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Spring Public Art Musings

From Public Art Lead Katie Anderson

Public art isn’t always the big things.

Sometimes it happens in the small scale: intimate interactions, one to one conversations, temporary actions; the testing out of ideas can happen in many forms and take on different guises.

The Stove’s public art practice roams between the two – scaling large productions for our annual festivals and events, creating spectacles such as The Tower of Light last December, but also taking a moment to mark the small changes in our calendar – welcoming the return of the swallows, re-visiting familiar spaces in the town, and occupying space for conversation and exploration.

Helen Walsh’s installation, Swoop! fell into this category. Following a call for ideas and artworks that explore or encourage a renewed awareness of seasonality and in response to our need to better adapt creative working in response to the needs of our environment and wider climate, Helen’s proposal invited participants and audiences to take the time – through construction of our felt flock to discovering them in situ – noticing our avian neighbours arrival, and signalling the transition towards the summer months. Working with volunteers and HNC students from Dumfries and Galloway College who contributed to ‘the swoop’ (collective noun for swallows, of course), the birds made their temporary appearance in the rafters of Dock Park’s Victorian bandstand at the weekend.

Welcoming the swallows opened up a wider conversation about how we open our doors here, to all from the seasonal return of transitory populations like the swallows, to tourists and visitors, New Scots and folk moving here for work, safety and inspiration. Our Migratory Routes trail mapped out routes in miniature around the park, inviting visitors to walk routes taken by visitors and residents from both current and historical lives in Dumfries.

We printed postcards to send out a welcome from Dumfries, chatting about icons and monuments that represent the town and the people we would like to welcome to the town. Small conversations to measure the undercurrents.

The bandstand stands witness to the comings and goings of the park, occupied occasionally by children playing games or looking for an impromptu ball game court, but predominantly standing empty – waiting for the start of a performance. The HNC students were also invited to imagine their own public art installations for the bandstand as part of the public module element of their coursework, and during a return visit they shared a dazzling collection of ideas, from community weaving projects, to projections, found object mobiles and light works – their proposals moved through similar scales of spectacle to intimate, personal experiences, inverting the space and exploring the edges of their practice and ambition. Inspiring stuff!

Public spaces like the bandstand hold incredible potential: as a platform, a soap box, a space of celebration, announcement, and declaration. As we enter the summer months our outdoor spaces come into their own, but who are the voices we should be hearing from these platforms?


Nithraid 2018 Celebrates with Dumfries Community!

August 11th saw our sixth staging of Nithraid, a fun family event that takes place on and around the river with an estimated 2,000 in attendance. The daring sailing race, which involved two races this year, starting from the Solway Firth and sailing up the river Nith was made possible by one of the highest tides of the year. While waiting for the boats to arrive, visitors and families were invited over to The Mill Green to enjoy our Nithraid Village which had food, live music, free activities and entertainment.We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who came along to Nithraid this year, and a special thanks to those who were involved making it one of our biggest Nithraids yet – whether you were working, volunteering or just came along to cheer on the sailors. We were happy to see so many stay on for our second ‘Nithraid Nighttime’ as well and help us continue the celebrations into the evening.Nithraid is a celebration of the town’s long relationship with its river, highlighting the way the Nith connected Dumfries to the rest of the world through trade, goods (including Coos) and sailpower. It is created and produced by The Stove Network and is part of our mission to make creative opportunities for local people to be involved in the future of Dumfries. A total of 8 boats took part in the sailing race, with all boats carrying a small cargo which must be delivered into the town to complete the race. The winner of the sailing boat race was Mark Zygadlo and the coastal rowing race was won by Alnmouth.

Mark was absolutely delighted to have won after five years of trying. Commenting on his win, he said, “Nithraid is a unique race; it takes you from the sea right into the centre of Dumfries and is visible from the shore along most of its length. It is such a good sail that the competitive aspect of it, though definitely there, is not the only thing that matters to the sailors. There’s time to chat to other boats as you pass them and negotiating the bridges is always an exciting spectacle. Dumfries is really fortunate to have such a glorious river at its heart and Nithraid celebrates it.”A large crowd of people joined in with the legendary Salty Coo procession, starting from The Stove and finishing at the Mill Green. This year, Dumfries based production and arts company ‘The Maddjakkalls’ were commissioned to create a magical and mysterious procession with their collective of artists and performers.Visitors to Nithraid were then treated to an afternoon of great food and fun family activities. Local music acts played throughout the day, organised by young musician Ruari Barber-Fleming. Amongst the acts were Ellie McConnachie, Liv McDougall, Corrie Russel, Kate Kyle and Benji Haynes. Community groups and organisations hosted several free workshops including zine making, badge making, stone carving and mosaic making. This year, Nithraid also celebrated international relationships with young people from around the world through the ‘Amaze Me Leader’ Project. Their week-long visit to Dumfries and Galloway culminated in volunteering for the day at Nithraid and helping organise events and activities.

As part of Nithraid 2018, The Stove Network commissioned local musicians Double Down Disco to create a performance for Rosefield Mills – something to publicly mark the moment of this much-loved local landmark waking from a long sleep. Double Down Disco provided a sonic adventure in two parts which visitors enjoyed on the Double Down Disco dancefloor in the Dock Park. The soundwork included sounds from the hillsides to the mill, woven into a worker’s story, then fast forwarded to a place brought back to life and play.For the second time, Nithraid also continued into the evening for ‘Nithraid Nighttime’. Visitors to Nithraid were invited back in the evening for food, an outdoor cinema, campfires and tales from Mostly Ghostly and music provided by Soundsystems.

Musings News

The Regeneration of Dock Park

The Stove set up temporary residence one afternoon last week in the newly regenerated and renovated Dock Park as part of the ongoing festivities celebrating the park’s clean face. In anticipation of this year’s Nithraid, we took to the river – send massed flotillas of paper boats downstream and out to the Solway. 

The boats were christened after famous links to the Park’s history including: 
The Great Pedalo (Kirpatrick MacMillan – inventor of the bicycle and honoured by the footbridge) 
The Dragon Slayer (.. St Michael’s Bridge at the top of the park)
The Tweed Rose (Rosefield Tweed Mills on the opposite bank) 

The Rosefield Mills featured as part of one of Lisa Gallaher’s pieces made for TDRM: Dumfries during InBetween Dumfries. Working with local artist Evelyn Gray, Lisa produced a tweed coat incorporating Evelyn’s sketches of the mills…

 The two week long youth festival coinciding with the school holidays was envisioned to shape how the park as a public space could be used by the good folk of Dumfries, and the re-instate the park within the psyche or awareness of the town, as opposed to a periphery space. 

With the park’s Victorian history, could a new fashion for a contemporary promenading culture be re-invented?

promenade (ˌprɒməˈnɑːd) 
 — n 1. chiefly ( Brit ) a public walk, esp at a seaside resort 
2. a leisurely walk, esp one in a public place for pleasure or display 
3. ( US ), ( Canadian ) a ball or formal dance at a high school or college 
4. a marchlike step in dancing 
5. a marching sequence in a square or country dance 

 [C16: from French, from promener to lead out for a walk, from Late Latin prōmināre to drive (cattle) along, from pro- 1 + mināre to drive, probably from minārī to threaten] 

On walking around the park, The Drying Ground particularly caught my interest – as Glasgow City Council looks to impose new rules on the use of their public parks, with Drying Grounds clearly outlawed: 

” 11.1 No one shall in any park, except with the prior written consent of the Director: 

 (f) hang linen or other material, beat, shake, sweep, brush or cleanse any carpet, rug, mat or other article. “

The full list of proposed banned activities includes organised sports, gatherings of more than 18 people, walking more than 4 dogs and outdoor education – a full and interesting article on the A Thousand Flowers blog.

The importance on non-commercial public spaces, and their benefit to town and city life not just in terms of regenerating the surrounding areas but also in creating spaces (and therefore towns) where people want to be is discussed by Animal Behaviourist turned City Planner for NYC, Amanda Burden in her recent TED talk (available here) 

As groups like the Incredible Edible‘s continue to promote and grow a greener vision for the town, how can the parks play an active role in this? How do these public spaces become once again instilled as part of the townscapes’ sense of self? As 100 High Street remains closed for the time being, do keep an eye out for the Stove in exile throughout the town over the next few months, and if this great weather continues, we can maybe reconvene our meetings in the park.. 

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