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How Creativity & Culture Can Support Communities

A Creative Placemaking Approach

The Stove Network, with support from South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE), publish an important, new approach to Community Wealth Building and Community-Led Place Development.

The publication, entitled, ‘A Creative Placemaking Approach’ presents a methodology identifying how creativity and culture can work collaboratively with communities and support cross-sector working, addressing civic, economic, and development needs locally with communities.

This publication aims to support a vision of place and community where: creativity is used to develop a resilient and fair, future society, built on community wealth building principles, innovation, and long-term thinking.

The publication is the culmination of over 10 years of rural-based practice in the South of Scotland alongside wider research and consultation already carried out by The Stove Network, including Scotland’s first Creative Placemaking Forum, ‘kNOw One Place’ hosted in Dumfries in 2022.

For a long time, we have seen first-hand the gap between national policies in areas such as community empowerment, wellbeing economies, sustainable tourism, place-based planning, and what it takes to really make these work for local communities. New approaches are needed that enable local communities to come together to work through ideas, think differently, address challenges and come up with their own solutions whilst at the same time building the capacity to take this forward for themselves. Significantly this is a place-based approach that is enabled, and not led by, the multiple agencies, organisations and service providers that have a stake in a place.

Katharine Wheeler of The Stove Network and Director of WWDN (Creative Placemaking Network)

Placemaking traditionally refers to the concept of developing successful spaces for communities and encouraging connection and creativity for the common good.  Creative placemaking is a cultural and arts led approach to placemaking that uses creativity as a support structure for communities to take a leading role in the development of their places.

We believe this Creative Placemaking approach is hugely important in supporting change for communities in the South of Scotland and beyond. With unique villages and towns this approach can help unlock opportunities and potential to build stronger and sustainable communities. SOSE fully supports the approach outlined in this paper, it aligns with our values of bold and inclusive, while empowering our communities using creatives to translate ideas and thoughts for a meaningful community wealth building approach.”

Jane Morrison-Ross, Chief Executive of South of Scotland Enterprise

Creative placemaking is particularly effective at developing community engagement, amplifying less heard voices, and supporting the development of community capacity and partnerships to effect real change.

“What we have seen through creative placemaking projects is a range of impacts for communities from major physical regeneration projects, such as Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries, to life and career progression for individuals in communities – new skills, confidence, increased social networks etc. The key connecting factor has been the effectiveness of creative placemaking initiatives as open and inclusive ’spaces’ which give less-heard sections of community new agency within local decision-making processes and new empowerment for themselves to be part of making the change they wish to see.”

Matt Baker, CEO of The Stove Network

Read or download the published paper here
Musings News

A Culture of Participation aka ‘Growing Our Own Culture’

By Matt Baker

In this post I’m going to talk about sport, or specifically, about how we value and fund sport in Scotland and how this could positively enhance culture[1] in Scotland and deliver on our national strategy for culture[2]

We fund sport in Scotland in two ways, firstly we support sports venues, organisations, individual sportspeople, international competitions and the promotion of sport. So, a very similar picture to the way we fund culture.

But, importantly, we also fund grassroots sports development, local clubs and opportunities for everyone to take part in sport. It can be strongly argued that this support for participation in sport embeds many of the qualities of sport in our nation – such as teamwork, self-improvement, physical activity etc far more so than would be achieved by simply watching others playing sports. It also clearly drives an accessibility and inclusion which we see demonstrated in the diversity of backgrounds of successful sportspeople and those who comment on/present and administrate sport.

I need to say before I start to talk directly about support for culture that all my arguments are based on the foundation that we must retain the support we already give to culture. Everything I am saying here is about additional support which compliments, enhances and relies on continuing support for our national cultural infrastructure and development.

Fundamentally, in Scotland, we do not have a comparable second strand of support for participation in culture. In 1946, the first chairman of the Arts Council of Gt Britain announced, ‘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’[3] and that is still pretty much the principle of how we fund culture in Scotland today. As a result, culture has ended up in something of a silo of its own, concerned with culture in and of itself rather than the potential for culture to make the deepest contribution to society as a whole.

Yes, we do our best with the cultural support we have in Scotland to encourage growth from the grassroots of our communities and there are some incredible isolated examples of this – but fundamentally Scotland does not have a clear policy or a mechanism to support widespread participation in culture. There are many cultural groups, projects and organisations that promote grassroots participation, however, in order to support their work, they find themselves in competition for funds with other groups working in food poverty, addiction services etc and unsurprisingly ‘culture’ often misses out, seen as a ‘nice to have’ but not ‘necessary’.

So, why is the situation for sport so different? The straightforward answer is that sport made a focussed and sustained case for the health impacts of physical activity and inclusion in communities. One direct outcome of improving people’s wellbeing through sport is that there is less demand on the health service with a consequent saving of money. 

Culture has a myriad of similar arguments for the societal value of participating in and shaping the culture of the country:

  • Mental health/wellbeing and positive pathways for disadvantaged individuals/communities
  • Reducing social isolation
  • Education in teamwork, problem-solving and adaptability
  • Community cohesion/safety
  • Community visioning and placemaking
  • Innovation growing new businesses and social enterprises

(to name but a few…)

So, why don’t we have support for participation in culture as we do in sport? I believe that part of the answer lies in the very multiplicity of societal impacts from participation in culture, the argument can become diffuse and unclear because of its diversity. However, the issue also lies with the culture sector itself, we have been starved of investment for so long that we cling with white knuckles to what we have and that the way we are used to doing things. In that anxious state the concern expressed is that a participation strand in culture would somehow dilute the quality of our cultural offer by setting up a two-tier system of ‘first and second class art’. The argument goes that this could disrupt the perfectly equal and accessible meritocracy we have now. In truth, culture is the very opposite of equal and accessible currently, and risks side-lining itself into irrelevance unless it finds the confidence and optimism to open itself up and be part of the change required to build a society that is founded on wellbeing, fairness, and opportunity for all.

And of course, as with sport, funding grassroots participation is wholly dependent on the existence of, and a relationship with, a strong and healthy professional cultural sector.

Making the Case

I believe the opportunity and case for supporting culture as a key building block towards a Wellbeing Economy has yet to be effectively made to our politicians, so that they can lay a pathway of understanding and support in parliament and government. The Culture Strategy offers a policy framework for this work, and I’d propose we’d use the strategy as a foundation for making the case through its three pillars of Strengthening, Transforming, Empowering through culture and its core principle of culture being ‘mainstreamed’ across all the portfolios of government.

We need to work across portfolios and in collaboration with those working in government and policy and listen to advice about how to make the case for participation in culture. In the spirit of furthering the idea, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how such an idea might be implemented. These are simply in the form of a framework or principles for making embedding participation in culture one of the features of the Scottish nation.

A Percentage for Culture

Because of the diverse impacts of cultural participation any approach needs to be cross-portfolio (health/wellbeing, education/lifelong learning, communities/regeneration, justice, economy/enterprise). An idea that has been talked of for a while is a ‘percentage for culture’ – this could take the form of a tiny percentage of the budgets of departments whose outcomes could benefit from the impacts of participation in culture (see list above) being allocated to cultural participation programmes.

A principle of any ‘percentage for culture’ policy would require that the departments contributing budget would hold accountability and a degree of control of how budget is spent and the delivery of outcomes. How this would work in practice is beyond the scope of this paper. All I seek to do is propose some principles, one being that a ‘percentage for culture’ cannot simply be handed to a cultural agency to be distributed without the ongoing involvement of the departments contributing to the scheme. Long-term impact and change in society needs to be built into this idea and the mechanism for growing deeper and more integrated joint working between culture and other departments of government.

Other thoughts on implementation would be a need/opportunity for a regional and place-based approach reflecting the very different challenges and opportunities of working within the urban and rural areas of the country. Such an initiative would also be an opportunity to explore the potential for longer-term funding agreements with programmes, projects and organisations. This is a principle that comes up in every sector consultation and the benefits to service users, service providers and funders of long-term agreements has been clearly articulated. One possibility could be to use ‘percentage for arts’ public funding as the basis for regional (or national?) ‘endowments for culture’[4] which could lever additional funds from local sources to develop added value and security for participation in culture.

A Framework

In summary a Participation in Culture Initiative framework could include:

  • Percentage for culture across government departments
  • Accountability/collaboration across departments in implementation of Participation in Culture
  • Regional/place-based approach to implementation
  • Innovation in funding models

I’d be very interested to hear from anyone with thoughts about supporting participation in culture and particularly anyone who’d like to help develop the case. Please get in touch at [email protected] or @_mattbaker on Twitter

[1] ‘Everyone has the right to participate freely in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits’ (Article 27, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

[2] ‘Scotland is a place where culture is valued, protected and nurtured. Culture is woven through everyday life, shapes and is shaped by society, and its transformative potential is experienced by everyone.’ (Culture Strategy for Scotland. 2020) Full strategy here

[3] The beginnings of the British Arts Council and its shift away from ‘participation in culture’ to ‘professionalised culture’ is well covered in ‘Culture, Democracy and the Right to Make Art
– The British Community Arts Movement’ edited by Alison Jeffers and Gerri Moriaty.

[4] The work of Leah Black at EVOC is instructive in this regard – see her initial report into setting up a long-term fund for Third Sector organisations in Edinburgh

Matt Baker is the Orchestrator of The Stove Network and one of The founders of the organisation. His challenge is to remain attuned to the overall direction of The Stove, through remaining true to our values and leading a culture of learning, empowerment and excellence within our organisation. Matt is also the interim chair of the National Partnership for Culture, the independent group appointed by the Cabinet Secretary for Culture to support the delivery of the national culture strategy.

Opportunities Project Updates

Call for Consultant: Community Garden and Food Growing in Stranraer

(This Opportunity is Now Closed)

The Stove Network is seeking applications for a consultancy commission to develop a long-term plan and funding applications for the future of the Unexpected Garden in Stranraer.


It is hoped that the consultancy commission will be completed within the first three months of 2023.


A fee of £3000 (inclusive of VAT) is offered for this commission. Reasonable expenses will be reimbursed at negotiated rates and an allowance is also held for any production costs required

Context and Brief

We are seeking an experienced consultant to support the development of the Unexpected Garden in Stranraer ensuring that it has a life well into the future. Stranraer is currently undergoing an exciting period of change and development and already the Unexpected Garden has demonstrated the potential to play a central role in Stranraer’s revitalisation. Significant cultural, economic and social initiatives are underway in the town and there is an ambition for community food growing and education to be a connecting thread in a future Stranraer. The commissioned consultant will:

  • Consult with project partners who have expressed a desire to be part of managing and running the Unexpected Garden (currently approx. 8 established, local, Third Sector groups)
  • Consult with other ongoing regeneration initiatives in the town (eg Stranraer Marina Project and George Hotel redevelopment). Currently a town-wide community place planning (Creating Stranraer) exercise in underway, led by Stranraer Development Trust. The Unexpected Garden is a significant part of the emerging Place Plan.
  • Develop long-term vision for the Unexpected Garden that is aligned with local/national strategy for food security/net zero. This vision will also include a proposed governance/operating structure with financial projections and a programming/development plan that supports the needs and aspirations of project partners.
  • Research funding sources for the future of the Unexpected Garden, develop a fundraising/income strategy and complete funding applications which, if successful, will ensure the initial implementation of the development plan for the garden.

The commission will be managed by The Stove Network and the consultant will work alongside the Community Gardener who will support consultation with project partners on the ground and contribute to the development of the development plan for the Unexpected Garden. Funding applications will be made through project partners Stranraer Development Trust. Additional garden expertise will be available through the project’s Lead Gardener.

Because of the existing strong presence on the ground of partners and project team it is not expected that the consultant will need to be based near to Stranraer; though local knowledge will clearly be an advantage it will not be a high priority within selection.

Funding is available for ongoing maintenance and potentially for some investment in garden infrastructure of the Unexpected Garden up to April 2023. This will be managed by The Stove Network.

How to Apply:

We encourage you to apply in a way that you feel most comfortable or you can submit your CV and a short covering letter, or video, to [email protected], explaining why you’re interested and what you could bring to the role. Please also give an indication of how you would approach delivery of the desired outcomes and how long you anticipate spending on each part.

Deadline for applications: 5pm, Friday 16th December 2022

It’s important that our people reflect and represent the diversity of the communities and audiences we serve. We welcome and value difference, so when we say we’re for everyone, we want everyone to be welcome in our teams too. Wherever you’re from, and whatever your background, we want to hear from you. We will accept applications from anyone and everyone who feels they have the skills required to fulfil this role.

Interested? Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!


The Unexpected Garden is a community garden situated on the waterfront of Stranraer, its creation was led by The Stove Network and Stranraer Development Trust. The garden was commissioned by EventScotland and funded via the Scottish Government, as part of Dandelion which was Scotland’s contribution to UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK. The Unexpected Garden was created in 2022 on an underused patch of ground next to Stranraer Harbour and the former ferry terminal, it has become a prominent and important symbol of the long hoped for revitalisation of the town and has attracted highly successful partnership working with many local groups. During the summer, the garden became a popular event space for community events ranging from open-mic nights to family craft workshops held in a tent in the garden. Also, the service users of our project partners use the garden regularly and through this activity the garden has become an important mixing space for different sections of the local community. The garden is designed as community food growing project and in September 2022 the Unexpected Garden was home to a community Harvest Festival which was attended by 750+ local folk.

Musings News

Creative Placemaking and How it is Being Implemented Within The Scottish Cultural Sector

Anthony Schrag and Caitlin McKinnon’s paper, “Exploring the Boundary-Crossing Nature of ‘Creative Placemaking’: The Stove as ‘Adaptor/Converter’” features in the internationally renowned publication, Field.

Field is a journal of socially-engaged art criticism and responds to the remarkable proliferation of new artistic practices devoted to forms of political, social and cultural transformation. Frequently collaborative in nature, this work is being produced by artists and art collectives throughout North, South and Central America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Schrag and McKinnon’s paper explores, in depth, the concept of creative placemaking, and the role of The Stove Network in developing and spearheading this idea within its current methodology and its approach in Southwest Scotland. 

Creative Placemaking, is defined by The Stove Network through the WWDN project as: a community led approach that uses creative activity to support collective decision-making and positive change for people and the places they live. This paper explores the relationships between people, place, and creativity, (Creative Placemaking) and “how this ‘new’ concept of place-based creative works is being implemented within the (UK/Scottish) cultural sector, with particular attention placed on The Stove, in Dumfries.”

Dr Anthony Schrag, co-author of this paper, recently contributed to ‘kNOw One Place’, Scotland’s first forum dedicated to the discussion and ambition of creative placemaking, produced by The Stove Network and supported by South of Scotland Enterprise and Culture Collective (funded by Scottish Government and coordinated by Creative Scotland). This future-thinking discussion on how communities can use creativity to lead the development of their places, featured a series of online webinars and a mixture of open space discussion and expert reflection, exhibition, and original artworks. Drawing people from public, private, independent, and charitable sectors together to share and co-create an agenda for creativity and placemaking for the future.

In the following video, Anthony explores Creative Placemaking, specifically focusing on the idea of a ‘boundary crosser’ using his recent paper as reference:

Matt Baker, Orchestrator, The Stove Network emphases the critical role that creativity can play in the development of community led planning.

“The focus of creative placemaking is to bring under-represented voices from the community into conversations about the future of the area in which they live, through active creative projects. To bring together people, communities, groups, and organisations, public, private and third sector agencies to develop common ground on community-led planning and enterprise.”

Watch Matt as he explains what Creative Placemaking means, in this context, and how it is making an impact through What We Do Now (WWDN), The Stove Network’s creative placemaking pilot project that has been underway for more than 12 months in Dumfries & Galloway. This ground-breaking, collaborative project works with artists, communities and organisations in Castle Douglas, Dumfries, Langholm, Sanquhar and Stranraer.

Caitlin Wallace, an Inspire Graduate with Dumfries & Galloway Council, has explored further the relationship between artists and Places through the strategic partnership Dumfries & Galloway Council has with WWDN.

Caitlin Wallace

Working closely with the project to understand the opportunities within Creative Placemaking for community-led planning and development, specifically as a tool for communities to develop their own Place Plans, Caitlin spent time interviewing the participants of WWDN about their projects and Creative Placemaking approach to working within their communities.

Throughout the WWDN pilot Katharine Wheeler, Partnerships and Projects Development Lead at The Stove Network explains;

“Our focus for the project was to connect artists and community organisations together, to develop creative activities and projects in their communities with the intent for wider social change and wellbeing for those involved.”

Katharine Wheeler, Speaking at kNOw One Place in September 2022.

In this review, Katharine looks back on the first 12 months of the project and not only celebrates successes, but also identifies challenges and opportunities for the future.

This approach to collaborative working practice, leads the way to a new future of creative placemaking in Southern Scotland. To discover more about WWDN and Creative Placemaking in Southwest Scotland, visit: 

Exploring the Boundary-Crossing Nature of ‘Creative Placemaking’: The Stove as ‘Adaptor/Converter’

About the Authors

“Dr. Anthony Schrag is a practicing artist and researcher, and Senior Lecturer at Queen Margaret’s University (Edinburgh). The central focus of his work examines the role of art in participatory and public contexts, with a specific focus on social conflict, agonism and ethics. His PhD and current research examines the notion of ‘Pro-Social Conflict’ within participatory and social-practice projects. His most recent publication The Failures of Public Art and Participation (co-edited with Cameron Cartiere) was released in Sept, 2022. He is currently the Primary Investigator on a RSE project developing a Rural Art Network (Scotland). He has worked nationally and internationally, including residencies in Iceland, USA, Canada, Pakistan, Finland, The Netherlands, and South Africa, among others. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants including Royal Society of Edinburgh, The Hope Scot Trust, Creative Scotland, British Council, Royal Scottish Academy, the Dewar Arts Award, Standpoint Futures as well as a Henry Moore Artist Fellowship.

Caitlin McKinnon is an SGSAH funded PhD Candidate exploring Arts Management Education. Caitlin has sought to immerse herself in the arts and cultural world in a variety of different positions. Highlights include co-founding a community arts zine in her hometown, volunteering with a Toronto Artists Collective during their takeover of a vacant subway kiosk and working at the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre to run story-based workshops for the local community.  More recently, Caitlin has worked on several different research projects commissioned by Creative Scotland, British Council (Scotland), Engage Scotland, as well as organisations such as Out of the Blue, the Stove, and SESQUI Canada. As a developing researcher, Caitlin’s research interests include discourses of arts management, professionalisation, cultural policy, and relations of power in the cultural sector.”

Musings News Project Updates

Creative Placemaking

The Stove Network launch kNOw One Place, Creative Placemaking Forum – an ambitious, future-thinking discussion on creative placemaking.  The Forum will take place from 22-23 September 2022 at Loreburn Hall in Dumfries and will draw over 100 people from public, private, independent and charitable sectors across the two days.  Through a mixture of open space discussion and expert reflection, exhibition and original artworks, the forum is set to be a participatory space to think about and develop grass-roots and community-led approaches to placemaking for the future – both nationally and internationally.

We define Creative Placemaking as: a community led approach that uses creative activity to support collective decision-making and positive change for people and the places they live

More about Creative Placemaking

The idea for the forum stems from the work that The Stove Network has led on over the past 10 years.  The Stove Network has been working with a Creative Placemaking approach at its core since its inception to stimulate conversations, change, art, and renewed ownership across communities in Dumfries.  This was then formalised, scaled and piloted as a network approach to working from within communities in the recent project, What We Do Now. What We Do Now helped inform and was part of Scotland’s Culture Collective Programme, a major Scottish initiative for culture and creativity to play a role in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.

We have also published our approach to Creative Placemaking in our most recent publication, Embers. Now it’s time to dig into the core principles of this work with others, to contribute to our evolving understanding of this way of working in Scotland.

Hear from Katharine Wheeler, Partnerships and Project Development at The Stove Network, as she talks about Creative Placemaking and ‘What We Do Now’:

Join the conversation

Throughout the month of September and in the lead-up to the kNOw One Place forum, The Stove Network will host a series of online activities and events that will take a closer look at creative placemaking. 

These events will bring together the public, private, independent, and charitable sectors through open space discussion, expert reflection, an exhibition, and original artworks.

Across two weeks five digital events will explore the key creative placemaking themes of:

All events take place online from 6pm- 7pm and are open to anyone interested in disusing, contributing to or finding out more about the concept of Creative Placemaking.

What We Do Now (WWDN) is a pilot for a Creative Placemaking Network for Dumfries and Galloway which sees The Stove Network support a community anchor group (place hub) in each of five towns in Dumfries & Galloway to host creative practitioners for an extended period to work with sections of the community in that place to co-create new future visions and practical projects.

WWDN supports artists to explore bold new ideas with communities to give voices to those under-represented in local decision making.

For more information on The Stove Networks approach to creative placemaking and to find out more about the pilot project visit:

Musings News

Progressive Seagull Alliance

An open letter from the Progressive Seagull Alliance

Gulls, vagabonds vindicators, lend me yer chips ears!

The Gull. To a Doonhamer, the seagull or ‘largus paininthearsus’ (in Latin) is as welcome as a fart in a phone box. Their reputation precedes them. And rightly so. Who hasn’t been tormented by the kamikaze swoop of a mother gull protecting its hard-won nest? Or been unwittingly stalked pons’t the purchase of a steak bake? These psychopaths of the sky are to Dumfries as Shania Twain is to a Slipknot concert, incompatible, and not all that welcome. Like Jackson Pollock at a warehouse rave, their excrement paints the town in an abstract canvas of anarchy, leaving a trail of empty Greggs bags and traumatised playgrounds in their wake.

So in light of all that, you might be wondering to yourself why exactly the Stove decided to dawn masks, costumes, banners and flags in celebration of these aerial dementors at this year’s Guid Nychburris. I know because I saw you, yes you, looking more than a little confused, in-between the saltire flag and Currie’s lorry, beside the swaying fella with the lime green afro wig and the trumpet. (Side note: imagine having to explain Guid Nychburris to an alien).

Meet the Progressive Seagull Alliance, a vigilante group dedicated to progressive and positive change for the town.

Yes, like Batman (yes I did just compere this to the Dark Knight himself), the Progressive Seagull Alliance (PSA) are here to tackle the negative perceptions of a town on the cusp of something quite extraordinary. Using the winged fiends as an archetype for the town, the PSA are here to challenge negativity, platform the amazing work that’s happening throughout our town and get active!

Riding on the mighty success of their winning entry to the Guid Nychburris Parade (get in!), the Progressive Seagull Alliance are now recruiting for members!

Think of it like Anonymous, only without the scary ‘V’ masks, encyclopaedic knowledge of cryptocurrency, global financial markets and hacking, the Progressive Seagull Alliance are a new wave of positivity swooping into the town.

So how do you get involved?

Stay on the lookout for the Progressive Seagull Alliance pop-ups happening through August and September! Sign up, contribute to our manifesto and get making!

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