Circus is an ancient art form which has evolved over the centuries from court jesters, jugglers, acrobats etc to the more well-established identity of ‘Traditional Circus’ which was founded by Sir Philip Astley in 1768. Astley, a military man, was engaged in training and presenting horses – dressage, show jumping etc. Astley quickly evolved his equine presentations to include equine stunt riding alongside a variety of unusual acts of human and animal skill, attracting wider and more diverse audiences. He is widely regarded as the grandfather of the modern day circus, although his version, based in the heart of London was actually called ‘Astley’s Amphitheatre’.

The art form took off and was beloved by Victorians, becoming a highly fashionable form of entertainment, which pushed the boundaries of human endeavour and opened doors between continents.

Circus continued to evolve throughout the 20th century often running alongside fairgrounds and other attractions.

During the latter half of the twentieth century – traditional circus has transferred across to inspire contemporary performance artists creating a new form of circus, sometimes called ‘Contemporary Circus’.

This circus is inspired by the skill, technique and mastery of the traditional circus acts and weaves them together to create conceptual art sometimes with a social/political message or a reflection on the human condition or other goals/messages. It works to weave a diversity of circus skills into a fresh style of presentation and narrative which reflects the present day.

Youth and Social Circus

Cloughjordan Circus Club 1
Cloughjordan Circus Club

Youth Circus and Social Circus are participant-centered practices that employ circus arts as a method of engaging participants in developing their personal, social, physical and creative skills.

Youth Circus

Youth Circus refers to organised circus arts participation programmes for children and young people. These programmes and activities generally take place in a non-formal education setting and participants come from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Social Circus

Social Circus refers to the use of circus arts in a caring, supportive, or therapeutic setting with people who are marginalised or at social or personal risk. The primary goal of Social Circus is not merely to learn circus arts but to create social change through fostering the personal and social development of its participants.

Some Youth and Social Circus students continue on towards preparatory or professional circus education or careers. *

* Definitions as determined by the Circus++ project, with thanks to Irish partner Galway Community Circus

Street Arts

Tunnel Linz Alex Allison
Maleta. Photo by Pflasterspektakel

Street Arts is a movement which evolved and grew over the 60’s, 70’s with the growth of democracy, the transformation of the social hierarchy and the evolution of community arts practice.

It believes in taking art out of the institution and placing it in public space. It seeks to connect with all people irrespective of social, economic, or educational backgrounds. It seeks to bring people together in shared experience and bring down barriers to art, culture, and elitism.

Street arts is not defined by a single genre – it has many and takes many forms. The only thing that defines it is that it takes place outside of a formal arts building/ institution. It can happen on a street, a car park, a forest, a mountain top, the side of a building, a brown field site, a warehouse, a car showroom – the list goes on. It is sometimes called Outdoor Arts or Site-specific Arts or Arts in Public Space.


Spraoi Festival Parade All At Sea Photography By Patrick Browne
Spraoi Festival Parade. Photography By Patrick Browne

Spectacle could be defined as a large-scale spectacular event which involves a mass audience. It may involve large scale props, floats, puppets, constructions. It may involve fireworks, music, percussion. It may involve audience participation. It may be a carnival, a parade, a procession, or it may be a static show on a height. It is often presented outdoors, in public space, during a festive celebratory context.

The future of  the ArtForm

ISACS artists often operate at the crossroads of genre, identifying themselves as multidisciplinary artists. This is significant as we see more and more artists borrowing, exchanging, and being inspired to create between and across form. Many of the artists in these fields operate outside the traditional, the formal, the establishment, so it should come as no surprise that they seek to be uncategorised and rather retain their independence and freedom of expression. Indeed, this may be precisely why they are drawn to the autonomous nature of the street/the big top…. there one can go beyond.

We applaud their innovation and welcome the barrier breaking! Watch out World!