data were
collected from 45 qualitative interviews that were conducted in and around the SBC and
Tate Modern on the South Bank. Letting the text speak for itself, in line with a qualitative
tradition, we identified four audience groups built around their motivations, experiences
and feelings. They were labelled: place to see art, place to meet and hang out, place to
drop into and “Third Place”. The first three groups were evident at both sites to a greater
or lesser degree. The SBC is also a “Third Place” and exhibited many of the
characteristics Oldenburg and Brissett (1982) identified in their original paper and
which Oldenburg (1999) elaborated on his book, The Great Good Place. They also reflect
Rosenbaum’s (2006) use of a local restaurant as: place-as-practical, place-as-gathering
and place-as-home.
One characteristic that the SBC did not exhibit was as a place for conversation and
our respondents did not articulate that they were particularly looking for face to face
interaction it was more about being in a public place amongst people. Oldenburg (1999)
also suggested that most “Third Places” were small-scale, independently and locally
owned by people who knew individuals in the neighbourhood. The SBC (2010) is a
charity, receiving public subsidy and the world’s largest single-run arts centre in the
world yet as the findings illustrate, individuals feel they have some private space in the
larger space and the building is intimate and friendly. Some of the respondents live or
work nearby but it was the SBC’s atmosphere and the fact it is an arts venue that
differentiates the space and creates a sense of belonging for a range of people.
The implications of this research are important for arts managers and marketers.
Although authors have suggested that individuals choose to use the cafes, retail and
public spaces in art museums and venues without attending a performance or exhibition
the degree to which individuals use them in this way is probably underestimated. The
notion of arts venues being “Third Places” where individuals have strong emotional
connections has not to our knowledge, previously been considered. Museum and arts
managers need to manage these diverse uses of their buildings so that it does not detract
from their primary function and use the opportunity to welcome and engage new
audiences. A free lunchtime programme of events in a town centre or business area
where people are seeking somewhere to relax during a break or on a Saturday morning
JPMD is very likely to attract people into the building creating greater awareness of the broader
3,2 programme and increasing visitor spend in catering outlets. We conclude that further
research is required at SBC and Tate Modern and other arts venues to test our
exploratory findings. The sample should include members and non-members in and
around the venues at different times of the year to capture a larger and more diverse
110 The research also has wider implications for managers of heritage sites, libraries,
parks, other public spaces and independent businesses in our communities. As the
literature illustrates (Cheang, 2002; Lawson, 2004) potentially they could all become
“Third Places” and spaces where people want to “hang out” or “drop into” or as
Rosenbaum (2006) describes, practical places, places to gather and places that are like
home. It appears that practicalities such as location, safety, comfort and the availability
of refreshments are important (and possibly free Wi-Fi) but to become a “Third Place”
the atmosphere, from the “vibe” to the welcome from staff and for those interested in the
arts being surrounded by creativity are critical. “Third Places” evolve over time as
individuals have social experiences (Rosenbaum, 2006; Soja, 2002; Stokowski, 2002) in a
place; the building needs some history as the physical characteristics of a space are
not sufficient. We suggest that the more frequently somebody returns to a place and the
more experiences they have the more likely it will become a “Third Place” to them.
These findings resonate with the four characteristics that the PPS (2010) outline in
their guidelines for successful places: accessibility, comfort and image, sociability and
places where people can engage in activities. We would suggest to managers and
planners that they consider all four elements when considering shared places within
their communities that are not home or work: the physical elements, location,
appropriateness of the space to meet up with others and a creative programme of events.

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About the authors

Alix Slater has nearly 20 years experience as an Academic, Consultant and Museum Practitioner.
Her research interests have focused on understanding audience motivations and behaviour,
members and membership schemes, audience development and research methods using
qualitative and quantitative approaches. Her work is published in journals including the
American journal Curator, Journal of Marketing Management, International Journal of
Non-profit and Voluntary Sector Marketing and in Museum Marketing: A Global Perspective and
Museum Management and Marketing. Alix Slater is the corresponding author and can be
contacted at:
Hee Jung Koo worked in the fashion industry for four years after graduating from her fashion
degree. Realising her natural interest was more focused towards the arts and enterprise she came
to London to study at University of the Arts London. She has recently graduated from the MA
Enterprise and Management for the Creative Arts programme having completed a dissertation
that explores why individuals visit and how they use spaces in arts venues. Her interests are now
focused on retail experiences in museums, arts product licensing and the use of cultural spaces.

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