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.
2019 Nithraid will definitely be a year to remember for us at The Stove. After months of planning and a huge amount of hard work by our fabulous Nithraid team, the decision to pull our annual River Festival had to be made the day before the main event to keep everyone safe in the face of terrible weather, and a complete deluge of rain. However, we are SO grateful for everyone who arrived to pitch in and lend a hand for an unbelievable turn around.
We were able to bring elements of the festival into the town centre, including workshops with Creative Futures, Freelance Ranger, Battlestations and the Dumfries American Hunters Football Team. The Salty Coo Procession roamed the streets of Dumfries town centre and was led by Blueprint100.
In the 3 months leading up to this year’s Nithraid, the Blueprint100 team worked with various local community groups and organisations to create banners and flags to used in the procession celebrating the people of Dumfries with their ‘powerful communities’ theme.
The live music took place in the Stove Cafe with fantastic performances from Freya Cloy, Ra, Eddie and Isla of Tiderays, Corrie Russell and Kate Kyle. Nithlight provided a beautiful close to the day on the Mill Green once the river had died down.The Friday evening provided a night to remember too0 – with an amazing array of local performers turning out to participate in the Big Nithraid Warm-Up Brave New Words, followed by a ceilidh from Reidhle which had every person in the room up dancing all night long.
This would not have been possible without so much hard work – thank you to everyone over the weekend who was able to lend a hand, and who came along to our event regardless – to all those in the procession, and who took part in the events, who re-arranged workshops and pitches to join us on the High Street – thank you!
There was a lovely atmosphere, and the sun even made a few brief appearances.Thank you to everyone for their support during Nithraid – it has been a joyful and affirming reminder of why we all put the hours in to make these events happen – even in the face of very challenging conditions.
This Friday sees the return of Brave New Words to The Stove for a special evening celebrating the fourth anniversary of the monthly event for new words spoken, sung, signed, shot or silenced. Since 2015, the open mic night has offered a platform to the town to celebrate diversity and challenge stigmas and stereotypes through spoken word, poetry, music and film.
Since our first Brave New Words four years ago, we’ve seen a new kind of scene flourish in the region. New poets, performers, musicians and writers from all walks of life coming together to support one another as well as a hunger for new work from local people. It’s really been an amazing journey.
Brave New Words plays a vital role in The Stove Network’s mission to bring vibrancy to evenings in the Town Centre, offering support to those willing to make a positive and impactful change in their home town and beyond. Since it began in 2015, Brave New Words has voyaged to festivals, created multi-disciplinary installations and uncovered an incredible amount of talent in the heart of Dumfries.
Over the years, Brave New Words has hosted some of the biggest names in the spoken word scene and as the project moves forward into 2020, there are a host exciting collaborations with national organisations, local initiatives and remarkable writers across Scotland.
This Friday’s Brave New Words tackles the theme of ‘Rebellion’ and will be a night full of surprises. Everyone is welcome to come along, and those wishing to participate should arrive prompt for 7pm to sign up to perform.
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.
If you are not a Stove member, and would like to become one, find out more here: https://thestove.org/membership/
By Matt Baker
Eight years ago a group of artists in Dumfries started a conversation. Standing here in 2019’s ‘A Year of Conversation’, this initial spark has grown into 4 separate social enterprises, which between them provide regular employment for more than 40 people and a working partnership between the community, Council and Government towards a new future for our town.
And, what have we have learned? We’ve learned that keeping the conversation going is the single most important thing of all – for conversation is an open space of possibility, it is owned by no-one, rather it is stewarded, nurtured and protected by everyone who takes part. Inclusive Growth is the new mantra of Scottish Politics – it’s a vision of a society and an economy that does not simply value numbers, but rather supports economic activity that benefits communities, places and ALL the people who live there. For this idea to make any sense at all, it needs to be shaped and held in a conversation, one that is rooted at a profoundly local level, a conversation that is open and free to roam without limits imposed by those who wield ‘power’. Rather, the true power must be in the principle of conversation itself.
In 2001, our conversation in Dumfries began with a on open question: ‘What is the purpose of a small market town in 21st Century rural Scotland?’. Dumfries had fallen on hard times, there were in excess of 70 empty shops in the town centre. What is now popularly cried the ‘Death of the High Street’ (big retailers pulling out of High Streets because of online shopping and Out of Town retail parks) was already happening fast. We wondered what creativity and culture could do to help, it wasn’t that we had any answers to the problem that we wished to promote…on the contrary! But, we saw how important the health of the town centre was to the sense of identity within our community. We knew that town centres were places for people to gather to celebrate, to protest, to remember – but what are the mechanisms of interaction between people (commerce, leisure, services etc) that are necessary to maintain a town centre as a place for us all to gather in?? The withdrawal of big national and international concerns from our town centre created a vacuum, but it also presented an incredible opportunity for a new kind of town centre – one founded in an ‘inclusive localism’. We knew that this could only grow from a spirit of conversation which made a space for everyone’s voice to be heard. We have helped steward this conversation for eight years now – asking our question in myriad different ways..town dinner parties, a crowd-sourced Town Charter, a giant chalk drawing in the local square, an annual festival celebrating the role of the river in the town, a 2 year exploration of Dumfries’ relationship with Norway, a monthly open-mic evening for new writing – spoken or sung. We now operate two High Street buildings as ‘can-do places’ or ‘arty community centres’ or ‘alternative town halls’ depending on the flavour of the town conversation as you choose to see it.
This is what could be called ‘Conversational Practice’, but really, it is just a set of shared values about the way to treat people and to operate as a human being. Being in conversation is a useful metaphor that encompasses the three core values of our collective work in Dumfries..which could also be seen as necessary ingredients for a good conversation?:
- To work through collaboration (not in isolation)
- To take risks
- To put people first and consider the emotional landscape of all actions
The Stove Network is taking part in A Year of Conversation in two ways: through the first two weeks of May we are staging an interactive exhibition and series of events to explore ‘Art in Public Space’ which centres around a series of conversations with artists working in public. Then, in June, we are shaping all of our regular programming activity into a ‘Month of Conversation’. Our conversation month will also mark a significant shift in our practice as we move onto a new topic of conversation – the new conversation space that we will help to hold for our town is ‘how we grow our own culture’ and how everyone can give themselves permission to be part of that endeavour.
Pop in for a chat!
Matt Baker is a public artist, since 2011 he has focused on long-term activist strategies for the social, economic and political structures of his home region in South West Scotland. He was one of the founders, and is based with, The Stove Network in the heart of Dumfries town centre. www.thestove.org
By Martin O’Neill, Curatorial Team member and Programme Lead for The Stove Network
‘We have a tiny minority of people calling themselves artists. I am recommending that everyone should be an artist. I am not recommending in a spirit of dilettantism, but as the only prevention of a vast neurosis which will overcome a wholly mechanized and nationalized civilization.’
Herbert Read 1955
Dictionary result for permission
- the action of officially allowing someone to do a particular thing; consent or authorization.
Between 2017 – 18, 100 High Street set out an agenda to become a hub of activity, treading a programme of events, workshops, films, gigs, ‘interruptions’ and discussions. Each, in its own way, opened the door to re-imagining the role of art not only on the High Street, but also aside from the main centres of ‘culture’. Its discussions were more often than not grounded in a sense of movement towards a common goal – and that was to shape a vision hand-in-hand with the community, of a new high street.
There then arrived, through this work, the establishment of the Midsteeple Quarter – with a job to continue envisioning the role of our town centre, alongside the community with a much more considered approach in its creativity, so as to create a consistency in the exchanging culture of ideas between the company, their ideas, agendas and the community.
With the recent community asset transfer of the Baker’s Oven to Dumfries High Street Ltd and the unfortunate news of the private purchase of two buildings within the quarter, despite the community raising over £20,000 in small donations, there came into being something which might be termed a ‘movement’. Finally, a commonality, ignited by something outwith our control, has cemented Dumfries as a community that will not take the continuing deterioration of our High Street for granted, or something that is to be expected. As a young returner to Dumfries, I’d left my hometown with a sense of freedom, untethered to the slow unwinding of power, in the face of an international financial crisis, looking forward instead to a quicker pace. On returning, disillusioned by the mechanisms of culture embedded in much of the central belt, there seemed to be a new momentum in creativity within the town. And since then, a lot has happened.
Now the conversation has changed, because some people have changed – become ignited by the processes of making, by the open exchange of ideas, concerns and angers by freeing themselves from the idea that it was outwith their control – some might call it a revitalisation of local democracy. (Shrugs and slinks back)
Now with this, what’s left to do? By no means is this conversation over. But it’s time to return to something based on the principles, which lead to the formation of the Midsteeple Quarter. What’s to say of the role of artists (in the assumption that everyone is an artist) in the community, regardless of its place. Our High Street is now our blank canvas, our open stage and our studio.
‘What’s stopping you?’
An 85-year-old man recites his poetry for the first time to over seventy people at an open mic. A fourteen-year-old songwriter closes one of the biggest music conferences in Scotland. Thirty people, armed with boiler suits, litter pickers and paint brushes come together on a Sunday afternoon to clean up their High Street. Two local businesswomen decide to start a makers’ market. And a community group decide to turn their local area around by working hand-in-hand to change the perception of their home, for the better.
The word, above all else, is permission.
Each person, at some point, allowed themselves the freedom, through a collage of experiences both positive and negative, formative and reactionary to give themselves the permission to experience, challenge and provoke themselves into action. And thereafter, begin to challenge the structures of bureaucracy and the permissions therein.
And that’s what the Network is.
In 2019 we will challenge not only ourselves, but those around us by providing the opportunities, the experiences and the space for our members to realise their own potential through a considered programme with its feet firmly on the ground.
In our projects we will endeavour to uncover the stories untold, the conversations not yet heard and build the platforms necessary for something new to emerge and by doing so, offer these the permission to be shared, vocalised, staged or exhibited. In this, through the filtration of a process defined in the values enshrined by our community and the principles of a participatory art-form, as yet undefined but still discovering, we will try to unlock each person’s potential.
In 2019 and forward we’re looking into how our projects communicate not only with one another but with activities, events and workshops in and outside of 100 High Street, and thereby build new communities shaped through collective interests, whatever that might be.
Lowland will seek the stories as yet untold – past, present and future.
Dumfries Music Conference will reignite the music venue and raise awareness about women in the industry from across Scotland.
Conversing Building will expand to illuminate conversations around public space, democracy, art and civic responsibility.
Creative Futures will continue to offer the mechanisms of support and creativity for its local community to thrive.
Brave New Words is opening its doors to filmmakers, performance artists and makers of sound and light. Challenging, each month, the world at large with work from local people.
Reel to Real is growing, including nights of good food from our cafe and a programme of international film, highlighting global issues with intimate local relevance.
And 100 High Street will continue to host, produce and collaborate with our local community as well as national companies bringing to life remarkable projects that seek to inspire, provoke, engage and entertain.
There are inevitable dangers in every process and practice, especially those that rely on funding. With each step that the Stove makes in its programming and its wider output, we tread deeper into an undefined land, with unexpected pitfalls, challenges and agendas that require time and sensitivity to fully appreciate and learn from. But if the routes ahead of us were already defined, we would sit in the shadow of an easier road, and in that lose who we are as practitioners with a collective responsibility.
To quote our newly completed Blue Book, a handy guide to our work at the Stove:
‘The Stove is just a part of the conversation happening throughout the world.
How can people better take control of the places they live, and by doing that, how can we create a better society for everyone?
At the heart of it, the Stove is all about Dumfries. Born from a respect for our home town, we believe we can shake things up and begin to reclaim our town as something everybody can be part of.
Sure, it’s a big idea and we don’t have all the answers but we’re not ones for sitting back and letting the big decisions happen without us.
We believe we can reclaim, inspire and forge big new ideas on community, art, and citizenship alongside our neighbours, communities and partners.
We believe that art is a gateway for people to better understand their lives, their sense of place and their rights. By doing this, through our programme and our work with partners, both local, national and international we’re building new careers, challenging the outdated ideas on community and art and making those in power listen. So, be part of the conversation. Drop in for a chat in our cafe, come see a film, perform at Brave New Words, join Blueprint100 and learn new skills or volunteer at Nithraid. There are so many ways to get involved!’
So, what are you going to do?
Come along and find out.
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:
- 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.
- 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
by Matt Baker
I’ve had cause to think about public money of late – what do people mean by the term? Why is it such a loaded term? Are attitudes different in different societies? Has the nature of public money changed for us over the years? What should it be for now?
I suppose things started with chiefs and monarchs demanding taxes from the people within their tribes or lands to pay for organising their safety and keeping the peace. Then when we moved to a democratic way of organising our society we kept the taxation idea but attempted to make a system whereby the money gathered was a form of common-wealth that was directed to making the best for everybody. In Britain this resulted in incredible, visionary things like the National Health Service and free education for all. In other societies (e.g. Scandinavian countries) there still seems to be a strong sense that everyone contributes and everyone expects to benefit from the resources, services and opportunities provided by the common-wealth of the community. This is not public money viewed as the bare minimum to provide a safety net for those too poor or sick to look after themselves or base-level provision of things we have a ‘right’ to expect like cleaning the streets…rather it is a conscious and deliberate system for giving the best standard of living and opportunities to the most people within a society…and how that builds a place long-term, not just patch the streets.
This is what I have been pondering – Why do we often seem to have such a different attitude in our society? Why are we not proud and passionately engaged in the process of deciding on the best way to invest our common-wealth to give the maximum benefit to everyone? To debate answers to these questions would be to analyse hundreds of years of politics, culture and history. I can’t pretend to be capable of doing that – and, ultimately I am not all that interested in the answers.
What I am passionate about is the situation that we find ourselves in just now, and what we, as a modern society, as a community of people, are going to do in facing up to our situation. We have created a massive and shameful gap between people with nothing and people with everything – and the gap is growing larger by the day. The terrible logic of this is that people seem to feel that they must hold tightly to the relatively little they have, a perverse culture of fear … ‘devil take the hindmost’… ‘I’m alright Jack’’. This fear actually supports the widening gap … whilst we are protecting our crumbs others are gleefully stashing away full cakes. But what if instead of fearing losing more – we were to build strength rather than merely try to stem a decline that we have been convinced is inevitable?
It seems to me that this is the root of current attitudes to ‘public money’ some people are so deeply wedded to this culture of acceptance of doom that they see any use of public money as either a ‘waste’ or ‘too little too late’ or ‘naïve’ or ‘corrupt’… may be such people have lost hope of improving their situation (or that of their neighbours) or they have a vested interest in the current status quo and seek to undermine any attempt to change it.
The truth is that Public Money (our common-wealth) is, along with our passion, spirit and creativity the most powerful tool we have for levelling the playing field of opportunity in our society. If we can create the opportunities for more people to achieve their potential everyone will be raised up together. Feeling pleased at seeing someone struggle is simply a mirror of your own struggle – by celebrating the growth of others we all grow together.
This is why I (and The Stove) am proud and humbled to be trusted with sums of public money. I feel the responsibility to extract every ounce of usefulness and benefit for my community. I see public money as an investment in our collective passion, spirit and creativity and a means of reaching out a supportive and compassionate hand. Public money can be smart and inventive, but above all it needs to be a force for equality, because only understanding ourselves as a community with the power to grow together will we have any chance of bridging the gap that threatens to destroy us all.
From Morgan Hardie, emerging artist and curator of the recent exhibition Captive Art #3 in the Stove cafe:
I am a portrait artist based in Dumfries, I graduated with a HND in Art and Design three years ago at Dumfries and Galloway College and have continued since then as self-taught. I have a huge interest and wish to pursue a career in the therapeutic arts, which is why I was really excited when I was offered the opportunity to curate Captive Art #3! I believe it is so important that the prisoners have the chance to show their work outside of prison walls and to offer the local community a better understanding of prison rehabilitation, and how art practice and creative writing play a fundamental part in this.
The experience of curating the exhibition was so busy and enjoyable, I loved all of the different aspects from selecting the work in Dumfries Prison to hanging the exhibition the day before the opening. I had written out a plan covering everything that needed to be done and how I was going to do it, and with some help from blueprint100 and the prison education department, I think I managed to stay fairly organised! Selecting the artwork was probably the most challenging, as there was a huge variety to choose from and such limited wall space in The Stove Café, but I managed to really narrow it down and include work which demonstrated a range of different styles and techniques.
The reason I chose the painting called ‘The Nearest Faraway Place’ to be used on the posters and invites, apart from it being my personal favourite, was because of the story behind it and the immense detail portrayed. The artist had explained to me that the painting was a representation of a dream he’d had, and he had felt the need to paint it on to canvas.
My main goal was to involve the prisoners as much as possible, as it is their exhibition after all. I took information about The Stove up to the prison, along with photographs of the space so that they were clued up on where their work was going. I had decided to keep all of the work anonymous, but instead had asked each artist for a small statement on what art does for them on a personal level and included this on their labels. I received really good feedback at the opening event about this personal touch, as well as the prisoners’ poems which were read out at the beginning and the other written work which was also on display. I found that the visitors really liked that interesting connection between art and writing as it helps them to gain a more informative insight, which is exactly what I had hoped for.
The opening event was more successful than I imagined it would be, and I hope the exhibition continues to deliver and inform for the remaining time that it is on display. Hopefully everyone enjoys the exhibition as much as I loved curating it!
All Images: Kirstin McEwan