Wednesday, 23rd March 2022 marked two years since the first covid19 lockdown in the UK, a moment to reflect on the journey we have all made over the past two years, and the changes that have impacted all of our lives.
To mark this moment, The Stove hosted a series of events over the course of the week Charting Two Years of the Atlas Pandemica project. Atlas Pandemica took place from Summer 2020 to early 2021, and saw ten artists projects working with communities across Dumfries and Galloway and the direct impacts on them as a result of the pandemic.
The project culminated in the publication of a new Atlas, a series of Maps to a Kinder World, with each project contributing a map to help guide us in the next steps we all take. Atlas Pandemica also includes additional documents sharing future ambitions and research developed through the project, all of which can be found on our Atlas Pandemica webpage.
Our Charting Two Years events included:
The Cafe at the End of the World, hosted by Robbie Coleman, Jo Hodges and guest Joe Woods as part of the Distance: Proximity: Loss project.
Conversations were hosted around care and the work of unpaid carers hosted by Annie Wild and Emma Jayne Park.
A memorable guided walk around the Spring Fair was supported by TS Beall including a shot on the waltzers!
An official oak tree planting and writer’s readings afternoon at Dumfries Museum, featuring JoAnne McKay and Karen Campbell, with one of Karen’s stories inspiring the planting of an oak tree.
The Atlases have also been installed in the form of a temporary exhibition in the Dumfries & Galloway Council HQ building on English Street, and The Stove Cafe.
Alongside this, a limited number of print edition Atlas Pandemica’s are being gifted to influential and inspiring people up and down the country. We hope that the impact of the Atlas Pandemica project will continue to live on long after the conclusion of the individual activities.
This week The Stove has unveiled a new art exhibition by artist Andy Brooke in the town centre as part of our Elsewhere project. The exhibition reflects on the impact of the lockdown in the Spring, and the on-going impacts of covid-19 on the sense of community in Dumfries and beyond, from the lack of physical connection with others, to navigating public space, balancing relationships with our families, and valuing the health of everyone.
The exhibition has been created for two shop windows of The Midsteeple Quarter, and includes ceramic sculptures and a series of handmade prints. The exhibition will be on display at 113-115 High Street from the 21st of October to 22nd November 2020, and is viewable from the street from 9am to 9pm daily.
Where Were We Then?
“At the start of Lockdown I was surprised and touched by the new ways we learned of avoiding strangers on the street by a set of mutually agreed movements a bit like dancing around each other.
We were responsive and respectful towards others when out walking, shopping or cycling and a new code of citizenship was born out of the solidarity we shared. There was a kind of beauty there.”
Where Are We Now?
“We are better connected than we were in Lockdown, but we don’t really know the pathway through the next few months and beyond… The warp and weft of physical connection is still strong but we long for the touch of our fellow humans – we are tactile creatures who feel strange not feeling the rough or smooth palm of another in ours.”
Andy Brooke is a member of the Stove and a recently new resident to Dumfries. Having had the move from Essex to Dumfries delayed by the pandemic, Andy took part in the Stove’s homegrown project, a series of online invitations during the lockdown to respond creatively to covid-19, and is one of several artists commissioned to further develop his responses for this exhibition.
Elsewhere is a research project facilitated by The Stove Network that looks to locate creative activity in the High Street of Dumfries as a means of exploring public space during a time when we as a community are responding to, and recovering from the effects of covid-19 on our sense of place. Elsewhere is supported by the Midsteeple Quarter, and is part of the larger current project, Atlas Pandemica.
Elsewhere will culminate in a series of outdoor artworks in unusual spaces around the town centre on the 13th and 14th of November.
Elsewhere has been supported by Dumfries and Galloway’s Regional Arts Fund.
‘The High Street is somewhere we thought we knew, and now it’s different, it’s elsewhere.’
When the lockdown struck, all activity at the Stove was put on hold and what quickly emerged was a project titled Homegrown, gathering and sharing the conversations, creativity and new narratives being drawn in real time during the Lockdown by Stove members and community.
Elsewhere is a research project that looks to locate creative practice in the High Street of Dumfries as means of exploring public space during a time when we as a community are responding to, and recovering from the effects of COVID on our sense of place.
We will be experimenting with new forms of communal experience, gathering and exchange – investigating the unfamiliar in the local, coming together whilst social distancing, and creating a space to share, reflect and create new ideas for public space going forward.
Elsewhere aims to be about low-key testing, pop up investigations for small, transient audiences. We want to explore pausing whilst out beyond the confines of our homes, and at all times of day, inviting audiences to make tentative steps back into their town centres and high streets.
As part of this project we have invited three of our homegrown artists Éoghann MacColl, Helen Walsh and Andy Brooke who initially took part in our micro-commission opportunity to further develop their proposals to appear in the town centre. Each of our three artists contributed to the homegrown project in a variety of ways, and inspired us to re-imagine our future public spaces. Each artist will be presenting their work over the course of the Autumn, from shop window exhibitions to large scale paste-ups, with initiations to respond from our wider community.
We will also be looking to bring some of the other works developed during homegrown into the town centre, from both our members commissions, and wider community of artists who responded to the homegrown themes of open heartedness, solidarity, insight and perseverance.
The Dumfries Signwriting Squad are also working in partnership with the Midsteeple Quarter to develop a visual identity and signposting for elsewhere, keep your eyes peeled for some of this appearing in the High Street in the coming weeks!
Elsewhere will contribute towards Atlas Pandemica: Maps to a Kinder World, through the research and learning carried out throughout the project. Find out more about Atlas Pandemica here.
Elsewhere is curated by Katie Anderson, and includes the work of artists and Stove members, Éoghann MacColl, Helen Walsh, Andy Brooke and the Dumfries Signwriting Squad. Each artist initially took part in the homegrown project during the lockdown and continue to develop these conversations as part of Elsewhere.
This is The Stove’s response to the call-out from the Cross-party Committee on Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs on the impact of covid-19 to Scotlands Culture and Tourism sectors and how our sector should be supported at this time.
We see it as part of our role in the region to advocate for those working in the creative sector in D+G but there is strength in numbers so we strongly encourage others to send in responses so that as many voices can be heard as possible – link here
Response submitted on the 17.8.2020
This response comes from our experience as a community focused organisation in the High Street of Dumfries, ongoing discussion with the freelance creative community of Dumfries and Galloway, the small groups and businesses we work with and as many of the national discussions and emerging reports we can sanely be part of.
Q – how best the industry can be supported during this unprecedented time.
We need urgent support for the freelance creative economy in Dumfries and Galloway in the form of a) paid work opportunities for freelancers, b) support for local arts infrastructure to effectively support freelancers and c) support for a network that can learn and share learning from this activity.
This paper develops a series of proposals for support and a long term vision through an understanding of the cultural sector that has been brought into sharp focus by COVID.
We need devolved local delivery of support that takes into account the monumental variety of work and structures that produce and deliver it within our sector at a grassroots level
We need a long-term VISION that embraces innovations in how we value cultural and creative work – wider social benefit, place-based initiatives and community wealth building, localised power and delivery
We need to talk about what we have missed, not just what we have done, and be clear on who has not been heard or supported
We need to be honest about the “real” long-term impact of support, who will not benefit and why. We need to share and recycle ALL support given – if we invest into spaces/buildings/large institutions for example, how can they then pay that forward to others in the sector and their surrounding community through resource, space, knowledge sharing, local expertise and procurement and be held accountable to that?
Fundamentally we need a grassroots and sector-led approach led by the people who make creative work and the local communities it should benefit and be a part of
OUR FOCUS IN DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY
Our building and community is a non-residential and transient community. At the very start of lockdown it became clear that others were better placed than us to provide the type of community care roles that we have seen a lot of creative place-based groups and organisations take in the field creative community-led work we operate in.
Our focus became the immediate and devastating impact on our local community of creative freelancers who are the pillars that hold up the region’s creative sector – small creative businesses, local projects, independent festivals and events across SW Scotland. The freelancers in our community do not have a platform in national conversations on arts, culture and their economic impact and value, advocating for them as well as providing work opportunities and networking support became our way to act.
We have been approaching this twofold – by taking part in as many of those local, regional and national conversations as we have capacity for and actively working with our membership and creative community so that the grassroots of the sector can be as loud and visible as possible in shaping how we move forward.
For our small acts of solidarity and creativity see our Homegrown Blog
Atlas Pandemica is a new project, like Homegrown, specifically developed in response to COVID, it commissions artists to gather and react to stories of the pandemic’s impact on often unheard voices in our communities and develop creative visioning for going forward into a more socially inclusive future.
It is this grassroots workforce in creative and cultural activity alongside local groups and organisations that we have seen as key collaborators and indicators of the resilience and innovation by local folk and communities.
Our long-term, strategic aim here is to support a regional network of Creative Placemaking activity that helps build and sustain a robust creative workforce whilst responding to real need at local community level.
The creative and cultural sector that is embedded in communities is under-represented across our national agencies and as such also lacking in engagement and relative collection of data in terms of their wider economic impact for our places and communities.
The Stove’s recent Embers report, April 2020, highlighted the necessity of supporting community-led, localised action and the lack of understanding of the value of this work to healthy economies. The grants for self-employed creatives were welcome but they do little to consider and understand the expense needed to continue to work as a freelance worker in our industry (support for three months of living/work expenses in Scotland coming out lower than the UK average of £2900, under £1000 a month) SEISS Statistics.
” Performers and other creative practitioners like me earn on average £10k a year and do not fit within the Chancellor’s characterisation of those left out of the SEISS. It is claimed that those who are excluded represent just 5% of the self-employed workforce, earning on average £200k – this is very clearly not the experience of the more than 40% of Equity members who have not been able get support so far.” – Equity letter to Government
Excluded UK estimates that 3 million freelancers across sectors have been excluded from any support.
This needs to be courageously recognised so that it can be addressed in the plans we now take forward. Through our experience this includes, but is not limited to, the following groups and activities in cultural and creative industries:
Young emerging and those not registered as self-employed
Vulnerable groups and minorities
Informal learning programmes and groups
Independent festivals and events
“Creative workers–one of the more vulnerable sectors of the workforce–are already seeing devastating impacts on their income, not only in turnover terms, but also in their charitable contributions and sponsorships. Leaving behind the more fragile part of the sector could cause irreparable socio-economic damage.” – p5 Oxford Economics Report – The projected economic impact of cvoid-19 on the UK Creative Industries 15.6.2020
Our ideas around this add to the pool of information, research and experience coming from creative freelancers across the globe, community groups and workers, academics, think tanks etc. to justify a more holistic and creative approach to economic recovery that makes use of our community groups and organisations (Community Wealth Building, Carnegie Trust on Wellbeing, Wellbeing Economy, Anchor Organisations). We need the investment to start making it happen and the courage to do it in a localised, place-based way.
Through our work at The Stove we have seen the impact that can be had when the ground is made fertile and people are given the agency to develop and grow things locally.
A CULTURE COLLECTIVE
We see an opportunity to devolve resource and power to local people by supporting creative freelancers and groups and organisations that are already working as part of their communities to develop locally responsive projects that can also take advantage of cross sector opportunity for long-term benefit.
“What if we were to pay out of work people in the Creative and Community sectors a fair wage to work in their local communities to start new projects (or build on things started in lockdown) – these could be cultural projects like choirs, writer’s groups etc. but they could also be environmental projects or new social enterprises. Our skill set is to ‘make shit happen’, we are producers, innovators and entrepreneurs! If this National Task Force was to get things started then the national agencies and funders could come in behind and help take things to the next level and, before you know it you have communities making their places, economies and health better.“
“The premise is simple – our Embers report has clearly shown the pivotal role played by creative practitioners and small creative organisations to initiate and maintain momentum in placemaking projects. These may start with cultural projects, but quickly develop into new social enterprises, asset-based and environmental initiatives. In short – do some cultural pump-priming in a community setting and the payback in terms of community resilience, economic development and people’s wellbeing is incredible.“
We believe support needs to align towards a clear VISION that can be shaped by the changing needs of the sector and is representative of the wide variety of work this includes – notably the less heard voices of creative freelancers, voluntary and community-led groups and organisations. It needs to be local, be a collaboration between the sector and our communities and feed the local innovation that is already there.
“The COVID-19 emergency has let us see what only the state can do – set up hospitals; fund research into a vaccine; shift resources to the front line – and what only communities can do – mobilise and respond quickly by building on existing relationships; pool collective resources; think creatively about what assets are available.”
“While the Government is able to float ideas for action, these can only become a reality through collaboration with the arts and creative sector. For example, the idea of a National Arts Force needs all of us in culture to come together and work with other bodies to shape a plan that can make this happen…only we the creative practitioners on the ground know how this could work…we must take our place at the discussion table for the sake of everyone who works in our sector and for society at large.” – https://thestove.org/creativity-and-community-as-part-of-the-national-recovery/
We have the knowledge, we have the tools, we have the live projects that are working and the historical examples of what activities and investments are impactful in a deeper, wider sense of economic resilience and wellbeing, now is the time to stop pitching our systems to big business and outdated ideas of ‘growth’ as a measure of societal success.
Guest Post by community artist & Blueprint100 Member, Kirsty Turpie
I was invited by the Blueprint100 team at the beginning of the year to run the Tuesday night Open Studio sessions. Blueprint has always been supportive of new ideas and giving young artists opportunities to try things out so they were happy for me to bring something new to the table. This was a series of talks about ‘Buildings that housed vibrant artist communities’. Of course The Stove is a building that houses a vibrant artist community but I wanted to explore with the Blueprint100 members, similar vibrant communities from history and from around the world, to see what we could learn from them and be inspired by. So we did just that.
However in March just as I was about to hold the third talk and Open Studio, dun dun dun…we all know what happened next, Scotland went into lockdown and it was no longer possible to continue the sessions. So being creative and innovative folk, we decided to continue online (after all it was the new craze to go online!). Along with Katharine Wheeler of The Stove Curatorial Team and Stove IT and website whiz, Robbie Henderson, we created Online Rooms on the Blueprint100 website to offer members a place to go to stay involved, inspired and entertained.
I came up with four different rooms: talks, opportunities, creative pastimes and a members’ gallery. It felt really exciting to be able to continue what I’d started for Open Studio, but in a new format. It also provided an opportunity to add new sections to the website that would be really beneficial to members on top of doing the talks. I contacted the Blueprint members and asked them if they would like to exhibit their work in the members’ gallery and had a great response. It has always excited me how much young creative talent there is in Dumfries and Galloway, so to be able to help them to promote their work and show others a taste of the wonderful folk that come along to Blueprint felt great.
At the start of lockdown when I was setting up Online Rooms, I also found a lot of great resources on the creative websites that I follow on how to survive as an artist during lockdown. These resources included lists of remote job opportunities, funding options and general ways of keeping inspired and entertained. This was something that I thought would be really helpful for Blueprint Members so included it on Online Rooms.
For the talks on Online Rooms I shied away from doing live videos and went for pre-recorded. This not only took off the pressure for myself but gave everyone at home the option to pop on to the website and watch it whenever they liked. The talks that I did were about the Chelsea Hotel in New York, Outsider Artists, Artist Collectives and a Viewers Choice talk. So they were similarly about vibrant artist communities. I’m a big fan of watching documentaries so I tend to delve in to art interests in that way in my spare time, but doing these talks made me watch more of them, more often and do more reading too which was really enjoyable. I get so inspired and motivated by hearing about other artists and creative communities and I hope Blueprint100 members do too.
I’d definitely recommend making time every so often to look for some YouTube videos about your favourite creative interests, as it can lead you down new paths and find out new things about the art world that you never knew. I always felt motivated and inspired after doing the research, so I would suggest it as a great remedy to fixing creative blocks!
Overall I hope that the talks and resources on Online Rooms have helped Blueprint100 members to stay motivated, inspired and enthusiastic about creativity during lockdown.
This post was written by Community Artist & Blueprint100 Member, Kirsty Turpie