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Programmers Report: The Outside In/ Permission as the form

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

  1. 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 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.

Kate Kyle performs as part of the line up for the Sapling gig in December
Musings Project Updates


Blog post from Stuart Paterson

Into the second of three months of the Lowland residency now & the project is nicely gathering pace & form. Things are beginning to take shape, both in the mind & in reality. The Flood of Words started out as a rivulet & is quickly becoming a spate. Coos have been dunked. Postcards have been piling up. Conversations have been had. Latvians have been gathering. Governmental approval has been forthcoming. Poets & writers have been assembled & given instruction &continue to rally to the cause.

Nithraid River Festival 2018 saw The Stove undergo Edinburgh Festival-like transformations as the weeks leading up to the Do With The Coo became days & great swathes of activity culminated triumphantly on Saturday August 11th on Dumfries’s Mill Green. The Salty Coo was held aloft & borne to the Green in a procession of funereal solemnity, weirdly inspirational music & surreal costumery, courtesy of pointy-eared funsters Madjakkals. It was hoisted high onto its pontoon midstream in the Nith, awaiting the winners of the boat race. They began to arrive after 1pm, completing a journey of 14 miles up the coast from Carsethorn (‘The Port of Dumfries’) by oar & sail, briefly, fragmentedly but strikingly recreating a time when the Solway was one of the busiest waterways anywhere on the British coast. By this time the Green was alive with stalls & people, performers & visitors, the river aflutter with sails. The weather was holding up & the Lowland stall was quickly busy with folk writing their thoughts on Dumfries on the Lowland postcards or the Typewriter of Truth.

Image Credit: Galina Walls

I was amazed at the amount of people who participated, popped over, curious, then keen to get involved. Many were visitors to the town, some from overseas, some day-trippers from outwith the region. Some were weans, some were ‘veterans’ of the toon. Many, many people were happy to contribute & so much of what they contributed was honest, touching, beautiful. Disparate words, phrases, poems, drawings, reflections, memories, hopes & visions coming together to add to a tapestry of what Dumfries means to those who live & visit here.

Image Credit: Kirstin McEwan

And so, the Salty Coo, created to commemorate two of Dumfries’s most important products when it was one of Scotland’s busiest trading ports – salt & livestock. It first appeared in 2013 – to be offered as tribute to the Nith & its glorious past, to rise again each year as a symbol of hope & optimism. This year, I was honoured to be asked to write an ‘Ode’ to the Coo as it was lowered into the river on some strange mechanical contraption & left to float downstream, its salt dissolving, its proud bovine features slowly disappearing beneath what passed for the river (2018 was a record dry summer). We’ll feature the Ode elsewhere on this site; in the Stove you can read it on a big blackboard. I proclaimed said Ode via the PA to the gathered masses, over 500 in the crowd, each of them shouting back the chorus with increasing gusto. It was indeed a proud moment, an exhilarating mixture of high panto & ancient Druidic solemnity as the Coo entered the Nith to the sound of the Doonhame Choir, was embraced by the Nith’s sluggish heartbeat, travelled 10 yards & got stuck on a traditional shopping trolley. No matter, the Ode will now be an annual thing, hopefully a fitting tribute not just to the town’s salutary bustling past but a verbal signpost to a future where the past’s not just a commodity but a mirror to the present.


In mid-August, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Communities, Aileen Campbell, visited The Stove. She heard about the ongoing work being carried out by the Midsteeple Quarter & their plans & vision for the regeneration of Dumfries town centre, making many of its empty or underused buildings accessible to independent traders & affordable properties for tenants from all social quarters. Aileen visited the Baker’s Oven, currently leased to The Stove for use as a creative venue for a peppercorn rent. While in The Stove, she spent time admiring the Flood of Words exhibition. It’s turning into some collection, I can tell you, an actual Flood of Words. It’s now taking up a whole wall in The Stove café & it’s still growing. Aileen was properly impressed by this tour de force show of community engagement & creativity. She has connections to the town herself & took away a Lowland postcard, promising to return it complete with her own creative thoughts on what Dumfries means to her. Cheers Aileen. And don’t forget the stamp.

Why not pop in & look at it? Or just to have a brew & something to munch – the Stove Café is a really central, accessible & mellow place to spend an hour or two in town meeting, blethering, thinking or just reading the papers. The food & drink are splendid too, the staff friendly & welcoming. And while you’re there, add your own tributary & see the Flood of Words grow further. There are Lowland postcards scattered about & a Lowland Post-box wherefor to deposit your words. Every word, every contribution means something as do you. Make yourself count.


High Street Writers will be meeting in The Stove on the following dates, all Wednesdays – September 12th & 19th, plus October 3rd. All sessions will run from 6-8pm & everyone’s welcome to come along, no matter your level of experience as a writer or in which genre (& it’s free). We’d love to meet you. Please come along. If you’ve any queries about the group or access needs, email The Stove & we’ll hopefully be able to sort it out. Writers are the beating heart of a community – come along to High Street Writers & help it beat stronger. And of course, Brave New Words, which I’m preparing for tonight. Dumfries’s very own fantastic showcase of spoken word meets on the last Friday of the month, next gathering being on September 28th at 7pm. There’s nothing quite like it in south-west Scotland. And if you’ve anything at all to contribute to or want to ask about Lowland, please comment here or send us a message at The Stove.

The Flood of Words continues, of course. Myself & Lowland’s lead artist Martin O’Neil have been meeting to plan & organise further events & engagements, particularly in schools & on the High Street. Look out for announcements about what’s coming up on National Poetry Day, October 4th, in the Baker’s Oven & on the street. The Dumfries Words Walk will be coming up in around 4 weeks. A series of posters, with extracts of work from many local writers, young & old, mostly alive, is in the production stages, for display in shops, schools, libraries & anywhere we can place them. And there are also plans to create a permanent poetry street, The Poets’ Close, in a yet-to-be-disclosed location in the town centre. Imagine – Dumfries having its own Poets’ Corner, where (most of) the poets arenae even deid yet.


Aaaand finally… On Wednesday September 5th, tangential to but still relevant to Lowland, we’re having the grand opening (huzzah!) of a major touring exhibition which will be at The Stove until the 13th. This is Latvia 100, celebrating 100 years of Latvian independence from Russia. It takes the form of 16 A1 panels of cartoon & text, drawn & written by the cream of Latvia’s creative talent & I can tell you, it looks utterly brilliant.

“This chronicle of Latvia’s history features historical events with international resonance: World War I, the interwar period, the Great Depression, World War II, the periods of occupation and related restrictions on freedom of expression, as well as the European Union and other contemporary political-economic subjects.”

There’ll be Latvian food, music & dance, all MCed by myself. It begins at 6.30pm with a speech by Dumfries’s Provost, Tracey Little, to be followed by an address by no less a person than Latvia’s ambassador to the UK, Her Excellency Ms. Baiba Braže. D&G’s Latvian community have responded brilliantly & we’re really pleased to be hosting an exhibition that’s also visiting Liverpool, London, Manchester, Glasgow & Edinburgh. The cartoons are tremendous. Please do come along & see it between the 6th & 13th, if you can’t make the launch next Wednesday. To which, of course, all are most welcome. No bad for a wee toon, eh? But a wee toon with an increasingly big creative presence on the UK stage.



Lowland Writer in Residence: Chapter One

by Stuart A. Paterson, Lowland writer in residence

Cometh the hour, cometh the town centre regeneration arts hub, cometh the associated projects and cometh its first Writer in Residence – me. Welcome to Lowland, described thus by its lead artist Martin O’Neill –

A 3-year project conceived and delivered by the Stove Network. It seeks to place writers at the core of the Stove’s and local community’s activities to reflect and celebrate a town in a transitional phase of its history. Generating a contemporary narrative of place, by interacting with and responding to activity in the town through the written word. The central idea of Lowland is to generate an evolving narrative through a series of engagement opportunities and outputs, whether a song, a book, a map, or a play – these outputs will create a collage of work and output that will form the backbone of our future activity.

I’m delighted to have been chosen to launch the Lowland ship into the uncharted waters of the next three years. If it’s only half as successful as The Stove has been in the previous three years, it’ll prove to be something well worth waiting for, for everyone.

What exactly does ‘place writers at the core of….the local community mean’? For me, it means not so much putting writers into the town regeneration spotlight, more about giving words, writing, ideas the platform to inspire, instil inspiration & hope into Dumfries & its future. For we’re all writers, really, all poets of the everyday, although most of us will never write it down. Poetry is in the stories at the bar, the chat at the shop counters, the sharing of memories about the place, the blether on the benches. Aye, it might not always be positive & that’s understandable. Like many towns the length & breadth of the country, Dumfries has had more than its fair share of knocks, disappointments & let downs from those to whom we trusted the future health of our towns & communities. It turns out that that trust was misplaced for much of the time. And external trends & markets haven’t been kind to the business, spirit & lifeblood of town centres. Out of town shopping, death by rates, the internet, a lack of incentives, accompanied along the way by ‘improvements’ to the very fabric of our town centres have been wrecking balls we’ve been powerless to avoid.

I believe that in Dumfries, contrary to what many might think, there is still more than enough of a history, spirit, pride & culture to kick-start it into a brighter future than many towns might hope to inhabit. Not just history in old buildings, stories in stone, memories of the good old days, pride lost & never to be recaptured, glories gone & the old days always being better than now (what was the old joke? Nostalgia’s not what it used to be?). We can do something about that & we’re actually doing it now. Not just talking but doing. The Stove is the acorn from which a hundred wee oaks have started to grow, mostly nurtured & encouraged by the town’s young people, from the outskirts to the centre. Lowland, like Brave New Words, Nithraid, Blueprint100 & the Midsteeple Quarter, is one of those wee oaks, putting down roots in the town centre & beyond. The words I’m harvesting from the people & workers of Dumfries are themselves branches into past, present & future. They’ll hopefully be here long after town centre planners & absentee landlords have sold up, moved on & been forgotten about.

There are, I hope, some good things lined up for the next 3 months. Nithraid is almost upon us again – the boats, the crowds, the Salty Coo. I’ll be getting involved & hope to see you there as I man the Word Oven & keep hearing & gathering the words & stories from any Doonhamer who’ll give me the time of day. There’s a Word Walk planned, a tour of Dumfries & its past inhabited by the writers now no longer here. I’ll be hosting High Street Writers on the first Wednesday of each month, 6-8pm in The Stove, meeting & encouraging the writers who are coming through & here now. I’ll be linking up with Crichton Writers & Dumfries Writers groups to add to the Flood of Words, which we’ll be creating from the feedback on the Lowland postcards – fill yours in now, put it in the box in The Stove. We’re going to have words on windows, poems in shops, stalls on the street – & Latvia 100! on September 5th, which will be amazing & a cultural crossover which’ll have the Norwegians shaking in their boots. And of course, Brave New Words on the last Friday of each month. It goes from strength to strength & shouldn’t be missed. Come along, no matter if you’ve never read in public before. You’ll be among pals.

Before we know it, it’ll be October & my 3 months will be up. I hope to leave a few building blocks for others to add to, as well as the beginnings of a legacy of the town’s narrative in the present day. Nostalgia’s great – but let’s make our own good old days first.

Stuart A. Paterson, Lowland writer in residence


Lowlands Writer in Residence

The Stove Network is delighted to announce the appointment of poet Stuart. A Paterson in the post of writer-in-residence as part of their new Lowland project which looks to create a living story of Dumfries over the next three years by placing professional writers within the community to reflect a town in an important place in its history. Former BBC Scotland Poet in Residence, Stuart commented:

‘I’m delighted to become writer in residence for the Stove’s Lowland project for the next three months. Putting creativity and art at the heart of Dumfries’s town centre regeneration is an exciting thing in which to be involved. Poetry and art ought to be accessible and enjoyable for everyone, no exceptions, and relevant to the place it’s in. I’m really looking forward to engaging with the people of Dumfries to create and share ideas of what we want our town to be, to produce work which will make folk smile, think and feel they’re part of, not apart from.’

Lowland is a project to help connect people with literature activity in the town and help contribute to an evolving series of installations, artworks, readings and events which will stimulate and grow creative responses of what it is to live in Dumfries right now. Working alongside community groups and other town related activity, Lowland hopes to ignite Dumfries’ creative ingenuity in the written word and highlight a town at a peak of ambition and creativity.

Lead artist, Martin Joseph O’Neill of the project commented:
‘It’s a really amazing opportunity to be able to not only support our local professional writers over the next few years in different ways, but is also is an opportunity for people with an interest in reading and writing to break through. With the Stove’s Brave New Words open mic events growing month after month, this is a chance to really make our mark, showcasing emerging and professional writers on the national stage in an innovative and exciting way.’

For further information on the Lowland project email [email protected] or pop along to Brave New Words, hosted every last Friday of the month at the Stove, 100 High Street

Musings News

Lowland | Building a contemporary narrative of Dumfries town

Building a contemporary narrative of Dumfries town
by Martin O’Neill

“I wrote about what was around me. But some people are so daft they don’t understand that writing about Prestwich is just as valid as Dante writing about his Inferno.” Mark E. Smith

A friend sent me this quote around the time of Fall front man and debauched hero Mark E. Smith’s death. It was a photo of the quote crudely written in sharpie. A cardboard epitaph by a postbox, adorned with flowers left to wilt. It reminded me of the sad street-lit shrines we see by the side of a road, marking a life cut-off too quickly by a road traffic accident. As if his death in the city was just as tragic. That his legacy should be marked in cardboard felt a fitting tribute to a man who dwelled between genius and joker.

At the time, I’d been going through a lot in my own practice – how much what surrounded me affected my own unconscious ranting – that first stage before actually forming something which might be deemed as poetry or art, and how much my own sense of place lead me to its final form.

Whether it was in the worlds unveiled in a hospital waiting room, or a past reflected in the walls of St. Andrew’s church. These worlds of words which when stringed together created in me that place always real and half-imagined like a dream, rippled from the walk of a day through the High Street, by the river or upward to the museum, the omnipresence of Burns carved in stone or engraved in a window, fogged by the rising smoke of a cigarette, his work obscured only in the presence of a poorly painted portrait.

These places that resonated on the page, and for which I couldn’t have explored the other parts, hidden from view. And it was the same for most every other writer I met in this town. They wrote what was around them, so as to peer further into themselves and understand better the lives of others.

There came a point, whilst compering Brave New Words which is now fast approaching its third year, growing in excellence, audience and value every month thanks only to those who contribute, and the communities which have grown from this that I was struck how important the living word, and its profound connection to place was.

With that, it seemed important to examine our current sense of belonging, through a platform engaging professional writers and artists, responding in their chosen practice, a contemporary account of Dumfries. It struck me that the hierarchy of writers was marked by death, and that their shadowed legacy was inscribed in the minds of those ‘in the know’, or on a white tomb, or in the pages of a tourist brochure and that little infrastructure existed to engage current writers to engage in the intricacies of writing place. What with the weight of a bard carved into marble.

To connect with our communities through the arts is the Stove’s ethos. To see that our opinions, thoughts, emotions and lives matter and to break down whatever barriers exist between culture and community is pivotal to creating a town everyone can be part of. And the form of the written word is just as valuable as any other form by which to do that.

With that, came Lowland. A 3-year project conceived and delivered by the Stove Network. It seeks to place writers at the core of the Stove’s and local community’s activities to reflect and celebrate a town in a transitional phase of its history. Generating a contemporary narrative of place, by interacting with and responding to activity in the town through the written word. The central idea of Lowland is to generate an evolving narrative through a series of engagement opportunities and outputs, whether a song, a book, a map, or a play – these outputs will create a collage of work and output that will form the backbone of our future activity.

Launching with a writer-in-residence, the project hopes to create a valuable strategy for literary activity in the town and seeks to work with our community, our partners, artists and other writers to reflect the varying perspectives of the place we call home in new and inspiring ways.

With this, and the continued presence of Brave New Words, is where we build a legacy not formed by marble but by people, and the stories, which weave between the bricks of our buildings and the voices in the streets.

For further information on Lowland, please contact [email protected]

Musings News

Brave New Words: Blueprint100 Takeover

Brave New Words Celebrates with a Blueprint Takeover, Millions Dead
by Chauncey Milquetoast

The night of the 27th was one of debauchery, excess and – at the hands of the host – violence. There was also some rather lovely poetry and music and…misc.
The night marked a change from what was usually expected, thanks to a bunch of youths running the show this time instead of that guy what usually does it.

Hosted by the absurdly abrasive Brandan Braslin and his Phantom House Band (one dude), the night began innocuously enough before descending into surreal, Lynchian chaos.There was more variety than ever with acts performing a cacophony of poetry, prose, musical numbers and stand up comedy. It’s impossible to pick a highlight, as each act was as wonderful as the one that preceded it, except for one profoundly unpleasant man in a hideous floral shirt.

The only downside was that, for the fourth time, my request for Dead Kennedys fell on deaf ears. Perhaps I should ask a musical act next time instead of literally every poet. Live and learn.This was also a particularly inclusive night where everyone was made to feel welcome – with only one heckler this time, which I believe is a new record, plus it was a member of staff so it doesn’t even really count.

The finale consisted of our host providing a final monologue before disassembling himself into minute, complex geometrical shapes and dissolving into the ether, while the house band grew to a gargantuan size before rampaging through the town centre.Overall it was a good night. I’d say…twelve out of a possible thirteen stars.

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