Support Us
Musings Project Updates

homegrown – a conclusion and a new beginning

Homegrown was an immediate response to the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown that saw the world close it’s doors and retreat into our homes. The Stove’s doors too were closed and months of programming, preparations for upcoming events and projects were put on hold.
In the final few days before the government enforced the lockdown, we looked for four themes to guide our direction and settled on solidarity, open heartedness, insight and perseverance1. The title for the project looked to create a platform to share the creativity grown from homes across the region, and further afield – and to help create a space to allow these creative reflections to flourish.

We re-grouped, via the now all-too-familiar ZOOM for our first meeting online, and started to investigate how The Stove could respond. The Stove has always been a future-facing and responsive organisation, but we made the decision to be watchful and listen to those around us, supporting the efforts of the council and other agencies, who took the lead on the immediate challenges facing many of our communities.
As the rug was pulled from under our feet, it quickly showed that the rug was all that was holding some of us up; the floor’s foundations were not equally distributed. Of our 600+ members at the Stove, we estimated that as many as half will be self-employed or freelancers, and the COVID-19 shutdown in March saw many people’s incomes wiped out overnight as events and regular contracts were cancelled. The homegrown project initially looked to draw on our resources to share a series of micro-commissions to support Stove members facing financial difficulties. This theme further developed into Atlas Pandemica – for (more detail about this project visit here).

Hope for Food Origin Awareness. For Helen Walsh’s Feathers of Hope series as part of her micro commission

Each week, we invited a creative response from one of our members (growing to two per week as interest developed) to one of our four key themes, and over the weeks we were able to share the work of 14 different artists from a variety of backgrounds and creative approaches. The aim of these micro-commissions was light touch; the proposals were focused on sharing perspectives and experiences of the sudden changes to our world, and giving each artist the time and support to develop something creative where many were finding the daily routine too overwhelming to allow for any reflection or creative focus. Each commission also gave us the opportunity to meet and find out more about our membership, some of whom were new to our team, or familiar faces that we were able to build new relationships with, and to share this with our audiences and wider network digitally.
Homegrown also developed a series of ‘creative challenges’ that were open to anyone to take part in, and responses were received from a wide collection of participants. We set out not to provide distraction, or to add to the noise as organisations scrabbled to move their content online, but to create a space for reflective creative process – opening up space for ideas sharing, playful interaction and exchange. Some of our challenges were focused around key questions – What memories come in times of silence? Where are the secret spaces in your life now? Others invited an exploration of a particular technique or process – photography, writing or printmaking. All of the responses were then added to our online gallery and shared digitally as part of our homegrown conversation.

Memory Jar created by Andy Brooke

Homegrown was conceived of as a starting point, not to provide answers but to open the door to include as many voices in our conversations – towards a new folklore that documented the response from Dumfries and our wider Stove membership in a time of social isolation. Each conversation, collaboration that we hosted opened for us new ways of understanding and interpreting the world around us. As we were each confined to our personal spaces we were able to reach out and make the connections with other people, who helped to drive and direct the project’s course.
Everything is significant, and we have learned a lot over the past three months. As the lockdown moves into a new phase and the town gradually begins to re-open it’s doors, homegrown comes to a close – but we hope to take forward many of the conversations, ideas and approaches that we have learned during this time through listening and being open to the directions of others. As we look forward, we bring the influences of homegrown with us: our new project Atlas Pandemica looks to draw together a team of artists in response to the changes we’ve been facing in Dumfries and Galloway, and Elsewhere a town centre project will look to draw on and further develop some of the responses shared during the homegrown micro commissions. We hope to bring much of the homegrown content from the realm of the digital, back into the public sphere, the physical and the personal, and will be looking at ways to safely do this as restrictions continue to ease.

Doorways. A collective artwork by The Lockdown Collective, JoAnne, John and Luke McKay

The homegrown webpages will continue to live on the Stove website as a record of all of the work that we have shared and grown in our homes, together. To help you navigate the content, you can find:

  • Creative Challenges and responses
  • Artist Talks given by each of the homegrown micro-commissions

Special thanks to everyone that contributed to homegrown.
1Three of these themes, Insight, Open heartedness and perseverance, were originally part of Matt Baker’s three virtues artwork for Inverness.

Poetry by Daniel Gillespie as part of his micro commission
Musings News

Culture and Creativity in the National Recovery Plan

On Monday the National Advisory Group on Economic Recovery published their report with recommendations for priority actions. The report recognised that a) the creative sector had been particularly badly hit by COVID, and b) that culture and creativity had a big part to play in our nation’s recovery. Below is specific section on culture and creativity in the report:

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.
The National Arts Force idea is something that The Stove and others have put forward –  see here for further detail and background on the idea. Please do get in touch if you want to help make this idea a reality.
You can find the full report from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery – here

News Opportunities

Some themes brought to the fore by COVID

Themes that The Stove have collectively been thinking about during the Lockdown and which we are proposing as areas of exploration for the commissions within the Atlas Pandemica: Maps to a Kinder World project.

 1. Decision-making 

What has been our experience of leadership? How has power in influence been balanced between local and centralised decision-making? What examples and lessons are there about how ordinary people and communities have played a part in influencing how we are coping with the pandemic in South West Scotland? What new relationships have been formed between the formal and informal networks around us? Maybe a research residency within Dumfries and Galloway Council? 

2. Stories 

COVID is something we will be talking about for many generations – what stories we tell and how we tell them is a vital role of culture and the arts in society. What are the stories relevant to life in a post-pandemic society? Who are the storytellers? What stories bare the most relevance for our locality? What are the myths/folklore we can rely upon to help instruct, warn and guide our lives through this? What do stories do? What functions do they fulfil and what ways can they be used now? 

3. Food 

Food is so much more than fuel – it is central to gestures of care and hospitality. Finding new ways to share food has renewed old relationships, maintained existing ones and created new ones. The reality of how our food supplies work and their production processes have never been more clearly revealed, or, the contrast with local food production and infrastructure – where next for how we nourish ourselves as a society? What are the possibilities in the local supply? How do we nurture a responsibility towards sustainability in the purchase of food? What is the ‘growing culture’ locally and how do we develop this?

4. Travel 

Cars have been off the roads and bikes and people have been on them. The distances that separate our communities, regions and communities suddenly seem similar to how they must have appeared a hundred years ago. Yet, public transport now seems dangerous and cars a protective bubble – does this herald a new era of even starker divisions between those who can afford to be safe and those who cannot…or is this an opportunity to rethink how we move about from first principles? 
Particularly in a region whose sparse population is geographically spread out, what do digital technologies mean to our ideas of distance and proximity? 

5. Communities 

Mobile communities, communities of interest, geographic communities, temporary communities…our separateness and connectivity as groups of people has been questioned, revealed, side-lined and speculated upon by COVID. Yet fundamentally our future has to work for all of us – what can an understanding of particular groups and their relationship to how the structures of our shared existence function tell us about how we re-organise ourselves from here. 

6. End of Life 

Funerals, grief, how people reach the end of their lives and the role of communities, families and the state. How we die, how our families and friends mark death, and how our society supports our passing. Mapping and understanding a culture of death. 

7. The Public Sphere 

What are public spaces for now? Do we still need town centres and public places to gather and express our commonality and our difference? What will activate public places now with traditional retail in even sharper decline? What uses can we find for newly empty buildings and other public places? How do we maintain social cohesion through the act of gathering in the aftermath of the pandemic? Can our public spaces be re-purposed in a time of time of social distance? 

8. Care 

COVID has shone a light on care in our society from care homes to hospitals, from public health to mental health from education to families. We have seen how deeply we depend on those who care in our society – what have we learned and where do we go from here? What a does a localized approach to care in our communities mean? What are the resources currently available and how does our society seek to nurture our wellbeing and engrain mental resilience in tackling the problems before us? 

9. Diversity and under-represented groups 

In times of extreme urgency, it is all too easy for the needs and opinions of the ‘majority’ to dominate. But if the voices of less represented groups are not heard now and heard with as much urgency as other voices, how do we hear those voices and their essential messages and build a future that celebrates diversity and difference?  

10. Hospitality 

Welcoming places and communities are crucial to economic industries like tourism – and much of our social code as a society is built around ancient principles of hospitality. How do we re-imagine hospitality in an age when people entering a place or group potentially bring a health risk with them or put themselves at risk by travelling. Has this traditional behaviour found new meanings and value in a time of crisis? 

11. Nature and the natural world 

Awareness and appreciation of the natural world has been one of the universal experiences of COVID. What new understandings have been revealed about our relationship to the natural world, when it can both support and endanger us. 
We have seen unprecedented reductions in carbon emissions and immediate impacts in the environment around us. Possible themes of preservation, resource, healing and the boundaries of the human and non-human world. How do we embed this new learning in our common future?  

12. Creativity – creative structures and processes 

What is the role of creativity in times of crisis? What are the implications of COVID for creative practice? What will be the future function of our cultural buildings? What part can creativity play in the new world and communities that we are all making together? 

13. Relational vs Transactional systems 

To date, the world we have all shared has been overwhelmingly been based on the logic of transactions – attributing monetary value to things and then exchanging, goods, services etc on that basis. COVID has exposed the fundamental importance of the way things make us feel – how we relate to each other and the world around us. Could we strike a new balance between the relational and the transactional in a new future? 

14. Enterprise and localised economy 

As we emerge from lockdown it is likely that many, many people will find themselves newly unemployed. There will be newly empty premises and many people will be forced to move home. What are the opportunities and ideas for creating the conditions for new initiatives, projects and businesses to start? As a region can we create a new economy based on our local assets – one that retains prosperity locally and forges a new relationship with urban centres and countries? 


What is the responsibility of art in times of crisis?


By Martin O’Neill, Stove Curatorial Team and Head of Programming

What is the responsibility of art in times of crisis? 

Things look very different now. 

My neighbor has washed the same tea towel, every two days, for the last three weeks. It’s Hokusai’s wave. 

I didn’t really want to notice this. I never really thought about my neighbor’s washing line, let alone her tea towel. Aside from the fact it seems a little bit much to wash it every two days, it’s in my life now and it’s past the point of familiarity. Like the traffic lights at the foot of the road I crossed every day, the ‘Clearance Sale’ vinyl on a shop on the High Street, the two grizzly dogs on the Mill Green; it’s ubiquitous. Maybe Irene has been washing her tea towel, hanging it on the washing line every two days for seventeen years. Or maybe it’s just her little routine in the lockdown. The tea towel waves heroically in the breeze, and I’ll get on with other things, cooking, reading, watching the television. And before the sun dips, it’s gone. 

Similarly, a friend of mine, on his daily walk observed new paths, termed ‘desire lines’, a consequence of footsteps eroding the earth, un-foiling a path across parks, fields, forest floors or gardens. These lines leading home have multiplied over these three weeks of lockdown. 

These observations of the mundane might represent a reacquainting, or revelation of the environments we thought we knew. Our neighbors, the paths leading home, the way time passes. Crisis, in this case, has given us pause and somehow focused our lives entirely on the in-between. But for all its meditative qualities, it is scored with a sadness as yet not understood. 

This reflection comes at the worst possible costs, not only of the very real threat of our health and our lives, but also the alienation of our lives from one another. This new perspective is weighted with an anxiety, needle-pointed in the reality of the weekly shop, or a visit to the chemists. We move in a heightened awareness of one another, yet for many, this is a privilege un-bestowed to key-workers, from the NHS to the supermarket cashier, their roles akin now to soldiers in warfare. Their responsibilities, particularly of those whose work has often been derogatively termed ‘un-skilled’ by governments, represent the fragility of socio-economic systems as well as the hypocrisy in the demonization of labor in our country.

The role of art, then through this, seems nearly un-definable. More often than not, definitions of its role in this time appear and disappear like mirages in a desert, and mostly its definitions return to the safety of ‘entertainment’, or the spectacle. The live-streamed play, the virtual tour…

Artists and creative freelancers are hit with a financial insecurity on a scale unseen since the financial crash of 2008, so for the most part, artists are now seeking to consolidate and revise their work so that it might ‘prove its worth’, an unfortunate consequence of the precariousness of our professions. Others are overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility to focus on new work, finish their novels, work on their next collection, underpinned by capitalistic notions of productivity, that we have somehow been given ‘free-time’, a sentiment in ignorance of the psychological ramifications of a national health pandemic.

Many may be thinking that art is facing a crisis in meaning. It’s understandable, given the anxieties of this time. Yet art, throughout history, has demonstrated its capacity to survive. Whether in its ambiguity as a social movement, its ties to the political landscape, its power in advocacy, its role in activism and its power to reflect our lives and emotions. At the root of this are its defining characteristics, that of survival and its role as a healer. 

The Stove’s driving force has been, throughout the years, the untapped power of conversation and creativity through the act of gathering, building and celebrating communities within a town ripe for acknowledgement, and change. We now are seeking to find ourselves once again, and perhaps through this, re-define our role as community artists, producers, and community members, as a team. Our power is in being embedded in the life of our town, yet our responsibilities are often taken for granted, both in government, local and national as well as internally, with such focuses on events to bring together the branches of our community, to one space, becoming familiar in the day-to-day motion of the organisation. The challenge now then is, without the physical space, how do we connect?

In Home Grown, these questions are at the forefront of our activity. Beneath it, values of solidarity, open-heartedness, insight and perseverance seek to illustrate the present as well as symbolize our hopes for the future. Similarly, these values represent our work up till this point. For now, they must hold their ground. 

Beneath the surface of all this, is a search for belonging. The Stove represents the questions of where art and creativity belong aside from the corridors of mansions, the museum or the free-market. In this search, art is not defined by product or spectacle but in essence its role in the make-up of Who We Are, not only as people, but as a community, threaded together by a common care for one another. This art then seeks to celebrate that which makes us human, in a place, and what that then means, and how it defines us.

Who we will be when we return, and who will be with us, we cannot know yet. Our community and our town must take time to heal, and this art will flow through these times with the community in conversation, in activity and in reflection to weave some new future, knowing its responsibility, to then ask of those in power where their responsibility lies. 

For now, we must acknowledge these moments in-between, the desire lines, the tea towel in the breeze, the slow flow of time, for whatever they may not mean to us now, they will be the backbone of some future as yet unwritten. 


Creative Repositioning for the New Normal

What makes a place? And what role does creativity have in times of crisis?

Katharine Wheeler of the Stove Curatorial Team and Lead Artist/Researcher for our Embers project, reflects on the role of ‘creative place-making’ in wake of the national lockdown.

As people pull together to face the collective challenges and strain at this time and without the usual noise of other ‘news’ it is the kindness, ingenuity and resilience of people that are centre stage. We can see more than ever the generosity and value local people, groups and organisations invest in supporting their communities.

Small businesses re-organise themselves to take food to our most vulnerable (often without payment), neighbours leave groceries on the doorsteps of those they barely know, people pledge all manner of support and money to those they have never met, we share creative ideas to keep us busy and explore ways of connecting when we cannot physically meet.

The Stove has always been many things for many people – a café, an events space, a space to gather and take part in activity, to have conversations about our place, to challenge ideas and perceptions, to grow projects and activity together. All of this expressed as seriously playful partnership with our community to support and grow a resilient, progressive and creative Dumfries and Galloway.

We strive to be for, and of, our community and have been asking ourselves “How do we reposition our work at this time?” as a creative community-led organisation that uses creative practice at the heart of what it does.

We have taken time to think and are exploring two directions:

  • in our program – as we explore new ways to grow activity that engages local people in reflection and co-development of work and activity 
  • for our wider creative community – to reconnect and support this community at this time.

Through this we hope to support the building of a collective awareness and narrative of the ‘new normal’, one which helps the transition into the next stage of this new journey we are all on together. Our intention has not changed, this is an ethos and approach of Creative Placemaking. We have spent the last 10 months digging down into the grassroots practice of Creative Placemaking across Dumfries and Galloway through our Embers consultation talking to groups and organisations embedded in their communities about their work. Creative Placemaking is a collaborative practice that uses creative activity to connect and come together with other individuals, groups and organisations and respond to local needs with innovative solutions that focus on social wellbeing and inclusion in our communities.

Times such as this highlight the struggle in places that have had their local resource and ability to respond stripped in favour of centralised service provision. Our new reality is shining a spotlight on the value of our sometimes less recognised and smaller parts, our key workers, our local services and businesses, our sole traders and freelance workers, our community spaces and social relationships. We are seeing the value of our collective creativity to shape and adjust systems and support appropriate to our local need.

Where will we go from here? At the Stove we will continue to advocate for the value of our smaller community-focused parts and use activity to test and develop ways of working that invest and support the creativity and innovation around us to grow our local resilience.

A few related things to and look out for…

Embers report – to go live in a few weeks this report explores some of the fantastic work in our communities and proposes more considered understanding and support for Creative Placemaking work for the South of Scotland.

Don’t Forget the Self-Employed – talking about our responsibility to the region’s cultural, creative and community sectors. Of our 600+ members, we estimate that as many as half will be self-employed or freelancers.

Culture and Creative Industries consultation – add your voice to the role the new South of Scotland Agency can take in supporting our creative sector.

Homegrown – addressing this new normal by proposing four values that will frame our work: Insight, Perseverance, Open-heartedness & Solidarity.

Third Sector D&G Resilience Map – a page created in partnership with Dumfries and Galloway Council that displays information from local community groups and organisations offering support or looking for support in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

As people pull together to face the collective challenges and strain at this time and without the usual noise of other ‘news’ it is the kindness, ingenuity and resilience of people that are centre stage. We can see more than ever the generosity and value local people, groups and organisations invest in supporting their communities.

Small businesses re-organise themselves to take food to our most vulnerable (often without payment), neighbours leave groceries on the doorsteps of those they barely know, people pledge all manner of support and money to those they have never met, we share creative ideas to keep us busy and explore ways of connecting when we cannot physically meet.

The Stove has always been many things for many people – a café, an events space, a space to gather and take part in activity, to have conversations about our place, to challenge ideas and perceptions, to grow projects and activity together. All of this expressed as seriously playful partnership with our community to support and grow a resilient, progressive and creative Dumfries and Galloway. 

Musings News Project Updates

homegrown – an introduction

With the out-break of COVID-19, we face a shared reality that will live on in the minds of this and further generations in pictures, stories, songs and memories. We are faced with questions we never foresaw answering.

In this time of social distancing, The Stove’s field of operation for community, creativity, care and gathering within spaces both shared and public is now radically altered, without objection. Isolation, distance and confinement are the new normal.

The priorities have shifted. The Stove has always functioned in collaboration; collaboration with communities, with artists, with other arts and community organisations, with policy-makers and as a team. In addressing this new normal we propose four values that will frame our work:

& Solidarity

Over the coming weeks, we invite you to explore with us these values through a series of creative challenges, conversation, commissions and activities that can be done in isolation and through connecting with one another via the internet and in so doing, build and maintain resilience in the present, as well as build hope and strategies of change for the future.

We choose to acknowledge and ask the right questions, host the conversations and create the new spaces where these can happen, aside from the café, pub, High Street or studio.
As humanity has always done, we will attempt to record and archive these projects, and together with our community, inspire a new folklore so that we might retain and remember this time, however it may be, for the posterity of generations’ hereafter.

Homegrown is exactly what the Stove is all about, and what it continues to be. Responsive, locally initiated, developed and owned.

As always, we are open to every idea that comes through our inbox. So please do get in touch if you would like to contribute, in any form, place or style you would like.

Skip to content