This year we were approached by students Bella Green and Candy, to host a day of activity at the Stove to celebrate and acknowledge International Women’s Day. The theme for our event – Wake Up And Love More – was inspired by Kate Tempest’s Tunnel Vision, a song from her latest album Let Them Eat Chaos.
Our programme comprised of banner and placard making workshop, a two week display in the Stove café, an evening of discussion, food and performance and a film screening to close the day. Due to poor weather, we had to put on hold our plans to occupy the High Street, but instead created a warm and welcoming space in the Stove’s café.
On the evening itself, we were joined by Women’s Aid for Nithsdale and the Stewartry, who were able to share with us some of their work in the region over the past 20 years and their current challenges. Performances included poetry and song, and even a short quiz compered by stovie Kirsty Turpie!
Our film choice for the evening was teen drama Skate Kitchen, directed by Crystal Moselle and featuring the story of Camille and the all-girl New York City based skateboarding crew, Skate Kitchen.
All donations from the evening went to Women’s Aid.
Thank you to everyone who helped with the preparations for the event, our performers and speakers. All image credits: Kirstin McEwan
International Women’s Day at the Stove was part of our Conversing Building project, an on-going programme of events and displays in and around the Stove building sharing ideas and projects with wider communities. To find out more email [email protected].
By Martin O’Neill, Curatorial Team member and Programme Lead for The Stove Network
‘We have a tiny minority of people calling themselves artists. I am recommending that everyone should be an artist. I am not recommending in a spirit of dilettantism, but as the only prevention of a vast neurosis which will overcome a wholly mechanized and nationalized civilization.’ Herbert Read 1955
permission Dictionary result for permission /pəˈmɪʃ(ə)n/ noun
the action of officially allowing someone to do a particular thing; consent or authorization.
Between 2017 – 18, 100 High Street set out an agenda to become a hub of activity, treading a programme of events, workshops, films, gigs, ‘interruptions’ and discussions. Each, in its own way, opened the door to re-imagining the role of art not only on the High Street, but also aside from the main centres of ‘culture’. Its discussions were more often than not grounded in a sense of movement towards a common goal – and that was to shape a vision hand-in-hand with the community, of a new high street.
There then arrived, through this work, the establishment of the Midsteeple Quarter – with a job to continue envisioning the role of our town centre, alongside the community with a much more considered approach in its creativity, so as to create a consistency in the exchanging culture of ideas between the company, their ideas, agendas and the community.
With the recent community asset transfer of the Baker’s Oven to Dumfries High Street Ltd and the unfortunate news of the private purchase of two buildings within the quarter, despite the community raising over £20,000 in small donations, there came into being something which might be termed a ‘movement’. Finally, a commonality, ignited by something outwith our control, has cemented Dumfries as a community that will not take the continuing deterioration of our High Street for granted, or something that is to be expected. As a young returner to Dumfries, I’d left my hometown with a sense of freedom, untethered to the slow unwinding of power, in the face of an international financial crisis, looking forward instead to a quicker pace. On returning, disillusioned by the mechanisms of culture embedded in much of the central belt, there seemed to be a new momentum in creativity within the town. And since then, a lot has happened.
Now the conversation has changed, because some people have changed – become ignited by the processes of making, by the open exchange of ideas, concerns and angers by freeing themselves from the idea that it was outwith their control – some might call it a revitalisation of local democracy. (Shrugs and slinks back)
Now with this, what’s left to do? By no means is this conversation over. But it’s time to return to something based on the principles, which lead to the formation of the Midsteeple Quarter. What’s to say of the role of artists (in the assumption that everyone is an artist) in the community, regardless of its place. Our High Street is now our blank canvas, our open stage and our studio.
‘What’s stopping you?’
An 85-year-old man recites his poetry for the first time to over seventy people at an open mic. A fourteen-year-old songwriter closes one of the biggest music conferences in Scotland. Thirty people, armed with boiler suits, litter pickers and paint brushes come together on a Sunday afternoon to clean up their High Street. Two local businesswomen decide to start a makers’ market. And a community group decide to turn their local area around by working hand-in-hand to change the perception of their home, for the better.
The word, above all else, is permission.
Each person, at some point, allowed themselves the freedom, through a collage of experiences both positive and negative, formative and reactionary to give themselves the permission to experience, challenge and provoke themselves into action. And thereafter, begin to challenge the structures of bureaucracy and the permissions therein.
And that’s what the Network is.
In 2019 we will challenge not only ourselves, but those around us by providing the opportunities, the experiences and the space for our members to realise their own potential through a considered programme with its feet firmly on the ground.
In our projects we will endeavour to uncover the stories untold, the conversations not yet heard and build the platforms necessary for something new to emerge and by doing so, offer these the permission to be shared, vocalised, staged or exhibited. In this, through the filtration of a process defined in the values enshrined by our community and the principles of a participatory art-form, as yet undefined but still discovering, we will try to unlock each person’s potential.
In 2019 and forward we’re looking into how our projects communicate not only with one another but with activities, events and workshops in and outside of 100 High Street, and thereby build new communities shaped through collective interests, whatever that might be.
Lowland will seek the stories as yet untold – past, present and future.
Dumfries Music Conference will reignite the music venue and raise awareness about women in the industry from across Scotland.
Conversing Building will expand to illuminate conversations around public space, democracy, art and civic responsibility.
Creative Futures will continue to offer the mechanisms of support and creativity for its local community to thrive.
Brave New Words is opening its doors to filmmakers, performance artists and makers of sound and light. Challenging, each month, the world at large with work from local people.
Reel to Real is growing, including nights of good food from our cafe and a programme of international film, highlighting global issues with intimate local relevance.
And 100 High Street will continue to host, produce and collaborate with our local community as well as national companies bringing to life remarkable projects that seek to inspire, provoke, engage and entertain.
There are inevitable dangers in every process and practice, especially those that rely on funding. With each step that the Stove makes in its programming and its wider output, we tread deeper into an undefined land, with unexpected pitfalls, challenges and agendas that require time and sensitivity to fully appreciate and learn from. But if the routes ahead of us were already defined, we would sit in the shadow of an easier road, and in that lose who we are as practitioners with a collective responsibility.
To quote our newly completed Blue Book, a handy guide to our work at the Stove:
‘The Stove is just a part of the conversation happening throughout the world. How can people better take control of the places they live, and by doing that, how can we create a better society for everyone? At the heart of it, the Stove is all about Dumfries. Born from a respect for ourhome town, we believe we can shake things up and begin to reclaim our town as something everybody can be part of. Sure, it’s a big idea and we don’t have all the answers but we’re not ones for sitting back and letting the big decisions happen without us. We believe we can reclaim, inspire and forge big new ideas on community, art,and citizenship alongside our neighbours, communities and partners. We believe that art is a gateway for people to better understand their lives, their sense of place and their rights. By doing this, through our programme and our work with partners, both local, national and international we’re building new careers, challenging the outdated ideas on community and art and making those in power listen. So, be part of the conversation. Drop in for a chat in our cafe, come see a film, perform at Brave New Words, join Blueprint100 and learn new skills or volunteer at Nithraid. There are so many ways to get involved!’
So, what are you going to do?
Come along and find out.
Our Orchestrator, Matt Baker is one of the original founders of The Stove Network and offers some personal reflections about how The Stove started and how it works today.
So just Who or What is The Stove?
‘The Stove’ has existed for 7 years now. Its origins have perhaps been forgotten, and questions and assumptions naturally arise about what The Stove is now, how it functions, for whom and why?
Let me start by stating that I am fiercely proud of The Stove, and believe passionately in its potential to help people shape their own dreams and careers. I also hope that The Stove is a creative force that has become a vital part of supporting local people to re-invent Dumfries as a vibrant and prosperous place, a Dumfries fit for our times.
The Stove started as a conversation in 2011, between 10 artists and creative people working in the area. We all shared a belief that placing a community project with a creative ethos at the heart of Dumfries town centre would have a positive impact on the future of the town and contribute new opportunities for local people, when precious few existed. That was it really – a commitment to the generous way that creative people work together and how that could infuse the life of the town.
There were moments of doubt and significant obstacles to overcome on the journey: ‘how would we run a space?’, ‘where would the money come from?’, ‘how would we organise ourselves and make decisions?’… we have tackled every question and situation in the same spirit – by talking together and applying our founding values:
To work through collaboration (not in isolation)
To innovate (not be risk-averse)
To put people first and consider the emotional landscape of all decision-making
These values bring creative practice into all of the structures and processes that we encounter, developing a working methodology that keeps The Stove open, transparent and flexible. People are genuinely able to shape The Stove in ways that work for them and for the town.
Our values led us to the two foundations of how The Stove works:
The Stove is a membership organisation, membership is free and unrestricted*. Currently we have just over 500 members who, every year, elect a Board of Directors who are responsible for running The Stove.
The Board employ a very small team of core employees who take care of the day to day management of The Stove. The core team supports a much larger group of freelancers – this is a flexible and changing group of people who work on one or more project with The Stove, some of these roles are longer term and some can be just a matter of weeks connected to a particular festival or workshop.
Our doors are always open for members. They can (and do) get in touch at any time with their questions, ideas and projects. Literally anyone can work with the Stove, either in a paid capacity, as a volunteer, for the experience or just the good craic of being involved in something worthwhile. We are proud that in 2017-18 we were able to offer £212,000 in contracts and opportunities for the local creative people and small businesses at all stages of their development. Since 2011, we’ve commissioned £665,775 in total. This is all money that the vision and vibrancy of The Stove has managed to attract to the area. For every £1 of local council support we receive for local projects, we attract an additional £8.00 of income from other sources (check our ‘Key Facts’ for more info about Stove income sources and history)
It has been an extraordinary journey since that original conversation around a table at the Coach and Horses in 2011…but the Stove’s success continues to be drawn from those original founding principles of: people first, collective working, openness and, of course, creativity. Why not see for yourself and come in for a chat – it might just be a conversation that changes your life!
*you don’t have to be an ‘artist’, just interested in our mission to be part of shaping the future of our region. Check it out here
Last night we held our yearly AGM which was a typically animated and entertaining Stovie night! We began this year with a discussion for our members around local democracy. Scottish Government has begun a national conversation about the need for more decisions to be made at a local level and they are asking for ideas about ways to do this.There has been much community-led activity around the country of late, with much of it being informal and grass roots. The question we posed at The Stove last night was how could this genuine popular activity become part of the larger power structure of our country?
In particular, we focused on the role that “alternative peoples town halls” could play – by this we mean places like The Stove that are publicly accessible and full of life and energy; places where conversations about ideas, change and projects naturally happen and places that people know they can always bring ideas or find out what is happening. Members talked about their experiences connected with The Stove and how Stove projects, discussions and partnerships created a fertile ground for the local community to get involved with making their own place for the future.
Keeping democracy visible using empty shops etc. as “alternative town halls”;
Cultural activity being a brilliant way of keeping democratic process accessible and relevant for communities;
Uniting people around specific projects for their community being the catalyst for involving people in local decision making.
Then the AGM itself was a warm and supportive affair with an atmosphere of positivity about the last year and the future. The final accounts and Chairs Report will be posted on the website in 2 weeks time when we get the final audited accounts back from the accountant at the beginning of December.
I’ve had cause to think about public money of late – what do people mean by the term? Why is it such a loaded term? Are attitudes different in different societies? Has the nature of public money changed for us over the years? What should it be for now?
I suppose things started with chiefs and monarchs demanding taxes from the people within their tribes or lands to pay for organising their safety and keeping the peace. Then when we moved to a democratic way of organising our society we kept the taxation idea but attempted to make a system whereby the money gathered was a form of common-wealth that was directed to making the best for everybody. In Britain this resulted in incredible, visionary things like the National Health Service and free education for all. In other societies (e.g. Scandinavian countries) there still seems to be a strong sense that everyone contributes and everyone expects to benefit from the resources, services and opportunities provided by the common-wealth of the community. This is not public money viewed as the bare minimum to provide a safety net for those too poor or sick to look after themselves or base-level provision of things we have a ‘right’ to expect like cleaning the streets…rather it is a conscious and deliberate system for giving the best standard of living and opportunities to the most people within a society…and how that builds a place long-term, not just patch the streets.
This is what I have been pondering – Why do we often seem to have such a different attitude in our society? Why are we not proud and passionately engaged in the process of deciding on the best way to invest our common-wealth to give the maximum benefit to everyone? To debate answers to these questions would be to analyse hundreds of years of politics, culture and history. I can’t pretend to be capable of doing that – and, ultimately I am not all that interested in the answers.
What I am passionate about is the situation that we find ourselves in just now, and what we, as a modern society, as a community of people, are going to do in facing up to our situation. We have created a massive and shameful gap between people with nothing and people with everything – and the gap is growing larger by the day. The terrible logic of this is that people seem to feel that they must hold tightly to the relatively little they have, a perverse culture of fear … ‘devil take the hindmost’… ‘I’m alright Jack’’. This fear actually supports the widening gap … whilst we are protecting our crumbs others are gleefully stashing away full cakes. But what if instead of fearing losing more – we were to build strength rather than merely try to stem a decline that we have been convinced is inevitable?
It seems to me that this is the root of current attitudes to ‘public money’ some people are so deeply wedded to this culture of acceptance of doom that they see any use of public money as either a ‘waste’ or ‘too little too late’ or ‘naïve’ or ‘corrupt’… may be such people have lost hope of improving their situation (or that of their neighbours) or they have a vested interest in the current status quo and seek to undermine any attempt to change it.
The truth is that Public Money (our common-wealth) is, along with our passion, spirit and creativity the most powerful tool we have for levelling the playing field of opportunity in our society. If we can create the opportunities for more people to achieve their potential everyone will be raised up together. Feeling pleased at seeing someone struggle is simply a mirror of your own struggle – by celebrating the growth of others we all grow together.
This is why I (and The Stove) am proud and humbled to be trusted with sums of public money. I feel the responsibility to extract every ounce of usefulness and benefit for my community. I see public money as an investment in our collective passion, spirit and creativity and a means of reaching out a supportive and compassionate hand. Public money can be smart and inventive, but above all it needs to be a force for equality, because only understanding ourselves as a community with the power to grow together will we have any chance of bridging the gap that threatens to destroy us all.
The Midsteeple Quarter Project is looking for members of the public to join them in taking back control of the High Street and be part of practical projects and practical improvements for the town by joining the ‘Doon Toon Army’.
Kevin Reid, Creative Producer for the Midsteeple Quarter Project, is hoping that all the various community groups working hard around Dumfries will join together and form a civic army which we are calling the ‘Doon Toon Army’. Power in numbers as it were, with the outlook of working together to rejuvenate the failing High Street through events, street cleans, painting and redevelopment.
The Midsteeple Quarter is a means by which local people can once more create a town centre that brings opportunity and prosperity for everyone in our community. Everyone can join – it is something that everyone will own and be able to have an equal say in directing. Kevin Reid and the Midsteeple Quarter team are looking for support from the people of Dumfries to volunteer and be part of their community army, making practical improvements in the town and putting pressure on building owners and the government to ‘Do Right by Dumfries’.
A Community Benefit Launch for the Midsteeple Quarter Project will take place on Saturday 7th April around the Plainstanes by the Midsteeple from 11am -3pm, where members of the public will have the opportunity to learn more about the project or sign up to help in any way they can. They encourage people to get involved, spread the word and be part of making a town we can all be proud of once more.
The Midsteeple Quarter idea was built on five years of research and consultation with the local community carried out by the local community. Long-term and careful consultation facilitated by The Stove Network, Dumfries High Street Limited and other partners found that there is a wide range of different ideas for what the town needs, but the majority of the responses highlighted the need to bring more people to live back in the town centre. This will create more life during the evenings, make greater demand for services and shops and bring a greater variety and richness to the place.