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.
The Committee for Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture is currently examining future directions for funding culture in Scotland. The Stove gave evidence to the committee on 16th September and this blog builds on the themes developed in our evidence and the evolving conversation about the role of culture and creativity in society as a whole – a conversation given extra focus and urgency in the context of Covid and Climate Change.
Culture & Wellbeing The Stove Network Evidence Session on Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee 16 September 2021
In periods of lockdown during the pandemic, creative practitioners filled many of the gaps created by the withdrawal of local authority services for people with additional support needs. In my own area, I have many, many stories of the extraordinary efforts of creative people during this time and of the positive impacts on clients and patients, some of whom experienced creative practice for the first time and have made progress that has astonished their carers. Similar stories are perhaps more widely known in education, with creative and cultural organisations and individuals providing physical and digital resources to support home-schooling.
Could the pandemic result in the widening of attitudes to education among parents/students and of outcomes for people with additional support needs and chronic health conditions?
These examples are part of a wider phenomenon through which myriad examples of arts practice embedded in communities came to the fore in Scotland, developed through local support networks during the pandemic. These can be added to the many community-led initiatives and social enterprises that have been started by a cultural project or the involvement of artists in local activism. The key connecting aspect of all these examples is the direct participation of people – people using creativity as a tool to change their own circumstances and/or the places around them, people being involved in shaping and making their own culture, rather than passively consuming culture that has been made for them.
Investing in Cultures The Stove Network Evidence Session on Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee 16 September 2021
Perhaps it is time to ask a fundamental question about the way we do culture in Scotland? Could we consciously support a culture of participation and popular ownership of culture as a key part of our national toolkit towards a just transition from both Covid and Climate Change?
It might be useful to look back at how we arrived at the current model we have inherited for the public support for culture. There are very interesting parallels with the pandemic in this regard. 80 years ago, another national crisis caused us to look anew at culture: during World War II people participating in and making their own culture was a vital factor in maintaining morale. This was recognised in the formation of the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) in 1940 which had two distinct strands of activity: one supported people to participate directly in the making of their own culture, whilst the other supported professional practitioners to create cultural work and events for the public. The participatory strand was very successful with projects such as the ‘Travelling Musicians’ programme which in 6 months started 244 amateur choirs and 37 new orchestral groups.
Despite this success, in 1946 CEMA was restructured as the Arts Council of Great Britain and support for participation in culture was discontinued with the first Chairman of the Arts Council declaring: ‘It is about the best not the most. The principle is we support professional artists. That’s our obligation. And our second obligation is to enable others to appreciate, understand and benefit from that’
Substantially, this is the way things have continued to the present day.* We, as a society, have come to understand culture as something that is professionally produced for others to enjoy.
It is a leap I know, but imagine how different life could have been in our communities and for our arts sector had we continued to support participation in the making of culture? Our way of thinking about learning, health, inclusion and empowerment in our communities might be very different. I’d like to propose that we use this moment of resetting with Covid to make a bold step as a country and to use culture as enabler and connector across multiple sectors in our society. Could we imagine something like a national Cultural Investment Programme supporting the mass participation in culture as a vital building block for a wellbeing society as part of an essential re-set after Covid?
It’s important to stress from the outset that this new approach to culture would be additional to the traditional support for the professional production of culture not instead of. In practice there would be expansive synergy between the two approaches to supporting culture in Scotland, with cross-fertilization in funding across organisations, projects and practices and opportunities for individuals to develop portfolio careers across different forms of practice.
Such a programme would be an integral part of our Covid/Climate transition and delivered through a partnership approach with Health, Education, Economic Regeneration and Community Development. It could be thought of as similar to the way in which Sport is supported – where one funding strand supports participation in sport (as part of wellbeing) and another funds elite sport…or like the distinct support paths for applied research and pure research in academia.
Developing this new strand of cultural support would start by bringing together existing experience and excellence in arts in education, health and community development (e.g. Arts in Education Recovery Group, Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland, Creative Scotland Place Dept, Culture Collective, Creative Communities) to work with the various other sectors and across budget strands such as the Place Based Investment Programme.
Future Vision for Culture The Stove Network Evidence Session on Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee 16 September 2021
Core elements of Scotland’s Cultural Investment Programme (SCIP) could include:
(NB ‘artists’ is used as a collective term to include: musicians, performers, dancers, visual artists, writers, designers, filmmakers, producers)
Education – artists in residence in schools, the Room 13 model, the Sistema model
Health and Wellbeing – social prescribing, artists in healthcare settings (eg ArtLink), wellbeing groups
Community Development – artists embedded in communities – supporting the growth of new initiatives and groups e.g. bringing unheard voices into community planning for longer term investment
Community-based Organisations – to become hubs supporting a population of local freelance artists (and associated creative disciplines) to work in the SCIP. Organisations also promote partnership working and develop new initiatives/projects. Many of these organisations will be community-based arts organisations, working across both strands of support for culture
National Network – to link and support community-based organisations and freelancers to share capacity, experience, skills and resources.
Skills and Training Programme – for artists and associated creative disciplines to work within SCIP settings and deliver ongoing professional development.
Action Research – as part of the roll-out of SCIP, with a remit to monitor progress, share best practice and identify effective synergies with existing cultural infrastructure.
Joined up working/funding across diverse sectors at national Government/Agency and Regional levels
We already have brilliant experience nationally of this kind of work across the board in education, health and communities, the principle of this vision would be to pool experience and resources across different fields and agendas to make a commitment, as a country, to a long-term, innovative and joined-up approach to building a wellbeing economy – using culture.
Artists and the diversity/sustainability of the cultural and creative workforce is central to the idea of such an investment programme. Artists would be employed on Fair Work principles to work as artists within the settings described, this is not ‘artists as social workers’ rather a commitment to genuine co-production with communities and regular local contracts will give new opportunities for artists to develop their own individual practices and grow new collaborations with other artists through the national network.
Local hubs, community participation, arts in education settings and fair work principles will also create the conditions for people from diverse backgrounds to enter the cultural and creative workforce and support all creative people with multiple opportunities to develop careers and creative practices.
Important initiatives such as Culture Collective and Creative Communities have already grown from the National Culture Strategy. The Culture Strategy makes an incredible opportunity for Scotland to use these as foundations around which we can attract people and practices and build a world-leading initiative that puts culture and the cultural workforce right at the heart of the effort to build a country based on wellbeing and climate justice.
*the Community Arts movement of the 1970s and 80s is one amongst few notable exceptions along with individual projects within the fields of health, education and community-based practice in recent years.
Welcome back Dumfries. This month we’re ready to open our doors once again with a month-long programme of inspiring events from conversations to workshops, creative activities and talks alongside the long-awaited return of our monthly film night Reel To Real, as well as the unmissable Brave New Words. We want to be extra safe as we navigate our way back into the world of live events so the way of doing things is a little bit different. First of all, you’ll need a ticket. You can see the full list of events here, so if you’d like to attend, you’ll need to book your place. And we’re not out of the woods yet so we’ll have some extra safety measures in place when you arrive, to protect everyone in our community.
This month it’s all about testing new activity. We want to see how we can have a blended approach to our live events. So whether that’s a mix of live streaming to walks outdoors, we want to play with new ways of coming back together, that’s both safe and creative. Who knows, some of it might stick. So why not join us as we retrace our steps back to the world of live events…
Dumfries Fountain Project
The Dumfries Fountain Project goes live this month with the first of our workshops with writer JoAnne McKay, and a conversation evening exploring the history and heritage of the fountain!
Creative Spaces welcomes you back to our blended model of bi-monthly workshops we shall be exploring the link between mental wellbeing and creativity through the concept of the Tortured Artist.
Brave New Words
You heard us right, it’s back! We’re going live on the last Friday of the month, in The Stove Cafe and The Stove Network’s Youtube channel.
Reel to Real Cinema
This month we are discussing film and food in The Stove Cafe with filmmaker Zev Robinson, and his short film The Glasgow Diet
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.