The Stove Cafe is the social heart of our social enterprise to bring new life to the town centre through culture and the arts and supporting community activity and career development for local people. Last year, we started to put together plans to make changes to The Stove cafe to improve on the look and feel of the space and to open up the space more to allow for more customers. The Stove’s Project Manager, Graham, led the Cafe refurb, along with Duncan Clowe from Duncan Clowe Joinery. The work Duncan did, along with the help of his dad, was superb and we cannot thank him enough! Make sure you check out his Facebook page and get in touch with him if you’re needing joinery work done! Check out the Stove Cafe refurb process photos below:
Since we’ve reopened the Cafe, we have been overwhelmed by the response from our customers and have been lucky to welcome some new ones in too! When you buy a coffee at the Stove, you are being part of a new vision for your High Street. Your support helps us to create opportunities, run projects and an events programme for everyone. To keep up to date with news from The Stove Cafe, follow their Facebook page here or their Instagram page here.
And don’t forget – become a member of The Stove Network and receive 10% off all food and drink in the cafe! Sign up to become a member by clicking here.
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
permission Dictionary result for permission /pəˈmɪʃ(ə)n/ noun
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.
Kevin Reid leading the Door Toon Army’s Street Clean last year. Image Credit Galina Walls
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.
Katy Ewing performing at Brave New Words last year
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.
Writers Free For All in January. Image Credit: Kirstin McEwan
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 ourhome 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.
Kate Kyle performs as part of the line up for the Sapling gig in December
Lauren is a researcher who has been working with the Stove for over a year looking at the Stove as a business and how it interacts with other organisations, the community and its members.
I first came across The Stove three years ago when I was working in a different job, but as soon as I started this research project I knew I wanted to work with them. My supervisors recently asked me why this was, and that made me reflect on what attracted me to working with The Stove.
The first thing I remember about meeting The Stovies was how friendly they were, and their interest in what I was researching. That was a big plus for me. When I asked to research them, they proposed a more collaborative approach. This was right up my street, I wanted to research with them, rather than do research on them.
From the perspective of my topic, this was also interesting. I’m looking at how ‘open’ organisations are to different sources of information. And already The Stove was showing that they were ready to collaborate with researchers. They understood that it would take up their time and were careful to make sure the research was the right fit for them.
Their openness to working with me did not stop there. I was invited to different events, meetings and discussions. While some of the other researchers I know working with other companies were struggling to get information from organisations, I was heading to meet The Stove’s partners, sitting in on team meetings and attending the board away day.
Throughout this time, I built up a rich picture of how The Stove does business, and how it works with partners, the community and its members. While I am still in the middle of getting all my notes and interviews ready to be analysed, I have a few insights into what makes The Stove an interesting business.
The Stove’s Curatorial Team is one of the ways they are unusual. The majority of charities and community groups will have a voluntary board (which The Stove also have) who are in charge of overseeing the organisation, but who also may have a huge impact on the direction of the organisation. The Stove has two levels to set direction, the board and the CT, and at the board away day, both levels came together to generate ideas for the future of The Stove.
In terms of my research, this was interesting and important. The Curatorial Team is made up of practising artists who have strong ties to the community of Dumfries, and they therefore bring in practical experiences and their ideas help shape The Stove.
When looking at how they decide when to work with another organisation, we spent a lot of time talking about the ‘fit’ between The Stove and the possible partner. There isn’t a set of conditions an organisation or person had to meet to work with The Stove. The way people work is important in making this decision. That’s not to say that The Stove expects everyone to do things their way. It looks more like the ethos of the approach that matters. The values embedded in how people work are important to The Stove.
Although I’m two thirds of the way through this research project, I still feel I have so much to learn and that my observations, thinking and ideas will grow. I know one thing for sure, I’m so grateful I was able to work with The Stove and they have supported me with so much throughout the process.
Lauren will be presenting and sharing alongside researcher Lizzie Smith as part of an open discussion on the role of cultural and third sector organisations like The Stove this month. It’s open to all and takes place on Thursday, 21st February.
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
What’s in store at The Stove this year? With building works continuing downstairs in The Stove this month ahead of our regular opening times from next month, the Stove’s operations and curatorial teams are busy preparing and planning for a bumper 2016 year. Select each image below for more details.