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My Time at The Stove

by Ellen Mitchell

As I’m approaching the end of my wonderful journey at The Stove, I want to reflect on my time here and how it has influenced me and my career, and brought me in to the position I find myself in today. I feel privileged to have been a part of a group that has made such huge strides to integrate art in to Dumfries and really helped to shape the town’s future in the most positive way.
In 2015 I was working as a Modern Apprentice at D&G Council’s Film Office. I was informed that I could spend the final year of my apprenticeship working for an external organisation and immediately my mind landed on The Stove. I had admired their work up to that point and was really inspired by their ethos, which at its core was a desire to connect the community through creative means and ignite a positive change in Dumfries.
My first day in June 2015 was an experience I’ll never forget. That was because of the arrival of the Rajasthani Brass Band at The Stove that day, dancing and making music in their incredible vibrant, colourful costumes. I was asked to photograph the event, and as I watched stovie members, children and the band dancing out in the street I knew I was going to have a great adventure ahead of me.

Initially my role at The Stove was to support events and help with administration. The first major project I helped to coordinate was Nithraid 2015. Nithraid is an annual festival which aims to celebrate the town’s relationship with the River Nith by holding a boat race down the river. I worked alongside the event producer booking stalls, marketing the event and managing volunteers.

I had been working for The Stove for several months when they were approached by Queen Margaret University looking for people working in the arts to fill spaces on their MA in Arts & Festival Management up in Musselburgh. Although I had no formal qualifications up to this point, the Stove team encouraged me to apply and I was very surprised when offered a spot on the course. This was a huge moment for me, as I had always considered myself non-academic. It was a time I look back at now to see a change in my self-confidence and belief in my own abilities growing.

An element of the course was a group project to produce a marketing strategy for The National Library of Scotland’s new exhibition. Within the group I handled the visual components of the strategy, and attempted to create a logo for the exhibition. I approached a graphic designer friend and asked him for the basics on Illustrator so I could attempt to make the logo properly. Following that project I spent weeks teaching myself adobe software and design online. I had found something that was creative, that I felt I could understand well and become good at!

As I was approaching the end of the first year of university, I started to reflect on where I wanted to see myself going with my career. My apprenticeship had also ended and I was getting up at 5 every Friday to travel up to Musselburgh, I wanted to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons. I found myself drawn more and more to spend time learning about design, and studying just seemed to get in the way of that. I made the very difficult decision to finish the year, and not return.

Over this time I had contributed more and more to The Stove’s design work creating posters for events, and they invited me to continue to work there one day a week as an in-house graphic designer. I must thank stovies hugely for taking this risk as it truly gave me the push to pursue graphic design as a viable career choice.

I have continued to work part time as The Stove’s designer since, pushing myself to learn to be creative and expressive in design working on many different projects. I had to find work elsewhere to pay the bills, first as a marketing assistant, most recently as a designer for a local print shop, and I have just been offered a job as a full time graphic designer at a local company.

I must say that had I not been working for such a supportive organisation as The Stove, I wouldn’t have found myself on a journey that started with me teaching myself graphic design, and having a full time role as a designer less than three years later.

I will miss every part of life at The Stove, however I don’t feel as though I am leaving because without a doubt I will be there as much as I can be as a Stove Member, witnessing the amazing progress they are making for our town through projects like the Midsteeple Quarter.

Thank you again to Team Stove!


Who or What is The Stove? How Does it Work?

Our Orchestrator, Matt Baker is one of the original founders of The Stove Network and offers some personal reflections about how The Stove started and how it works today.

So just Who or What is The Stove? 

‘The Stove’ has existed for 7 years now. Its origins have perhaps been forgotten, and questions and assumptions naturally arise about what The Stove is now, how it functions, for whom and why?

Let me start by stating that I am fiercely proud of The Stove, and believe passionately in its potential to help people shape their own dreams and careers. I also hope that The Stove is a creative force that has become a vital part of supporting local people to re-invent Dumfries as a vibrant and prosperous place, a Dumfries fit for our times.

The Stove started as a conversation in 2011, between 10 artists and creative people working in the area. We all shared a belief that placing a community project with a creative ethos at the heart of Dumfries town centre would have a positive impact on the future of the town and contribute new opportunities for local people, when precious few existed. That was it really – a commitment to the generous way that creative people work together and how that could infuse the life of the town.

There were moments of doubt and significant obstacles to overcome on the journey: ‘how would we run a space?’, ‘where would the money come from?’, ‘how would we organise ourselves and make decisions?’… we have tackled every question and situation in the same spirit – by talking together and applying our founding values:

  • To work through collaboration (not in isolation)
  • To innovate (not be risk-averse)
  • To put people first and consider the emotional landscape of all decision-making

These values bring creative practice into all of the structures and processes that we encounter, developing a working methodology that keeps The Stove open, transparent and flexible. People are genuinely able to shape The Stove in ways that work for them and for the town.

Our values led us to the two foundations of how The Stove works:

  1. The Stove is a membership organisation, membership is free and unrestricted*. Currently we have just over 500 members who, every year, elect a Board of Directors who are responsible for running The Stove.
  2. The Board employ a very small team of core employees who take care of the day to day management of The Stove. The core team supports a much larger group of freelancers – this is a flexible and changing group of people who work on one or more project with The Stove, some of these roles are longer term and some can be just a matter of weeks connected to a particular festival or workshop.

Our doors are always open for members. They can (and do) get in touch at any time with their questions, ideas and projects. Literally anyone can work with the Stove, either in a paid capacity, as a volunteer, for the experience or just the good craic of being involved in something worthwhile. We are proud that in 2017-18 we were able to offer £212,000 in contracts and opportunities for the local creative people and small businesses at all stages of their development. Since 2011, we’ve commissioned £665,775 in total. This is all money that the vision and vibrancy of The Stove has managed to attract to the area. For every £1 of local council support we receive for local projects, we attract an additional £8.00 of income from other sources (check our ‘Key Facts’ for more info about Stove income sources and history)

It has been an extraordinary journey since that original conversation around a table at the Coach and Horses in 2011…but the Stove’s success continues to be drawn from those original founding principles of: people first, collective working, openness and, of course, creativity. Why not see for yourself and come in for a chat – it might just be a conversation that changes your life!

*you don’t have to be an ‘artist’, just interested in our mission to be part of shaping the future of our region. Check it out here


Gordon Robertson RIP

Gordon reading from his ‘Life of Robert Burns’ at The Stove in January 2016

Gordon Robertson 1936 – 2018

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of Gordon Robertson yesterday. Gordon had been a Stove member since the very early days and was a supporter, contributor and inspiration to The Stove.

Dumfries has lost a great intellect, artist and historical resource, Gordon was a linguist, Burnsian, painter, draughtsman, local historian and above all an enquiring mind and passionate Doonhamer. When he approached you never knew whether he was going to talk about Wagnerian Opera, his travels around Norway, his latest book or his battles with acrylic paint.

Gordon was a regular at Stove events, performing at many and a great patron of the Café – he was held in great affection and regard by all at The Stove. A wee light of civilisation and culture has gone out in the town – Gordon we salute you.


In Flight

Both birds and humans have migrated for millennia, whether seeking more abundant food, or more favourable climates. Some of these journeys are regular and temporary, others more permanent, perhaps due to catastrophe or dreams of a achieving a better life elsewhere.
Currently Europe is seeing a huge influx of migrants and –stoked by the vitriol of a malicious press and an ugly political mood – it’s becoming alarmingly commonplace to consider our fellow human beings as pests, no matter how urgent their need for shelter and security. Our individual and collective capacity to help them remains largely unfulfilled.
Perhaps it would be useful to imagine a scenario where we are the migrants – climate change predictions (irrespective of whether it’s a natural cycle or mans interference at the root cause) suggest there won’t be many decades before this becomes a reality. Arguably it already is, with people displaced from their homes from the increasingly damaging floods we experience in the UK.


In Flight itself depicts both birds and people; in the end we are the same, following evolutionary paths birthed in the stars. Fluttering on the wind, lit by the sun and moon, refreshed by the falling rains, the intermingling of the white birds and the people offers a prayer of peace and love to our family in need across the globe.
The location of the installation is an unused close in Dumfries and the first work will be to clean it, to prepare a welcoming space for the flock. Experimental and expressive, the artwork will only fully take shape upon completion.

In Flight will take place during our Chapter One event on Tuesday 15th and Wednesday 16th November, in a nearby close. For details of where to find the work drop into the Bakers Oven and ask for directions. Full details about Chapter One available here

In Flight has been created by artist and photographer Morag Paterson. More details about her work available here

News Project Updates

PRESENCE an Art-in-Between Commission update

By Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

We are coming to the end of working on the Art_Inbetween commission and it’s been a fascinating process.  The outcome is a work called PRESENCE which is a set of cards to be used as ‘A divining tool for journeys through the restless territories and blurred boundaries of art in the social or public realm’ the cards are a creative tool to explore and reveal aspects of a project or practice and to provoke discussion and exploration.


PRESENCE is a research led response to some of the questions that arose during the Art_Inbetween Summit held at The Stove Network earlier in 2016. The summit attempted to describe the distinctiveness of an evolving ‘rural’ contemporary arts practice with an emphasis on social/participatory/public art across the UK and our starting point was to try and understand this distinctiveness. What are the differences between rural arts practice and projects in urban settings with similar intentions or processes?


During the research phase, we worked with a number of artists, curators and producers using a word card process to explore core features of practice and context. These conversations were interesting and delved into territories that were slippery and shifting, we felt this area had more to offer to a wider audience. We began to work with the idea that practice was perhaps more important and distinctive than location and so the work began on developing PRESENCE; a method to explore and open up projects and practice that could become a companion on creative journeys, a navigational aid that could help understand and articulate the aims, methods and values of a project or practice. There are 16 CARDS, each exploring a core element of practice. Each card has a number of questions on the reverse. We suggest picking one or more card at regular intervals through a live project (or project development) and letting the questions lead into conversation and discussion.


The Cards

We see the cards as a ‘divining tool’ in the process of making creative work. They cannot be used to navigate the straightest, fastest route through a project or process but provide different positions to view the route from. They are not instructions or a model to build a project around and have no opinions about the best way to conduct a project – each project (and artist) is unique. Their role is to prompt, disrupt habits, to revisit assumptions and reassess progress and to re-excite artists and collaborators about their work and provide a tool for exploring projects and practice.

 We have tried to create a process that will result in a series of overlapping views from different positions (The points of interest in situated or social practice are not stationary and two dimensional, but three dimensional and moving, sometimes through time as well as space) This compound eye allows us to examine the same issues from different positions and so learn different things from each viewpoint.


Open Source Future

PRESENCE is an open source project: all questions, concepts and card designs can be challenged, refuted or replaced. Our version is a starting point from which new sets can be constructed specifically tailored to a project or practice. A website is in the process of being set up that will include all design tools and templates to allow people to easily make new sets and upload their designs for others to use.

Huge thanks to everybody who contributed to the summit and to those who have helped with the development of PRESENCE.

If you are interested in getting a set of the PRESENCE cards – please contact [email protected]

More info about the project can be downloaded here


The Stove goes to Electric Fields

This years Electric Fields festival saw a series of pop up Stove activity from commissioned work by Ailie Rutherford, art installations from Stove member Kirsty Turpie, a pop up Brave New Words tent and a gang of the Stove’s sign painting team who hand painted nearly 60 signs for the festival village.

People Pavillion

Ailie Rutherford and Laurence Payot‘s People Pavilion popped up at various points throughout the festival, a roam people-constructed structure that danced it’s way around the site, creating temporary intimate spaces before dispersing through the crowds..

People Pavillion

Kirsty Turpie‘s mad marble run maze was on-site throughout the weekend:


The Brave New Words tent ran both days of the two day festival, featuring a mix of local and national acts performing in our intimate and cosy teepee tent, organised by regular Brave New Words organiser and curatorial team member Martin Joseph O’Neill.


In the run up to the festival itself, The Stove’s workshop room turned into a sign painting factory, where a steadfast team worked through the weekends to prepare new signs for the festival site.


Huge thank you to our various teams of volunteers and supporters who helped out with various Stove themed projects, from sign painters, to pavillion dancers, performers, poets, and artists – and big up to the Electric Fields festival team for putting together a great weekend at Drumlanrig (extra points for perfect weather conditions!).

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