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Dark Time 2020

This November is our annual Dark Time. Over the course of the next two weeks we’ll be working hard, thinking, planning and implementing some of the biggest projects we’ve ever dreamt up. It’s also a time for us to question our role, our processes, communication and vision fully so that we might step into the New Year resourced, ready and receptive to whatever it might bring.

Dark Time is a chance for the team to take a step back and reflect, to listen and plan for the year ahead. It is a significant and valuable process where we take a critical and constructive eye over everything we do, through an intensive series of conversations and workshops. We’ll discuss everything from projects and production, events and hospitality, festivals and gigs to the way we use our café, connect and work with our membership as well as explore further our role within the region, and to question, adapt and embed a vision for the organisation to share for the year coming.

2020, perhaps more so than previous years, has brought a lot into focus for us, as it has for many. From the delivery of our events, our digital programme and our engagement with new audiences and collaborators, as well our commitment to creating and sustaining grassroots activity which narrows the gaps (or gulfs) between art, creativity, government and community.

It’s been a tough year all round. But it stands as testament to the commitment we feel to what we do. We’ve had to re-imagine our entire 2020 programme for an online audience as well as manage projects and festivals throughout the country, alongside shaping the conversations on artists and communities at a national level. Rather than limiting our focus for the year coming, we believe this time to be invaluable in helping to shape new projects out-with Dumfries, and to re-fresh our ideas in shaping a fairer future for our region, through the sharing of art, ideas and gifts from the voices all too often unheard in our communities.

2020 if nothing else, has proven what is possible at a distance, such as working from home and the ability to connect with a broader spectrum of society than we ever thought possible. But it has deprived us all of the experiences which colour our lives, connect us with one another and help us to understand, navigate and continue in a world spinning further out of sight.  But we’re far from pessimistic. Instead, we’ll think of this year as fallowed ground for something so much bolder, brighter and connected than we ever have been before.

Our recent membership survey has given us a lot to talk about. From our engagement with the community, the way we communicate, how diverse we are and how focused we ought to become in our vision. Our Dark Time this year is framed on the ideas, suggestions and feedback we have received from our members and wider community over this year, and we cannot thank you enough in helping to shape the Stove with us over this time. Whether it’s through a coffee in the café, filling out the membership survey, engaging in our programme of digital events or dropping us a line to check-in. Every conversation is meaningful, especially those of dissent.

The work here now is to recognise where we are and what we now need to do as an organisation so as to connect, inspire and grow new visions for our community in the wake of an international pandemic. A vision fully shared, that is inclusive, welcoming and principled. This may mean many things, and it may take strange and exciting new shapes, but as always and even more so, they are guided by the values shaped by, with and for the communities we belong to and serve.

Our Dark Time is framed around three conversations, and we’ll be sharing our progress with you through our social media and website as we go.

How do we define ourselves and what are the systems in place to let others participate and create with us.

How connected are we, and to whom?

We’re a growing organisation, how do we keep being connected to what’s happening around us?

Understanding our role as a learning organisation and how we engage with formal and informal education.

Working with our neighbors, partners and creative businesses throughout the region in further building a sustainable and connected network.

We want everyone to feel included, so do we do that? From working with the Deaf community to making the very building we operate in accessible to everyone, we’re making plans to engage with as many people as we can, sharing and learning as we go.

How we engage, from social media, blogs, and our website. We believe we’re an approachable organisation, so how do we build on this?

Engaging our membership. We want to create the spaces for our memberships to input into the running of the organisation as well as create the spaces needed to network with one another.

We want to centre community and creativity at the heart of the region’s future. Who else can we work with to do this?

In the wake of the pandemic, what can we learn from this and how do we create new work which resonates and belongs to our communities locally?

As a learning organisation, we’re building the skills and confidence of those we engage, and those we collaborate with. How do we expand on this? And can we offer more platforms, roles and opportunities for our community to shine?

Who owns what? What does ownership mean for our community, and how do we ensure everyone is involved? What does the shift from private to community-owned mean, and can what we learn, in order to change things at a higher level?

As always, if you have any thoughts that might help us in our direction, our (digital) door is always open. Drop us a message on our social media, ask to speak with someone at the café, or send an email along.

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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


Reflections on an Engaged Practice

by Katharine Wheeler, Stove Curatorial Team member since June 2015.

Katharine has been doing an Artworks Fellowship the past 10 months with The Stove and Artworks Alliance, a period of artist-led development and deep interrogation of practice presented through personnel and honest reflection.

Early last year an application crossed my desk, and that of The Stove’s, to submit a proposal as an artist/organisation pairing for a supported period of interrogation and artist-led CPD (continued professional development) in Participatory Practice.

This is a language learned through my deepening involvement with The Stove over the last 3.5 years but can still send me into a labyrinth of jargon…anyone who has attempted to casually slip “Participatory Practice” into lunch-time conversation knows my pain! Never-mind trying to communicate what that work can involve, what the “thing” is that I do within that. It is there, it’s benefits come through the the things we make with people, the conversations we have, the ideas we share and the projects that this creates where people, from all backgrounds and experiences, really are working together to creatively change the places they live, and it may seem cheesy but the lives it changes (including my own) in the process. It is this process, the ethos, the change I see it make in people and places that I am passionate about and makes me want to be able to communicate it, to understand what the “thing” is that makes it work, or not work in many cases, what are the sometimes very subtle differences between an activity that really is engaged, collaborative with others, and one that isn’t.

So how is this relevant to my Artworks Fellowship with The Stove. Well we were asked two things: to think about what we wanted to develop in ourselves as artists (blue sky, anything we wanted to achieve) and come up with a line of interrogation, a question, that our Artworks journey would relate to in our participatory work with the paired organisation. I found this incredibly difficult, to identify a question that I felt was relevant to this “thing” that I was passionate about. I wanted to reflect on this “thing” that makes our work at The Stove so profound, as an organisation and for me as an individual artist. But I kept getting lost in the language, trying to understand the structure. I needed to really understand this “thing” outside of the jargon and identify my part within it, my relationship to it, before I could reflect on it. What am “I” and what is “It” and is the separation important.

In this way we were maybe different from the other 4 pairings, as I had become completely entwined in the structure of The Stove and my practice had developed profoundly within that but I could not see what it had become exactly. As you might notice I do not tend to do anything by halves…continued professional development you say…some might just go away and do something but I needed to spend months pulling it all a part. I did end up just doing some things in the end – drawing, reading (or compulsively buying books and trying to find the time to read them) – turns out that is also important.

Artworks became a lens from which to observe myself, The Stove, my/our work, relationship, everything I did I began to look at with interest: Why do I/we do it that way, what is the usefulness of that, what is important? I set aside Fridays as Artworks days, points for reflection, often Fridays were over-run catching up on project enquiries, partnership development, talking with people. Sometimes I thought I would drown in what seemed self-indulgent reflection of my “practice” and what was important within that, sometimes I got lost in Stove world, lost myself entirely to the “Organisation” and Artworks gave me a life line back to look at what my individual needs were, and why they were both important for myself as well as The Stove.

I didn’t identify a single line of interrogation, I observed the process of finding the dilemmas in my work with The Stove, the tensions, our working process and how this is relevant to our work with other people, to the “thing” we do with our communities. My journey with The Stove became more about looking at all the pieces and how do they fit together, what piece am “I” in the organisational jigsaw, what pieces may be over-used, under-used, lost under the table.

In hugely simplified terms what came out of it for me is that Participatory Practice (one that involves others at its roots and not just its surface) is not about how it all fits together, or what the picture looks like at the end, it is about the “process” by which you choose to approach it, who is involved, the time you spend along the way. If this process was a walk it would be about who is there at the beginning, who joins at various points for a little while or for the whole jaunt, how our route changes direction and navigates the places we go through, how those places change us, and how we constantly choose and re-adjust our route. And whether we are aware this is still only one way and we can only ever see it from our individual perspective, how can we take that into account? In that sense it is truly about valuing the individual rather than coming up with one umbrella we can all fit under – spoiler…you will never find that umbrella!!! And why would you want to.

A creative practice is a deeply personnel thing…this journey became a deeply personal thing but it has also added another level of understanding to what I do with The Stove…even if I am still a long way from being able to fully communicate it.

If I were to communicate one thing from this learning then it would be if you really want to include other people in your work, to co-develop and collaborate, then you need to create a process together that you agree on and then surrender to a journey that leads you in directions you have not considered or planned on. And in order to do that you will need to understand each-others methods of communication.


everybody is just a human being

Jordan Chisholm is a student at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland studying Contemporary Perfomance Practice. She is currently doing a placement at The Stove and writing a blog about her experience with us – this is her first post..

Jordan (with blue hair) performing in the Salty Coo performance (Nithraid 2016) she co-designed and produced with Dillon Colthard
Jordan (with blue hair) performing in the Salty Coo performance she co-designed and produced with Dillon Colthard for The Stove’s Nithraid 2016. Photo Kirstin McEwan

When I was thinking about where I wanted to do my placement for third year – I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do it in Dumfries. I moved to Dumfries, in 2012, when I was seventeen years old. When I left school, I had a university offer to do Criminology but I wasn’t entirely sure if this is what I wanted to do. My mum has stayed in Dumfries for around fourteen years and it was decided that I would move in with her, to be in a new environment with no one I knew.

I’d visited Dumfries many times at the weekends and over school holidays but living there on a daily basis was something extremely different. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the town. As an ‘outsider’ coming from Edinburgh; I felt as though I really did not belong in this beautiful space and I could not explain why. I guess this was something internal and I spent most of my first year living in Dumfries travelling back to Edinburgh; there was something I was not prepared to let go and starting a new life was not as simple as I had anticipated.

Time passed and I began to open my mind. I met new people and started to do new things. I began to explore Dumfries in a new way; it was like a playground – full of magic, wonder and uncertainty. I still feel much of that uncertainty today – over four years later. However, I am not scared by this anymore; instead it inspires me and it always leaves me wanting more.

Dumfries changed me. It changed the way I look at things, it changed my opinions, it gave me a platform to do things I never thought I was capable of doing, it gave me something to be passionate about, it allowed me to learn about myself and who I could be, it shaped my future, my hopes and my dreams; Dumfries changed my life. But could I change Dumfries?

When I think about what I may want to do in the future; giving something back to Dumfries is at the top of my list. You see, in this misunderstood town, where there may not be very much to do, there are hundreds of people who all share the same love and understanding of what this space really is. Dumfries has a strange pull to it; and this pull is of upmost importance to the future of the town. We have to work together to allow people to feel proud of where they come from – to make them want to stay. This is what I want to be a part of. A part of the regeneration of Dumfries through art, creativity and sheer hope. I want Dumfries to give everyone what it gave to me, and I don’t want them to have to look very hard to get what they are looking for.

The Stove Network is situated in the centre of Dumfries. It is a fully accessible public arts space/facility/resource for the population of the town and the wider region. It is a support network that creates opportunities and connections for the creative community and integrates with the local economy and wider society. One of The Stove’s aims is to use the arts to engage and empower people for themselves, the places they live and society at large. This aim is vital to my own learning and development; I knew that this was where I had to be for placement. I wanted to know how they manage to do what they do in a town that says no much more than it says yes. I wanted to live and breathe their commitment to the Dumfries community and I wanted to be around people who share the same desires as I do; who can show me how to make a positive difference with an understanding of the quality in process as well as the product.

Although I knew why I wanted to be at The Stove, I was still extremely nervous on my first day and I did not know what to expect. It reminded me of my earlier ‘outsider’ feelings but I pushed these to the side and arrived with no expectations as to how my first week may turn out.

I was met by curator, orchestrator and public artist; Matt Baker. The motivation for Matt’s work is to have an effect in the place for which it is made. I find it comforting and reassuring having the opportunity to be mentored by someone who vocalises that they became an artist to change the world.


Art_Inbetween as a Starting Point

Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman were appointed as artists-in-residence to the Art_Inbetween project – they began their engagement with the project at the Art_Inbetween Summit  and are now working with ideas formed at the event…..

‘We’re delighted to have been commissioned to make new work in response to the ideas and themes discussed at the Art_Inbetween Summit held at The Stove 25/26 Feb.

The cross sectorial summit brought together people working in ‘Inbetween’ places – towns, villages and other rural areas, to recognise, re-articulate and explore the distinctiveness of the contemporary rural arts scene and to share experience and knowledge. We went to the summit with the idea of keeping our minds open and listening, but the discussions were such, that it was hard to maintain a watching brief and we ended up getting fully stuck in.

Artist Jo Hodges at Art_Inbetween
Jo Hodges at Art_Inbetween
Robbie Coleman (left) at Art_inbetween
Robbie Coleman (left) at Art_Inbetween

The workshops were open formats for conversations around; art as activism, the potential for creating new structures and ways of working in Inbetween places, strategies, communication and networking in rural contexts, cultural high streets and challenging traditional methods of evaluation. Download the Art_Inbetween Summit Pack


In practice the workshops extended their reach to question the language and concepts that were used as starting points. There was much talk around what constituted ‘the rural’ and what that might mean for contemporary arts practice. Were new narratives / visions needed and what role could artists have in facilitating/creating these? There was a realization that there was a lack of clear definition around these ideas and terms and we’ve been left with an interest in delving deeper; what is it about this context that creates possibilities for new forms of art practice?


Other recurring themes of interest to us were the discussions on democracy and participation and how art may make visible/curate/ engage with civic processes. This fed into the general consensus that art practices and processes can act as active agents in thinking about and creating positive social change. We were also interested in the conversations around working collaboratively using models of co-creation across sectors / disciplines and the need to take risks in order to move into new territories of practice with transformational possibilities.


There was much talk around ideas of developing new models for evaluation of arts projects that were more relevant to the rural context and how evaluation could be built in as a creative element of any project rather than something to be done ‘later’. There was discussion about networks of various sorts and how vital they were in contributing to the resilience of ‘Inbetween’ arts practice.


The second day was for more focused work with partner organisations from The Highlands, Wales and Northumberland. We were led in this by Sam Cassels who moved participants at a hair-raising pace using specific questions and provocations in order to quickly arrive at ideas for projects that had the potential for being developed further.


The summit was buzzing with people, conversations and ideas. It was hugely successful as a forum to share and engage with the issues in contemporary ‘Inbetween’ art practice and attracted delegates with a wide and deep interest in the subjects at hand from a range of contexts across the UK. The structure of ‘less presentations – more open discussion’ allowed for conversations to develop and commonalities to surface and be articulated.


From our point of view, as artists tasked with responding to the reach and vibrancy of these conversations, we are now starting to look for patterns, undercurrents, seams and overlaps. As a shared practice we don’t have a regular recurring methodology, but conduct conversations that evolve over time, gradually finding paths that lead us somewhere/nowhere. Currently we are at the beginning of that process.


Since the summit we have found ourselves looking at our own practice (shared and individual) and have realized that it straddles the conventional rural/urban divide in ways that we had not considered before, an area that we will try and explore and articulate as part of this commission.

We have been left with a palpable feeling of excitement about ways of working outside the urban, centralized setting and the potential for developing this model of integrated working in ‘Inbetween’ places. Our challenge now is navigate a route within this enormously rich and evolving context.’

To contact Jo and Robbie – please leave a comment on this blogpost or email [email protected]


Art and Politics at Art_Inbetween

Following on from last weeks Art_Inbetween summit, and reposted from Sarah Beattie-Smith’s blog, (visit it here to read the full report), some reflections from her attending the first day of Art_Inbetween:

group discussion6_lowres

” “Don’t think of art and politics as separate parts of your life – you can do both”. These were the simple words of Katharine from The Stove in Dumfries that, in a few seconds, managed to make disparate bits of my life make sense. Our conversation took place at a thoroughly inspiring event – Art_Inbetween – at the newly refurbished Stove on Dumfries high street last week. Luckily for me, it was just one of a whole day full of provocative, compelling and exciting conversations with artists, performers, community workers and more.

It was a breath of fresh air to drive over the hills to Dumfries last week, to listen to people from across Scotland and the rest of the UK talk about art as activism, about art in a rural context, the politics of artistic practice and the very real political barriers to cultural creation in this country. Art_Inbetween was described as “a summit on arts practice in rural regions” but brought out discussions much more diverse than the description suggests. A morning of conversations about Dumfries and Galloway and the creative thread that runs through the region was followed by workshops on topics as diverse as the structures in place to support the arts and the problems of a rural/urban definition for how seriously rural-based artists are taken.

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I was really heartened to hear the feedback from the different workshops at the end, all reaching the same conclusions. That capitalism, centralisation and an urban-focused economy are all deeply destructive and that we need greater democracy, participation and equality across the country if we’re to stand any hope of truly supporting the arts in D&G and beyond.

Throughout the day, it became increasingly clear to me that art and “the arts” more generally are not something separate from society. Indeed, to think of art in this way runs the risk of devaluing artistic practice and alienating many of the people who would benefit most from participating in it. If we’re to support the arts, through things like the Scottish Green Party’s Intermittent Work Scheme and protection for arts venues and studios, we must do so with an understanding that artistic endeavour is at the very heart of cultural life in Scotland. We must understand that art and politics are neither separate nor mutually exclusive, but bound up together.”

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