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A New Approach to Culture in Scotland?

By Matt Baker

The Committee for Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture is currently examining future directions for funding culture in Scotland. The Stove gave evidence to the committee on 16th September and this blog builds on the themes developed in our evidence and the evolving conversation about the role of culture and creativity in society as a whole – a conversation given extra focus and urgency in the context of Covid and Climate Change.

Culture & Wellbeing The Stove Network Evidence Session on Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee 16 September 2021

In periods of lockdown during the pandemic, creative practitioners filled many of the gaps created by the withdrawal of local authority services for people with additional support needs. In my own area, I have many, many stories of the extraordinary efforts of creative people during this time and of the positive impacts on clients and patients, some of whom experienced creative practice for the first time and have made progress that has astonished their carers. Similar stories are perhaps more widely known in education, with creative and cultural organisations and individuals providing physical and digital resources to support home-schooling.

Could the pandemic result in the widening of attitudes to education among parents/students and of outcomes for people with additional support needs and chronic health conditions?

These examples are part of a wider phenomenon through which myriad examples of arts practice embedded in communities came to the fore in Scotland, developed through local support networks during the pandemic. These can be added to the many community-led initiatives and social enterprises that have been started by a cultural project or the involvement of artists in local activism. The key connecting aspect of all these examples is the direct participation of people – people using creativity as a tool to change their own circumstances and/or the places around them, people being involved in shaping and making their own culture, rather than passively consuming culture that has been made for them.

Investing in Cultures The Stove Network Evidence Session on Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee 16 September 2021

Perhaps it is time to ask a fundamental question about the way we do culture in Scotland? Could we consciously support a culture of participation and popular ownership of culture as a key part of our national toolkit towards a just transition from both Covid and Climate Change?

It might be useful to look back at how we arrived at the current model we have inherited for the public support for culture. There are very interesting parallels with the pandemic in this regard. 80 years ago, another national crisis caused us to look anew at culture: during World War II people participating in and making their own culture was a vital factor in maintaining morale. This was recognised in the formation of the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) in 1940 which had two distinct strands of activity: one supported people to participate directly in the making of their own culture, whilst the other supported professional practitioners to create cultural work and events for the public. The participatory strand was very successful with projects such as the ‘Travelling Musicians’ programme which in 6 months started 244 amateur choirs and 37 new orchestral groups.

Despite this success, in 1946 CEMA was restructured as the Arts Council of Great Britain and support for participation in culture was discontinued with the first Chairman of the Arts Council declaring: ‘It is about the best not the most. The principle is we support professional artists. That’s our obligation. And our second obligation is to enable others to appreciate, understand and benefit from that’

Substantially, this is the way things have continued to the present day.* We, as a society, have come to understand culture as something that is professionally produced for others to enjoy.

It is a leap I know, but imagine how different life could have been in our communities and for our arts sector had we continued to support participation in the making of culture? Our way of thinking about learning, health, inclusion and empowerment in our communities might be very different. I’d like to propose that we use this moment of resetting with Covid to make a bold step as a country and to use culture as enabler and connector across multiple sectors in our society. Could we imagine something like a national Cultural Investment Programme supporting the mass participation in culture as a vital building block for a wellbeing society as part of an essential re-set after Covid?

It’s important to stress from the outset that this new approach to culture would be additional to the traditional support for the professional production of culture not instead of. In practice there would be expansive synergy between the two approaches to supporting culture in Scotland, with cross-fertilization in funding across organisations, projects and practices and opportunities for individuals to develop portfolio careers across different forms of practice.

Such a programme would be an integral part of our Covid/Climate transition and delivered through a partnership approach with Health, Education, Economic Regeneration and Community Development. It could be thought of as similar to the way in which Sport is supported – where one funding strand supports participation in sport (as part of wellbeing) and another funds elite sport…or like the distinct support paths for applied research and pure research in academia.

Developing this new strand of cultural support would start by bringing together existing experience and excellence in arts in education, health and community development (e.g. Arts in Education Recovery Group, Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland, Creative Scotland Place Dept, Culture Collective, Creative Communities) to work with the various other sectors and across budget strands such as the Place Based Investment Programme.

Future Vision for Culture The Stove Network Evidence Session on Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee 16 September 2021

Core elements of Scotland’s Cultural Investment Programme (SCIP) could include:

(NB ‘artists’ is used as a collective term to include: musicians, performers, dancers, visual artists, writers, designers, filmmakers, producers)

  • Education – artists in residence in schools, the Room 13 model, the Sistema model
  • Health and Wellbeing – social prescribing, artists in healthcare settings (eg ArtLink), wellbeing groups
  • Community Development – artists embedded in communities – supporting the growth of new initiatives and groups e.g. bringing unheard voices into community planning for longer term investment
  • Community-based Organisations – to become hubs supporting a population of local freelance artists (and associated creative disciplines) to work in the SCIP. Organisations also promote partnership working and develop new initiatives/projects. Many of these organisations will be community-based arts organisations, working across both strands of support for culture
  • National Network – to link and support community-based organisations and freelancers to share capacity, experience, skills and resources.
  • Skills and Training Programme – for artists and associated creative disciplines to work within SCIP settings and deliver ongoing professional development.
  • Action Research – as part of the roll-out of SCIP, with a remit to monitor progress, share best practice and identify effective synergies with existing cultural infrastructure.
  • Joined up working/funding across diverse sectors at national Government/Agency and Regional levels

We already have brilliant experience nationally of this kind of work across the board in education, health and communities, the principle of this vision would be to pool experience and resources across different fields and agendas to make a commitment, as a country, to a long-term, innovative and joined-up approach to building a wellbeing economy – using culture.

Artists and the diversity/sustainability of the cultural and creative workforce is central to the idea of such an investment programme. Artists would be employed on Fair Work principles to work as artists within the settings described, this is not ‘artists as social workers’ rather a commitment to genuine co-production with communities and regular local contracts will give new opportunities for artists to develop their own individual practices and grow new collaborations with other artists through the national network.

Local hubs, community participation, arts in education settings and fair work principles will also create the conditions for people from diverse backgrounds to enter the cultural and creative workforce and support all creative people with multiple opportunities to develop careers and creative practices.

Important initiatives such as Culture Collective and Creative Communities have already grown from the National Culture Strategy. The Culture Strategy makes an incredible opportunity for Scotland to use these as foundations around which we can attract people and practices and build a world-leading initiative that puts culture and the cultural workforce right at the heart of the effort to build a country based on wellbeing and climate justice.

*the Community Arts movement of the 1970s and 80s is one amongst few notable exceptions along with individual projects within the fields of health, education and community-based practice in recent years.


The Stove and Midsteeple Quarter at Edinburgh International Culture Summit

Summit team photo of all international Culture Ministers attending (43) and speakers at the conference…’Where’s the Stovie?’

The Edinburgh International Culture Summit happens every two years and is a part of the Edinburgh Festivals month in August. This years summit took place on 22-24th August and The Stove (inc Midsteeple Quarter) was delighted and honoured to be ask to address one of the break-out sessions of the conference.

The Summit takes place in the parliament at Holyrood and is chaired by the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament – Ken Mackintosh MSP. Our First Minister attended the first day and gave a speech of welcome to delegates where she highlighted the growing world status of Dundee as a cultural destination. The programme includes public sessions with keynote speakers – but also private break-out sessions where ministers are able to discuss new ideas without fear of being quoted in teh media. It was one of these sessions that featured The Stove’s Matt Baker, who gave a 10 minute presentation on how artists had been involved in community-led regeneration in Dumfries and then sat on a panel discussion with representatives of the Altofest from Naples and the Head of Arts and Culture from Google – the Panel was chaired by Martin Rose of the British Council.

One of the break-out panel discussions at the Summit – not the one involving The Stove, but same format

The overall theme of the Summit was ‘Culture – Connecting Peoples and Places’ – this was developed in three themes (one each for the three days) ‘Culture in a Networked World’, ‘Culture and Investment’ and ‘Culture and Wellbeing’. The Stove was part of the ‘Culture in Networked World’ theme and our Policy Round Table was ‘Re-imagining and Re-connecting to Culture’ – during which Matt had to tell the assembled Ministers that the word ‘culture’ is banned in The Stove – as it just serves to exclude so many of the people in our local community.


Gordon Robertson RIP

Gordon reading from his ‘Life of Robert Burns’ at The Stove in January 2016

Gordon Robertson 1936 – 2018

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of Gordon Robertson yesterday. Gordon had been a Stove member since the very early days and was a supporter, contributor and inspiration to The Stove.

Dumfries has lost a great intellect, artist and historical resource, Gordon was a linguist, Burnsian, painter, draughtsman, local historian and above all an enquiring mind and passionate Doonhamer. When he approached you never knew whether he was going to talk about Wagnerian Opera, his travels around Norway, his latest book or his battles with acrylic paint.

Gordon was a regular at Stove events, performing at many and a great patron of the Café – he was held in great affection and regard by all at The Stove. A wee light of civilisation and culture has gone out in the town – Gordon we salute you.


Midsteeple Quarter Update after Online Survey


Over 800 people have completed an online survey which asked for views on the future of the town centre. From the sign-up on the survey and the two consultation events held since November 2016 there is now a group 0f 483 people in a mailing group to support this local project to re-populate Dumfries High Street as part of efforts to revitalise the town.

Melissa Gunn (University of the West of Scotland – who are members of the community partnership leading the project) says, “We have been overwhelmed by the response from people; we were not expecting to receive as many as we did, considering the number of people we had through the doors during our Bakers Oven event. Online surveys often bring out more negative responses, but here the opposite was true. We were particularly surprised by 40% of people saying they themselves would be keen to live in the town centre.”

The Midsteeple Quarter survey was completed by a wide age range of people with 20% of respondents under 35, the majority between 35 and 60 and 23% over 60. People felt that a populated High Street was important for a vibrant town centre. There was also strong support for a mix of accommodation from affordable tenancies to student accommodation and private flats available in the upper floors above the shops.

Confirming previous work conducted by The Stove Network, the consultations revealed support for a more diverse approach to the future of the town centre with a very positive response to ideas of enterprise, education, live-work, health services and restaurants/nightlife all being available  as well as more events, festivals and markets to encourage more footfall in the town centre.

Next Steps:
The Midsteeple Quarter project is developing fast including progress with:

  • Transferring the Bakers Oven building to community ownership to be developed as a business/education innovation hub with residential accommodation above.
  • Dumfries & Galloway NHS have joined the community partnership as part of their plans to re-locate services and staff as part of the changes connected with the new hospital.
  • We are moving forward with the formation of a new community company called ‘Dumfries High Street’ to steward the Midsteeple Quarter project for the benefit of local people.
  • Preparations are underway for a national architectural competition to test out the public’s ideas and shape a vision for the project that can be delivered by the community partnership.
  • Working with DGC Planners to embed Midsteeple Quarter within the new Local Development Plan.

All in all there is very encouraging progress around the project – the local media are reporting very positively (see BBC here) and we have cross-party political support. If you would like to know more detail or get more actively involved please reply to this email or drop into The Stove Cafe for a chat.

News Project Updates

Midsteeple Quarter – a community-led development project for Dumfries Town Centre

Over the last 8 months The Stove has been part of a major community-led project within Dumfries to take positive action to create a new, beating heart in centre of the town. This initiative has gone through a series of working titles including: ‘#MakingDumfries’ and ‘Living on the High Street’ (search these terms in our website and social media and the detailed story will emerge) – but for now Midsteeple Quarter is the title that most of the diverse partnership involved in the project will recognise.

Midsteeple Quarter re-imagines a strip of empty shop buildings on Dumfries High Street as a community-run mixed develop­ment of live-work/ education/ enterprise/ social spaces.

Empty properties on Dumfries High Street (above) re-imagined as a vibrant mixed development
Empty properties on Dumfries High Street (above) re-imagined as a vibrant mixed development

The project began with the #SquareGo events in March 2016 which saw The Stove taking over Fountain Square in Dumfries to ask local people how they would like to see the Town Centre re-invent itself for a new era when market towns like Dumfries will not be dominated by retail.

People marked their ideas in chalk directly onto the paving of Fountain Square
People marked their ideas in chalk directly onto the paving of Fountain Square
The main themes identified at #SquareGo were displayed in The Stove Cafe for 2 months for further discussion and additions
The main themes identified at #SquareGo were displayed in The Stove Cafe for 2 months for further discussion and additions

Repopulating the town centre was one of the strongest themes identified by the #SquareGo project

In the same week as #SquareGo John Wallace’s documentary ‘A House on the High Street’ was premiered at The Stove.

Trailer – A House on the High Street from Pile-on Productions on Vimeo.

The film inspired local resident John Dowson to convene a meeting of stakeholders in the town centre to see if a practical action plan could be agreed to take forward the ‘re-populating’ idea. NB ‘slum’ clearances in the 1960’s emptied the centre of Dumfries with people re-locating to the housing estates at the edges of the town – now less than 1000 people of a total town population of 40,000 live in the town centre and John and his wife are effectively the last remaining residents of the High Street itself.

The initial meeting identified the run of empty buildings on the High Street starting from Bank Street and running up past the Midsteeple as the location for a core ‘block’ that could establish a new pattern of inhabitation and uses for the High Street and start the re-population of the centre.

Midsteeple Quarter marked in red
Midsteeple Quarter marked in red
Artists impression of a mixed live-work development (indicative only)
Artists impression of a mixed live-work development (indicative only)

A core aspect of the project is for local people to literally take back ownership of their town centre. Currently most of the buildings are owned by Pension Funds and other corporate ‘absentee landlords’ – these owners have no stake in the town beyond the relative value of the assets on their balance sheet. New legislation is being passed by the Scottish Government that will grant powers to community groups to take ownership of underused assets in their area – the Dumfries initiative was written up on the Common Space web platform as part of the Common Weal’s ‘Our Land’ festival in August 2016

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 21.40.43

Around this time The Stove Network established itself as the Community Development Trust for the town centre of Dumfries and was accepted as a full member of Development Trust Association of Scotland – see here for the definition of a Development Trust. The Stove then became the gathering point and lead organisation for a diverse community partnership that supported the idea of the Midsteeple Quarter and were playing a positive part in making the project a reality:

The Stove Network, Loreburn Community Council, Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway, University of the West of Scotland, Crichton Institute, Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Commerce, MakLab, Dumfries and Galloway Council, D+G College, Loreburn Housing Assc, NHS, South Scotland MSPs, Dumfries and Galloway MP, Prominent local individuals and professionals

The vision for the project was further developed through a Visioning Session attended by 28 people representing the stakeholders listed above.

Stakeholders Gathering 6th October 2016 at The Stove
Stakeholders Gathering 6th October 2016 at The Stove

The Stove Network then circulated and action plan for group which had the priorities of:

  • Interacting with the Local Plan being developed by Dumfries and Galloway Council for Dumfries – to build in special conditions for the Midsteeple Quarter, enabling mixed development to be supported by statutory processes
  • Holding an national Architectural ‘ideas competition’ for Midsteeple Quarter to shape an identity for the project that local people and other stakeholders could get behind
  • Formation of a Community Benefit Company for the project that would be able to offer Community Shares to local people to fund the purchase and development of under-used properties in Midsteeple Quarter
  • Taking ownership of the ‘Bakers Oven’ building (from Dumfries and Galloway Council) in the Midsteeple Quarter and developing this in partnership with University of West of Scotland as an enterprise and education hub with residential accommodation above

The Stove Network has created drawings to define the idea of the Midsteeple Quarter – these have been shortlisted in the Futuretown Scotland competition run by Scotlands Towns Partnership. The drawing were done by Dion Corbett an recent graduate of Strathclyde University who has returned home to Dumfries to build her career here and is working at The Stove.


Please vote in the Futuretown competition – here

Download a larger version of the Competition drawing – here

On 15th and 16th November, the Midsteeple Quarter project will be occupying the Bakers Oven building for local people to see progress and talk about their ideas and ways to be involved in making this vital project for the town come to fruition. Details about this ‘Chapter One’ event are – here

For more info about the project, and/or you’d like to get involved, please contact Matt Baker at matt<at>

News Project Updates

PRESENCE an Art-in-Between Commission update

By Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

We are coming to the end of working on the Art_Inbetween commission and it’s been a fascinating process.  The outcome is a work called PRESENCE which is a set of cards to be used as ‘A divining tool for journeys through the restless territories and blurred boundaries of art in the social or public realm’ the cards are a creative tool to explore and reveal aspects of a project or practice and to provoke discussion and exploration.


PRESENCE is a research led response to some of the questions that arose during the Art_Inbetween Summit held at The Stove Network earlier in 2016. The summit attempted to describe the distinctiveness of an evolving ‘rural’ contemporary arts practice with an emphasis on social/participatory/public art across the UK and our starting point was to try and understand this distinctiveness. What are the differences between rural arts practice and projects in urban settings with similar intentions or processes?


During the research phase, we worked with a number of artists, curators and producers using a word card process to explore core features of practice and context. These conversations were interesting and delved into territories that were slippery and shifting, we felt this area had more to offer to a wider audience. We began to work with the idea that practice was perhaps more important and distinctive than location and so the work began on developing PRESENCE; a method to explore and open up projects and practice that could become a companion on creative journeys, a navigational aid that could help understand and articulate the aims, methods and values of a project or practice. There are 16 CARDS, each exploring a core element of practice. Each card has a number of questions on the reverse. We suggest picking one or more card at regular intervals through a live project (or project development) and letting the questions lead into conversation and discussion.


The Cards

We see the cards as a ‘divining tool’ in the process of making creative work. They cannot be used to navigate the straightest, fastest route through a project or process but provide different positions to view the route from. They are not instructions or a model to build a project around and have no opinions about the best way to conduct a project – each project (and artist) is unique. Their role is to prompt, disrupt habits, to revisit assumptions and reassess progress and to re-excite artists and collaborators about their work and provide a tool for exploring projects and practice.

 We have tried to create a process that will result in a series of overlapping views from different positions (The points of interest in situated or social practice are not stationary and two dimensional, but three dimensional and moving, sometimes through time as well as space) This compound eye allows us to examine the same issues from different positions and so learn different things from each viewpoint.


Open Source Future

PRESENCE is an open source project: all questions, concepts and card designs can be challenged, refuted or replaced. Our version is a starting point from which new sets can be constructed specifically tailored to a project or practice. A website is in the process of being set up that will include all design tools and templates to allow people to easily make new sets and upload their designs for others to use.

Huge thanks to everybody who contributed to the summit and to those who have helped with the development of PRESENCE.

If you are interested in getting a set of the PRESENCE cards – please contact [email protected]

More info about the project can be downloaded here

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