Over the past few months Winston has been working with the Stove team, and particularly the Creative Spaces and Soap Box projects to help us explore how to make our programming more accessible for the D/deaf community. We’ve learned a lot and really enjoyed having Winston as part of the team, and are looking forward to the conversations going forward!
“It was a really interesting start to my time with the Stove Network. I was proposing a project consisting of a Deaf Hub/Festival within the Kirkcudbright Arts and Crafts Festival. Due to complications with COVID-19, this had to be delayed and put on the back burner. While speaking with Katharine Wheeler about this project idea, she mentioned the Stove’s need to be more accessible, aware and inclusive of people with disabilities. Because of my lived-in experience of the deaf community, current studies of British Sign Language and passion for inclusivity, we felt as though I would be able to fulfil the organisation’s need to be more inclusive.
Over my short time working (remotely) for the Stove Network, I have really enjoyed being the voice for people that need it and invoking necessary change. To do this I have created British Sign Language interpretations of the website, contributed to meetings, been involved in a successful panel on Inclusive Communication and held an ‘Accessibility in the Arts’ conversation on the 28th of May. Both the panel and the conversation had a diverse mix of organisation representatives and disabled people allowing for important discussions to be had about access in the arts industry. In the panel discussion, I was a part of the team answering questions about my own experiences, however with the conversation I was a host asking questions and prompting responses from the speakers. I really enjoyed playing both roles as speaker as well as host and look forward to hosting/being involved in future conversations and discussions about important issues!
It has been really interesting to see a somewhat closed off industry learning to be more inclusive and accepting of different types of people. Through this, I have begun to wonder the significant changes that could be made to the world if all businesses, organisations, and corporations understood their lack of awareness and inclusivity and took large strides to change this. By doing this, some groups may no longer feel as though it is society that disables them because they are given the vital support they need.
My mind is brimming with new ideas and projects, so I am excited to see what the future holds working with an exciting and constantly developing organisation that has all the right intentions. Conversations discussing important issues, content aimed at different audiences with different needs, project development support and so much more – the future looks bright!”
Missed out on our AGM last month? We’ve got you covered with recordings of the two presentations shared during The Stove’s Annual Gathering. First up, a review of the past 12 months from Matt Baker (Orchestrator) and Katharine Wheeler (Partnerships and Development), featuring (approximate!) closed captions:
The second presentation looks forward to the year ahead, from Martin O’Neill (Artistic Director).
Also as part of our AGM we hosted a series of short members conversations reflecting on some of the key findings from our membership survey carried out last year. We wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the ideas that came out of these five really interesting sessions.
a creative exploration of night time culture
a debating club
a debating club for Disabled Access
Digital recording of live events at The Stove to allow more inclusion for audiences who can’t attend in person
More making spaces – we need to move from attics to aircraft hangers to realise our potential
Signposting good practice nationally and internationally in social/community arts
Digital recording of live events at The Stove to allow more inclusion for audiences who can’t attend in person
Use technology to reach across distance
Make a statue of Ailsa in Fountain Square
Stove learning: Don’t just tell people stuff, support them with the means to do it themselves
Access to IT skills development and recording of activities
See our towns and villages in D+G as mini-cultural hubs Its good for Stove to be more regional, but don’t forget about Dumfries, there is still a lot of work to be done doon hame
Analysis of the population in comparison to our current engagement reach – elderly inclusion
Intergenerational working particularly within the medium of movement
‘Access to Choice’ – diversity in how to access events and activity
bringing in Community Learning and Development expertise available locally into the Stove team
grow ‘night-time culture’ in the town centre
bring some of the ‘positives’ discovered during the past year into future activity
There were loads of brilliant conversations between the 75 attendees, and we were sorry to not have longer to open up the space to hear from friends, members and Stove supporters after such a long period away from the Stove building, but hope that we can continue these soon!
You might notice that our website has had a bit of an upgrade to reflect our programme this year, so to explore more of our current and upcoming projects visit: home page, and Soapbox.
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.
Stay up to date by following the Stove Network on:
Nithraid River Festival has been running as an annual event for the past eight years and I have had the absolute privilege of being the producer for the last five of them. Last year’s event saw flood, rain and high winds pushing our team to the limit with adapting last minute to still deliver as much of the event as we physically could. After 2019 we thought, “Well, we’re not going to get anything more difficult than that”. Boy, were we wrong.
When the news hit in March that the entire world was under threat from a global pandemic, we were left with complete uncertainty and dread – much like the rest of the world. What is this thing? Are people going to be safe? How long will it last? When did lockdown and furlough become common words that we use in almost every conversation?
It became apparent very quickly to our team that even though the festival was scheduled to be in August, there was a high chance that the event would have either have to be cancelled completely or we were going to have to try and adapt the festival to a digital format – so we decided to flip Nithraid on its head. We looked at the core values of the festival and the reasons why we do it and who do we do it for?
To cut a long story short – we came to the conclusion that we do it to celebrate the River Nith. We celebrate its history and uses, we celebrate its beauty and we use it to inspire our creativity. We use it to teach our children about the wildlife and environment (special mention goes out to Huffy the Heron!) – but most of all we use it to connect with communities. With all of this in mind, we created the Nith inspired ‘Source to Sea’ project, exploring not just Dumfries but the entire River Nith and the communities that it travels through. Throughout lockdown, it was obvious we were on the right path as all over social media people were photographing the river on their daily walks and were appreciating it as they never had before.
Once we had a concept, the challenging part was trying to figure out how we were going to share all of these elements of the river as well as creating and sharing activities for families and children who were finding themselves stuck at home with little to do. We were delighted to have one of our fantastic funders, the Holywood Trust, on board with our reimagined River Festival. The Holywood Trust were a huge support to Nithraid and our entire team throughout the whole project, and we wouldn’t have been able to do this without them – thank you! This scale of online activity was very much new territory but I have the privilege to work with much more tech savvy individuals than myself and we were able to come together to figure out how to present our festival online. I think as it stands, we are now in Version 652 of the project as it turns out there was more than one problem that arose on a very regular basis. I give them all my love and respect for not running away at Version 150 (I will do the embarrassing shout out at the end!)
As we come to the end of our journey, we’ll be pulling all over the research together and sharing it with you in a beautifully designed map, created for us by local artists and graphic designer, Jamie Stryker. This map is the culmination of everyone’s incredibly hard work over the past 6 months. We’ll also be sharing Hugh McMillan’s lovely Source to Sea poem, where he has a dedicated verse for each area that we explored.
One of the hardest things about the lockdown was the difficulty in being able to research and that we were unable to reach out communities and go out and explore. But now we have information, footage and stories about the River Nith that you can use to learn about these communities yourself. I hope the project does what we set out to do and celebrates the river that connects us and brought so many people a sense of calm in amongst the chaos.
And a special thanks to Derry and Greg from BattleStations who trekked through the Carsphairn hills with a lot of kit to try and find footage of the source of the Nith – which turns out wasn’t where I told them, sorry! You got the shot though!
All of those that took the time to chat to us as we were researching the content. One of my favourite moments was when Bob Clements told us the story of the Thornhill’s Rock Festival on the back of a lorry that was plugged into a house!
Finally, a massive thank you to the team that has held this all together. You have done so much more than these basic titles I have written but I have rambled enough and don’t want you thinking I have gone soft.
Rob Henderson – web design and master of tech-like witchcraft
Kirstin McEwan – marketing and social media queen that makes this stuff look easy!! It’s not!
Ruaridh Thi- Smith – project support and all round support to my sanity.
Liam Morrison- Gale – community lead & ultimate research Jedi Master
Jamie Stryker – Graphic designer and hero that makes the best maps in the whole wide world!
Martin O’Neil – Programmer, Word Wizard and keeper of the creativity.
Graham Rooney – Stove Project manager and dude that keeps every single one of us from spontaneous combustion.
It’s September already, and I’m still trying to pare away the feeling that this month is a fresh start – a miniature new year, though distinguished by routine, structure and peeled-from-the-packet stationery rather than Big Ben’s chimes, Auld Lang Syne and kisses. The thing is though, a year and a half out of education I’ve still ended up synchronising my ‘fresh starts’ with the end of summer. I’m not sure if this is by accident or coincidence (or, if you want to get philosophical, whether or not there’s even a difference). This time last year I’d just moved to Italy, and this year I’m in the process of moving back to Glasgow, which is a phrase I think I’ve said about a thousand times since I came back to Annan.
The recurring element of how my last five summers have ended, no matter what my plans have been, is suitcases I’ve stuffed my life into and usually an obligatory Ikea trip. The suitcase zippers burst a little along the edges, and anticipatory, so do I. This time around feels like it should be the same but I’m not so sure. Italy felt like an adventure, easy to romanticize. Working for shit pay and hopping from flat-to-flat takes a while to get old when there’s late summer heat and vino-tinto-tinted streets to meet you every time you finish a shift. And the last time I lived in Glasgow, I was a student – I don’t need to expand on why that combination worked.
Beginning my latest move to Glasgow comes in tandem with the end of my contract as blueprint100’s Associate Artist supporting its re-development. Working with blueprint100 this year, after my first experiences shaping its early structure and with four extra years of life behind me, has offered an opportunity to consider the continual motions of change we experience in early adulthood and how organisational support and belonging to a community can make it all feel a little bit more… easy. When I first started working with blueprint100 I was a teenager who’d just realised creative careers are possible, and now I’m an adult (I guess?) who’s a bit overwhelmed by just how many different ways there are to pursue creativity professionally.
A huge part of my role over the past few months has been consulting past blueprint100 participants on their experience and their professional and creative needs. Reflecting on how my own professional practice continues to evolve has been really interesting alongside speaking with other young adults going through the same process – I think we’re all very excited and very ready to take on creative careers, whether full-time or freelance or whatever else (the beauty of creative work is how flexible it can be). At the same time, we’re now living through a pandemic. One excited hand locks fingers with a frustrated/confused/kind of scared one. It’s been comforting for me to understand how similar our feelings and our needs are at this stage of our lives, and this has reaffirmed how important it is – at any stage of life, but especially during the ‘uncertain’ ones – to feel like you’ve got a community behind you.
Community, then, has been a core theme that needs to be considered as part of blueprint100’s identity following our re-development this year. As blueprint100 moves forward, its membership will be re-integrated into The Stove, as it was in its very early days. As part of The Stove, we’ll be centred on creative opportunities that are community-focussed – in alignment with The Stove’s own mission. I started writing this not wanting to mention the pandemic at all (I’ve already failed) but after 2020 I really do think isolation of any kind is the last thing any of us want – including in our creative practices. For a lot of the people I spoke to, myself included, it was blueprint100 & The Stove which introduced us to working creatively in a way that might just possibly make this region feel like the exciting place you want it to be. For a lot of us again, this is something that continues to direct our creative practices. It’s an approach that’s fresh and unique when you’ve previously only experienced creative opportunities which focus exclusively on yourself and the development of your skills as an individual.
Alongside community-focused practice, the future of blueprint100 is one of building an inclusive and accessible creative community. If you’ve spoken with me at all since June when I started the initial consultations, I’ll probably have mentioned ‘accessibility’ and ‘inclusivity’ so much its borderline annoying. I’m pretty sure the words are even on my CV. That’s fine though. I believe, especially where the arts are concerned, accessibility and inclusivity can’t be taken into account enough. Throwing yourself into creative spaces when you’re not even totally sure of your identity as a creative practitioner yet is hard! And there are barriers as well to even claiming this identity alone – if you’re working in a bar 5 days a week, tired when you’re not working, and the total amount of time you can dedicate to even thinking creatively amounts to like, maybe an hour here and there, it’s difficult to feel as though you’ve got any sort of creative identity at all.
By establishing a community of young creatives in the region – whether online or eventually in the real world – we can learn that actually, wherever we’re at right now is fine, and its normal. This doesn’t mean we all need to be in the same positions, but rather that we can see creative careers don’t tend to happen in a smooth, linear, get-a-degree-then-do-a-grad-scheme way. Accessibility and inclusivity within this community should go beyond just being buzzwords. It’s making sure people feel able to speak up and even interrogate its structure without possessing 4 years’ worth of art school language. It’s shaping the opportunities within it to suit its members, rather than the reverse. It’s creating access to the space and tech to get work done because maybe you can’t get a quiet space at home. It’s knowing that maybe you can’t swap shifts to get involved with something, but people get it, and other opportunities will still be there whenever you are. No judgment.
Something I’ve gained from re-evaluating blueprint100’s role in its participants creative and professional development is a better acceptance of my own. I mentioned earlier the vast means through which you can pursue a creative practice, and as much as I said this can be overwhelming it’s also been quite reassuring. Being able to work creatively full-time in the early stages of your practice is a position of privilege, or very good luck. As with many other positions of privilege, not possessing it can have some kind of weird stigma attached. I studied Fashion Design at uni, and felt guilty every summer that I chose not to try and get an unpaid London internship. In the first months after graduating I felt guilty for not applying to graduate jobs that would cover my commute costs and little else. Since then I’ve learned that honestly? I love fashion, but I love being able to eat and pay my bills even more. Van Gogh gets touted as an icon of ‘starving artist’-hood but its reductive to think his work would be any less beautiful if he didn’t have the struggles of simply surviving to deal with. Poverty is only poetic to people who’ve not experienced it.
I guess what I’m getting at with that paragraph is that actually, working full-time in a factory and part-time in a creative role has actually been pretty good. Tiring, but good. It’s totally possible to continue the trajectory of your career while earning enough to live, and day jobs really aren’t as bad as you’re led to believe when you’re still maintaining some sort of constructive creative practice. I originally wasn’t going to move back to Glasgow until I had like… my absolute dream first graduate job. I’ve since decided that it’s equally completely cool to take a 50/50 approach to building my career instead – I’m going to be working part-time in clothing manufacture again, and spend the rest of my time working creatively on a freelance basis. It’s pretty exciting, a little like dropping everything to move to the city and become an artist but with the added security of actually having a predictable income every month.
I seem to have a talent for taking these blog posts a lot further than they’re probably intended to go (blame lockdown and reduced opportunities for rambling to people in real life). If you need a tl;dr for this – blueprint100 has developed, grown, and changed in the past few months at a faster pace than it ever has before. I have too.
By Martin O’Neill, Stove Curatorial Team and Head of Programming
What is the responsibility of art in times of crisis?
Things look very different now.
My neighbor has washed the same tea towel, every two days, for the last three weeks. It’s Hokusai’s wave.
I didn’t really want to notice this. I never really thought about my neighbor’s washing line, let alone her tea towel. Aside from the fact it seems a little bit much to wash it every two days, it’s in my life now and it’s past the point of familiarity. Like the traffic lights at the foot of the road I crossed every day, the ‘Clearance Sale’ vinyl on a shop on the High Street, the two grizzly dogs on the Mill Green; it’s ubiquitous. Maybe Irene has been washing her tea towel, hanging it on the washing line every two days for seventeen years. Or maybe it’s just her little routine in the lockdown. The tea towel waves heroically in the breeze, and I’ll get on with other things, cooking, reading, watching the television. And before the sun dips, it’s gone.
Similarly, a friend of mine, on his daily walk observed new paths, termed ‘desire lines’, a consequence of footsteps eroding the earth, un-foiling a path across parks, fields, forest floors or gardens. These lines leading home have multiplied over these three weeks of lockdown.
These observations of the mundane might represent a reacquainting, or revelation of the environments we thought we knew. Our neighbors, the paths leading home, the way time passes. Crisis, in this case, has given us pause and somehow focused our lives entirely on the in-between. But for all its meditative qualities, it is scored with a sadness as yet not understood.
This reflection comes at the worst possible costs, not only of the very real threat of our health and our lives, but also the alienation of our lives from one another. This new perspective is weighted with an anxiety, needle-pointed in the reality of the weekly shop, or a visit to the chemists. We move in a heightened awareness of one another, yet for many, this is a privilege un-bestowed to key-workers, from the NHS to the supermarket cashier, their roles akin now to soldiers in warfare. Their responsibilities, particularly of those whose work has often been derogatively termed ‘un-skilled’ by governments, represent the fragility of socio-economic systems as well as the hypocrisy in the demonization of labor in our country.
The role of art, then through this, seems nearly un-definable. More often than not, definitions of its role in this time appear and disappear like mirages in a desert, and mostly its definitions return to the safety of ‘entertainment’, or the spectacle. The live-streamed play, the virtual tour…
Artists and creative freelancers are hit with a financial insecurity on a scale unseen since the financial crash of 2008, so for the most part, artists are now seeking to consolidate and revise their work so that it might ‘prove its worth’, an unfortunate consequence of the precariousness of our professions. Others are overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility to focus on new work, finish their novels, work on their next collection, underpinned by capitalistic notions of productivity, that we have somehow been given ‘free-time’, a sentiment in ignorance of the psychological ramifications of a national health pandemic.
Many may be thinking that art is facing a crisis in meaning. It’s understandable, given the anxieties of this time. Yet art, throughout history, has demonstrated its capacity to survive. Whether in its ambiguity as a social movement, its ties to the political landscape, its power in advocacy, its role in activism and its power to reflect our lives and emotions. At the root of this are its defining characteristics, that of survival and its role as a healer.
The Stove’s driving force has been, throughout the years, the untapped power of conversation and creativity through the act of gathering, building and celebrating communities within a town ripe for acknowledgement, and change. We now are seeking to find ourselves once again, and perhaps through this, re-define our role as community artists, producers, and community members, as a team. Our power is in being embedded in the life of our town, yet our responsibilities are often taken for granted, both in government, local and national as well as internally, with such focuses on events to bring together the branches of our community, to one space, becoming familiar in the day-to-day motion of the organisation. The challenge now then is, without the physical space, how do we connect?
In Home Grown, these questions are at the forefront of our activity. Beneath it, values of solidarity, open-heartedness, insight and perseverance seek to illustrate the present as well as symbolize our hopes for the future. Similarly, these values represent our work up till this point. For now, they must hold their ground.
Beneath the surface of all this, is a search for belonging. The Stove represents the questions of where art and creativity belong aside from the corridors of mansions, the museum or the free-market. In this search, art is not defined by product or spectacle but in essence its role in the make-up of Who We Are, not only as people, but as a community, threaded together by a common care for one another. This art then seeks to celebrate that which makes us human, in a place, and what that then means, and how it defines us.
Who we will be when we return, and who will be with us, we cannot know yet. Our community and our town must take time to heal, and this art will flow through these times with the community in conversation, in activity and in reflection to weave some new future, knowing its responsibility, to then ask of those in power where their responsibility lies.
For now, we must acknowledge these moments in-between, the desire lines, the tea towel in the breeze, the slow flow of time, for whatever they may not mean to us now, they will be the backbone of some future as yet unwritten.