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
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.
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]
As part of the upcoming launch of Kathy Hinde’s Luminous Birds installation in Dumfries, Stuart Macpherson will be introducing the first in a series of pieces of his newly commissioned work Flight. Both works launch on Wednesday, 7th September, starting from the Stove at 7.30pm, ahead of the switch on of Luminous Birds at 9pm at the Globe Inn. Full details available on our events page here
Flight – Is a moving soundscape/composition influenced and inspired by the migration of barnacle geese from Svalbard to Caerlaverock. Taking the idea of Migration from Kathy Hinde’s Luminous Birds installation, Flight explores the ability to move from one place to the other, using multiple sounds sources to create something that mimics the movement of the birds. Individual parts are composed to work together as a movement.
This opening is an introduction to the piece which will continue with further developments and performances through until November. You are invited to come along and immerse yourself in the first run coinciding with the opening of Luminous Birds at The Stove.
Stuart Macpherson is a freelance bassist and composer based in rural Dumfries & Galloway. He has been involved in numerous projects and performances, mostly recently the highly acclaimed orchestration of GRIT by Greg Lawson at the Edinburgh International Festival. He also plays in a recently formed quartet with local musicians Wendy Stewart, Gavin Marwick and Ruth Morris. Short-listed twice for the Martin Bennet Prize for Composition Stuart’s work ranges from soundscapes such as his work with Chinese pole artist and performer Phil Hardie on Welcome my Son to pieces written for Red Note Ensemble and Mr McFalls Chamber. His compositional work has been taking an expansive swing towards more experimental pieces and collaborative work such as this.
Special acknowledgement to Sound recordists Geoff Sample and Simon Elliott who have very kindly allowed their recordings of the geese to be used for this piece.
This years Nithraid sees us welcome a new team of young interns to help kick-start our now annual sailing race up river and into the centre of Dumfries. First up is Euan Macrory, a musician from the town and joining the event production and marketing team. We asked Euan to tell us a little more about himself and his music:
I am a musician that is driven by giving opportunities to other performers and artists. I hope to contribute my part to the Dumfries music community by encouraging new performers and hopefully allow people to try music as a hobby even if they never have, purely so people can discover a new passion. My main passion at the moment is combining genres and changing music. This has involved me taking genres that are not always perceived as exciting, like traditional folk and combining it styles like funk, flamenco and jazz. In the future I hope I can encourage a rise in the interest of the Dumfries music scene and try to change music.
I was drawn to Nithraid because I wanted to try being part of the organisation of an event so I could participate in events from a new perspective. I have been a performer at events but I am looking forward to experiencing events under different circumstances and gaining new skills in fields that present unique challenges and rewards.
I think Dumfries is a town with a lot of potential. I think it has a really nice local community that you struggle to find in other areas. I believe that with our close community values we can make a modern town with more reasons for young people to stay here and build careers.
The most exciting part of the Stove process for me is the involvement it permits. The stove opens up a wide variety of opportunities for people to get involved in, including different types of workshops and events for activities that people would not consider if the Stove was not offering these unique opportunities.
Five books I think everyone should read are Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck, The Symposium by Plato, How to Ruin Everything by George Watsky, If On a Winters Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
There are so many songs that I couldn’t live without but if I had to name a few it would be Santeria by Sublime, Emily by the Bill Evans Trio and just every song by a spoken word poet and rapper George Watsky.
I never expected to enjoy volunteering in a charity shop as much as I did. Honestly when I started I thought it would be a fairly quiet standard shop job but I had so much fun and made so many great memories from it.
My passion is music, it means so much to me and it always has. I couldn’t see my life without it.
Throughout the year, we like to make sure we keep in touch with all our members and ensure that everyone has chance to easily express their hopes, wants and needs relating to the development of The Stove and joint creation of a better Dumfries. Whether that be more formally at the members ‘Housewarming’ event; ‘Cultural Wayfinding’ sessions; via Tea with Moxie (yep, that’s still going if you want a natter and a cuppa!); at drop in sessions; during live events; the speechbubbles project; or just casual encounters in the street: the core team are keen to hear thoughts, suggestions and ideas on how to take things forward.
The Stove has really blossomed since opening its High Street doors earlier in the year and there are lots more exciting adventure on the horizon so here is just a quick recap of the kind of things you were asking for and what we’ve done by way of response.
Spoken Word and creative writing was very high on people’s agenda and an increase in events was suggested by many. April saw Open Mouth blast onto the scene with Sarah Indigo and Eryl Shields leading performance and creation workshops with school students during the day. The success of this has led to Brave New Words being developed into a regular Open Mic night at The Stove, the next of which is this coming Friday October 30th, and is open to all (musical or spoken word, Brave New Words is open to all original writing). In the run up to Christmas, various other word based events are planned, including Wagtongues Pop Up Bookshop at the end of November and there is an open-call out for new writing for exciting art installations in the closes of the town.
A number of conversations around food were sparked at the Housewarming event, perhaps sparked by the delicious Chai Tea made by Open Jar and the Bannocks baking on the open fire in the square! People were keen to harness the power of nourishment in all its senses, suggesting gatherings; gardening experiments where people could come to learn how to grown and learn how to cook seasonal produce; cup return schemes for our café and film evenings and talks linked to food and produce. We’ve also been in talks regarding community gardens, rewilding, and working with groups around the region to provide a chance to explore the lines where the act of growing becomes art.
The latter was explored during our recent film season at The Stove where films such as Moo Man, Vanishing of The Bees, and The Lunchbox were accompanied by wonderful talks and equally wonderful tasty, relevant treats.
We also had an incredible talk by Alice from Social Bite who shared their journey from scratch to building an amazing network of Sandwich shops which help the homeless back on their feet and into work.
Work has started on The Stove Café which will provide a vibrant meeting place in the heart of Dumfries and a base for further creative exploration of how we think about, grow, distribute and cook food. The tender was won by Angela and Colin Green and we are very excited to see what this new development brings.
We are really keen to hear from people who might like to host groups in the early evening (for example we have a regular Craftivism (Creative Activism) workshop beginning on October 28th) which will encourage people to linger a little longer once the shops have closed, and build on our commitment to breathe new life back into the town centre.
The Craftivism workshops also touch on a couple of other points raised by members. It became apparent that people were keen to form Skill Sharing groups and to engage in Mindfulness initiatives. Craftivism encourages both and we hope will be the catalyst for other Skill Sharing/Skill Swap events to be born.
It was suggested we take ‘The Stove’ outwith the building and do more projects around the region. One such project involved The Young Stove working with a group of school aged children in the woods near New Galloway where they ran a workshop called Survival Art School and then showed the youngsters around their own show at Gatehouse of Fleet., another was the co-production of EAFS; a wonderful Off Grid Adventure in the grounds of Morton Castle that, amongst many other magical things, encouraged the sharing of food as a point of human contact and engagement, calling on that primal need to break down modern social barriers and open up a world of friendship and communication around shared nourishment.
People asked for Drumming and what a line up we gave them! Not only did we fill the day with the incredible Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band, who brought huge smiles to everyone they encountered, but then an evening which gave way to a spectacular workshop with local drumming groups which brought the community together in a loud and joy filled way.
Thinking of the future vision, in addition to calls for giant water slides, segways instead of Orange Bike Schemes, permanent Block Parties, Adult Ball Pits and Drive in Cinemas, it was clear people wanted to feel the love coming back into the town centre.
“Let’s celebrate what we have and what we can be rather than focusing on what we don’t. We are a vibrant town with vision. Work together to make it happen.”
“Keeping Dumfries’ heritage but being more upbeat and welcoming to new things”
“Convert dead shops into flats = get people back into town.”
“Use empty shops as art galleries/installations – artists get work shown, town gets colourful, vibrant art instead of empty shops full of litter.”
have been repeated in various forms and, although a little less exciting than gigantic bowling alleys made of foam, are a little more tangible and form a good starting place for change.
It’s obvious that the regeneration has already begun with many people commenting on what a positive difference having The Stove present on the High Street has already had but there is, clearly, much more to be done.
We had some great public sessions working with Lateral North to discover how interventions and Cultural Wayfinding could help develop Dumfries, help her be more welcoming, and make it easier (and more exciting) to navigate, just as it has in other towns; and there’s more of that to come with an event surrounding Norway House next month.The building itself has had a wide range of personalities since its birth. It’s provided a messy space for The Young Stove and other artists, been an exhibition space for a range of artists, housed workshops, meetings, gatherings and music gigs. It’s welcomed a wide range of people through its doors from immensely varied walks of life, and that makes us very proud. It’s also become an ideas exchange, a place where people can come to give inspiration and take it, to bring ideas and help them grow.
Music has been another hot topic for members and the public and we have been growing a Music strand since The Stove began through our Dumfries Music Conference – since 100 High Street has been open this has continued to blossom through partnerships with other local music groups, such as Small Town Sounds, Music Plus and Electric Fields. These partnerships have led to great gigs showcasing local talent such as Rudi Zygadlo, MØGEN and Mark Lyken. You can even learn guitar at The Stove now with guitar teacher David Bass.
Other things that have come up in chats include:
Partnerships with the Crichton Campus – exciting news on that next February
Fast Public Broadband – big up to Ailsa for making The Stove the first business with fibre-optic broadband in the town centre
Space for screenprinting – we’re supporting Upland and Maklab in trying to start a facility at Maklabs premises on the High Street
Classes in IT and Film Editing – our digital making suite will be taking bookings soon…watch this space
Support for research projects into Environmental Issues – Stove was the base for the recent Environmental Art Festival Scotland and watch out for ArtCOP Scotland @ The Stove in early December
More for young people in the town – the Young Stove continues to flourish and is integrated into just about everything we now do
Be part of making Dumfries better – The Stove continues to be a place that people come to debate and take positive action for the town…we are taking an active part in the current debate about the Whitesands and there is exciting news coming up about major improvements to the High Street.
So, let us know what you think. Book in with Moxie for a cuppa, send an email or drop our Herald a line on Facebook. The Stove is ever evolving and its quiet energy is building all the time; so get in touch and let’s see how we can sail together into the next phase.
What is your earliest memory?
I remember in the flat with Mum and the radio and a song with brass instruments was playing. It was night time and the kitchen was yellow. (It was usually yellow at night, and bluey-grey in the day.) This could have been around winter time. We were making a pizza with a smiley face on it. It tasted disgusting. We laughed. What drew you to The Stove?
What’s your favourite place to be in D&G? Kirkbean… The woods, the fields, the river with the cave.
What’s been the most exiting part of the Stove Process for you? I suppose the most exciting part is seeing a variation of ideas and being part of interesting discussions with all these different artists. Meeting new and intruiging people with great imaginations is a brilliant experience.
What instrument would you play if you could instantly master it? Ocarina of Time.
Would you share three words that you love? Sing, Treasure, Lux.
Tell us about your creative process.
Sometimes it’s hectic, sometimes it’s structured. I’d say it’s a balanced combination of the two. When I’m certain of what it is that I’m doing, then suddenly uncertainty may arise to spur on an unexpected avenue. If I’m not quite sure of where it is that I’m going, then I’ll just wander blindly until my right hand grips the banister a split second prior to what could have been a plumetting journey down the staircase. Sometimes I take that plummet too. I am quite orderly beneath all the chaos though… Or maybe it’s the other way around.
What’s the best thing anyone’s said to you?
Tell us a joke. (At this point we had to pause the interview as Sullivan began breathing into a paper bag, body contorted, rocking backwards and forwards in a most awkward manner.)
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever got?
Tell us your passion:
My passion is to express myself… So I’ll do that to the very best of my ability. And on those most formidable of lazy days, I’ll drag myself into action kicking and screaming. It’s the least I can do for myself.
What’s your dream for the arts in D&G? Uninhibited imagination (with bells on).
The Young Stove’s first collective exhibition, Not to Be Sold Seperately will open at The Stove on Friday, 11th September and feature performance, live art, installation events as part of the exhibitions opening. More details about Not to Be Sold Seperately coming shortly.
Aged 16 to 30 and interested in the arts? Find out more about the Young Stove here