It's no secret that people like art in non-traditional spaces – from the warehouses and lofts of the 1960s through the Young British Artists' groundbreaking Frieze exhibition in 1988 to the innovative theatre company Punchdrunk today, the combination of gritty urbanity and freedom from more traditional control structures is choice consumption for trendy twenty-somethings looking for the "next big thing". But with more shows than ever happening in London's byways and back alleys, and many of them run/funded/organised by some of London's largest arts institutions, is the mainstream taking this concept away from the fringe?

The value of using non-traditional spaces is manifold: it's often cheaper than some of the capital's top cultural attractions, it encourages experimentation and play, and fosters the first steps into original work and original ways of thinking. One of the hottest new spaces in town is 120-year-old converted-warehouse The CLF Art Café (also known as the Bussey Building) in Peckham, which hosts events across all art forms in a huge variety of rooms and spaces. As organiser Mickey Smith puts it, "Different environments have a habit of breathing new life into work." Certainly, the CLF and the nearby Peckham Rye Car Park (a converted car park/gallery space with a bar on top, run by Bold Tendencies) have made this once-avoided London suburb a hotspot for trendy hipsters. Currently, the space is hosting the London Contemporary Music Festival, another site-responsive event aiming to redefine traditional art forms such as opera. The recent influx of work has also led to local communities becoming more engaged: as Smith puts it, "a new audience is often attracted to the show through the 'more accessible' nature and location of the project."

But is this due to the venue's accessibility and location, or the fact that a larger institution recently came to stay? The Royal Court Theatre, renowned worldwide for its commitment to new theatre writing and work, started a programme called Theatre Local in 2010 that placed new productions outside of its swanky Sloane Square theatre and into less affluent areas – including Peckham and the CLF Art Café. This put the venue on the map for many a journalist (including myself), and certainly a larger audience.

The Royal Court isn't the only large institution getting in on the game, with recent seasons/work from other major organisations also taking place outside of their hallowed halls: the English National Opera are staging an opera (Powder Her Face) this season at Ambika P3 (a 14,000 sq ft underground hangar); the Barbican's recent Beyond Barbican season saw work produced at Leytonstone Library and Leandro Ulrich's widely-documented outdoor art installation Dalston House; and avant garde theatre company Punchdrunk are now working with the National Theatre to perform their latest piece The Drowned Man in a warehouse next to Paddington Station. While a lot of these pieces are genuinely site-specific, they are part of a growing trend to stage this kind of work to, as Robert Ames from London Contemporary Orchestra puts it, "whack it in some random audience space and see what audience you get". Mickey Smith also admits, "a lot of the time, [site-specific work] is more a gimmick than a real attempt to reach out to the community."

However, not everyone thinks that site-specific work has just became the latest in a long line of marketing ploys to get younger people involved in "high" culture. Iavor Lubomirov, of artist-led gallery Lubomirov-Easton and artist support network ALISN, thinks that this is part of a bigger trend – a "huge proliferation of the arts, with empowered, impatient audiences in their later 20s/early 30s wanting to do things for themselves". Michael Morris of Artangel, who specialise in art in non-traditional spaces, describes how "slowly but surely, every major institution is realising that you can animate a space outside your own". "The public don't respect borders", he adds.

And it seems they're right: London is awash with new ways of engaging with art. Even the traditional night out at the cinema can now be replaced by watching a film in a hot-tub at Hot Tub Cinema, or living the experience in a performance piece at a Secret/Future Cinema event – or watching it on the side of a skyscraper at Canary Wharf Screen. In some cases, it's not just about finding new methods of engagement, it's about inviting new audiences to join in: the first concert in London Contemporary Orchestra's Imagined Occasions series, in which they created site-reactive classical music by inviting composers to write a piece for a found space (the first was an old Underground station), was a sellout success. Robert Ames, the co-artistic director, describes the whole experience as "a welcome new move to introduce new people to new work".

From this, it seems fair to say that the positives outweigh the negatives: work in non-traditional spaces is not only here to stay, it's booming. The fact that larger institutions are getting involved isn't just marketing spin, it's a sign that this movement is popular and, indeed, a good way of getting a wider audience involved. It cuts through the often-levelled argument of art's elitism at a time when funding is tight, and offers a wider range of experiences for everyone for far more reasonable prices than what much of central London has to offer. Michael Morris wishes he had "more nights in the week" to try and see everything. I can only agree.