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:
At The Stove we recognise the position and the responsibility we have within 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.
With the national shutdown of the economy for COVID-19 virtually all freelancers and self-employed people have had their incomes wiped out overnight as events and regular contracts have been cancelled – people are literally facing personal bankruptcy overnight. This in contrast to people employed on PAYE who will now be supported with 80% of their wages through the Government’s national bailout package.
First off, we have written to the region’s MSPs and MPs asking them to advocate for the Scottish and UK Governments to take urgent action to support the self-employed sector.
In Dumfries and Galloway 17.2% of people in employment are self-employed, against a national average of 10.8% (source: Skills Development Scotland – Regional Skills (D&G) Assessment 2016).The vast majority of self-employed people submit a tax return every year and it would be straightforward measure to extend the 80% package to the self-employed on the basis of, say, an aggregate of their last 3 tax returns to assess average earnings. Such a measure has been adopted by Sweden and different European countries are also supporting their self-employed economies.
Currently the self-employed in the UK only have access to statutory Sick Benefit (£94 per week – if they are ill) and have been given a 6 month ‘holiday’ from advance tax payments.
The cultural, creative and community sectors have been one of the regions success stories of recent years, being one of the very few local industries that is attracting people to relocate or move back to the region. Figures show that there are now more people employed in the Creative Industries in D&G than there are in Agriculture (source: SoSEP) – this is a sector with high value jobs of exactly the sort we are trying to attract to the region through initiatives like South of Scotland Enterprise and Borderlands. It is imperative that we, as a country, act immediately to protect this vital sector within our local economy and support the people and families that rely on self-employment/freelance work.
At The Stove we know how important we are to the ecosystem of the cultural, creative and community sectors – organisations like us can function as a conduit between individual freelancers/small teams and national/international partnerships and funding – we can draw budgets into the region that are spread amongst the local sector. Typically, The Stove puts £200,000 per annum into the freelance economy of D+G. Our first instinct at the start of the health emergency was to maintain our support for the wider community around us – both the folk we work with as participants in our work, but also the wider creative community. We have been able to honour all the existing commitments we have to freelancers across all our projects (and also keep on our café staff).
Looking into the future we know only too well that the freelance community normally expect regular work through organisations like us at festivals and events. We are working hard at the moment to find ways that we can continue to deliver on projects and offer new contracts to freelancers. We are a creative community and opportunities to do useful and creative work for the local community will present themselves!
Currently we are working on ideas to bring the local cultural, creative and community sectors together at this very challenging time – in the hope that we can be a useful collective resource and also forge some self-help initiatives that will help this struggling within our own sector. If you have anything you would like to contribute then do get in touch.
Please stay tuned to the various Stove platforms for updates.
During the month of November, we will be taking some time to reflect on where, who and what The Stove is to our region. We’ve stripped back our monthly programme of events in order to take some time to think about the past year and what we can deliver for and with the community going forward into 2020.
Over the past year, we’ve delivered an average of three events per week, launched new festivals and public art, galvanised our local music scene, celebrated four years of our monthly open mic night, Brave New Words, re-imagined our annual River Festival, Nithraid, and worked with a wide range of communities, partners, organisations and artists to celebrate a town in a transitional phase of it’s history.
During November, we’re asking our members to join in on the conversation on social media as we pause to reflect on the past 12 months. Although we will not be hosting as many events as we normally do, The Stove Cafe will remain open as normal, and we will be engaging in conversations on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
We haver had a truly incredible 2019, all of which has only been possible through the continued support of you – our audiences, our members, our community and our partners.
There are still events happening throughout the month of November for you to get involved in too – please see our events page for more information.
As part of this years Nithraid Festival, The Stove commissioned artists Emily Tough and Philip Mairs to create ‘Nithlight’, a temporary light and audio installation for the Mill Green to close this years event.
Artist, illustrator and Stove member Stephen Pickering joined the team to mentor and support Emily Tough’s role.
“My minor input was in the form of mentoring Emily Tough, who undertook part of the design and construction of the public art sculpture for this event. The mentoring process went surprisingly well, and Emily was quick to learn, and keen to use any newly learned skills. She had strong ideas on what she wanted and how the finished sculpture would look and function, I merely helped by filling in the missing practical knowledge and experience.”
“This mentoring was by no means a one way process and lively discussions took place both before and during the construction-fabrication stage. From Emily I learned some new approaches regarding the promoting of my own business, and gained considerable confidence in my ability to pass on existing personal skills and knowledge while making myself and my processes readily understood.”
The final build for Nithlight, included the installation and rigging of ‘sails’ on the Mill Green which became projection surfaces for the digital content created by Philip – the inspiration and collaboration of which more can be read here: https://thestove.org/nithlight-by-night-a-reflection/
Stephen’s first involvement with the Stove, was through organising and running a series of illustration workshops in partnership with illustrator Mark Toner. Stephen is an artist, maker and illustrator with a studio and workshop based in Nithsdale.
One of the exciting opportunities of the Stove’s Network is the potential for collaborative learning with artists, creatives and others across a whole range of ideas and projects. The skills and expertise existing across Dumfries and Galloway is a wonderful resource, and many of us have something to contribute to each other. In the future, The Stove hopes to become better at gathering, including and sharing this potential in our projects and works – keep your eyes peeled for information coming soon to Stove members.
Since starting with the Curatorial Team almost 3 years ago, the amount I have learned and the people I have had the opportunity to work with has been invaluable to how my life has unfolded. The Stove creates a space for growing and nurturing whether it be people or ideas, and it’s safe to say I have came a long way since the nervous person sitting on the interview chair babbling about fairy lights.
I had a little experience working with the Stove before joining the Curatorial Team; the first interaction I had was with the Environmental Arts Festival. I have a background in being involved in local events and was pointed in their direction as a volunteer by Sleeping Giants, a partner of the Stove. Not quite sure what I had got myself into, I ended up meeting a group of extraordinary people who had created a community and used their creativity to produce an event that had reached me like no other had in my previous experience. I actually cried after the end of that project, the thought of going back to my usual day-to-day pub work filled me with dread and not knowing when the next opportunity would be.
The advert came up for the CT position and I thought there wouldn’t be a chance in hell that I would get the job but it would be good to throw my name in the ring for experience. I got an Interview… (How I have no idea but I did!) In the Interview, Fairy Lights were mentioned A LOT. I had resigned myself to “well you gave it a shot at least”. Now I’m not entirely sure if the existing team were within their right minds or, like myself, had no idea what they had gotten themselves into, but that day changed my life.
From there I went on to focus on the events and expand my practice with community work. Nithraid Festival has been the biggest part of my role here and has taught me so much that I had previously taken for granted as until then I was always brought in later to an events delivery. Being the project manager and planning from the very ground up has given me priceless knowledge, sometimes through trial and error, of working with the local community and authorities to deliver a festival that has grown along with myself into something I am proud of.
Another part of the job that I loved working with was health as a subject be it physical or mental health. I created a project called the Light Room in October 2016 that entailed tackling prejudice, working with a diverse range of groups and a lot of (you guessed it) FAIRY LIGHTS. After that and the curse of the fairy lights you will be glad to know I learned my lesson – and the event opened my eyes to how we can use art to get conversations happening. That was what being part of the team did, you have a group of people with all different ranges of expertise and they will help you work through a project or idea. Even when you have been up a ladder for 5 hours and are tangled in a mass of cables they will be up those ladders with you. It’s not just for those that join the CT, every person that comes into the Stove with an idea are guided on how to do it them selves, and not “we will do it for you”.
Every experience has been a huge learning curve and not one day is the same – that is what I will forever treasure working as part of the CT and any time I think, ” What have I got myself into now?” I welcome it.
A huge and special thank you to Sal for her sterling work the past two and a half years on our Curatorial team, but don’t worry – Sal isn’t going anywhere just yet, you can still find her in the Stove managing room bookings and events production, and as Project Manager on Nithraid – coming up this year on the 31st of August!