(Scots Law) A common; a piece of land in which two or more persons have a common right.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What is a regional art scene?

There is a lot of chat at the moment about ‘Culture and Dumfries and Galloway’ there are important projects being proposed or growing into established parts of our region:
‘D+G Home of Environmental Art’
‘Tate at Kirkcudbright’
‘Waterfront at Stranraer’
‘New theatre – Dumfries’
‘Gretna Landmark’
‘WASPS studios – Kirkcudbright’
‘Spring Fling – growing/changing’
‘Wigtown – Booktown’
‘The disappearance of the cultural support structure’ (council officers, DGArts etc)
‘The Town as the Culture Centre – Dumfries”
‘Moat Brae – Dumfries’
‘Centre for Arts and the Environment – Crichton’
'Galloway Forest Dark Skies'
 Music Festivals - Wickerman, Knockengorroch, Eden

How do you see any or all of these things working together?

Do you feel creatively part of ‘a region’?

How would you characterise Dumfries and Galloway culturally/artistically?

Should we actively market ourselves as a region….if so how?

Can heritage ever be truly contemporary?

Are we better off just keeping our heads down, doing our work and leaving the big questions to the ‘powers that be’?


  1. Interesting discussion particularly now that there are very few 'powers that be' left, as far as I can tell!
    One issue that I have always felt lacking in the region is any form of real cohesion across the Arts field and Arts bodies. I get the sense that people work in tranches in small groups of friends or acquaintances. I don't have a real sense of 'community' as someone working in this field, rather I view it as a disparate collection of individuals. Some appear more powerful and 'connected' than others. I wouldn't say this is a criticism, per se. More an observation from a personal perspective and perhaps the way I view things is the way things ought to, or have to, be.

    Having re-read this I'm not sure I've really made much sense!

  2. Apologies folks - but I got on a bit of roll here and this 'comment' has to be split in two...this is part 1

    I feel connected to Dumfries and Galloway in my work and through extended family and friends across the region. I often question why this should be, I work all over Scotland and have many familiar routes, but there is a logic and sense to crossing from the flatlands of Gretna to the pasture of Nithsdale and Dumfrie,s gradually finding Castle Douglas – the market at the edge of the granite and heather onto the lumpy wilds of Gatehouse and Cairnsmore before passing the quarries, the water and the woods of Creetown and Newton Stewart – then pushing on into longer horizons at the start of the Southern Uplands past the Abbey lands of Glen Luce and finally the edge of the world at Stranraer and Portpatrick….and yes I realise that this is just the A75 and that the best bits are off to the sides…but this is the spine of our country and passing along it I have a sense of feeling connected to the rhythm of the landscape unlike anywhere else I know.

    So what is the binding thread, and is it of any relevance in thinking about the future?….my first answer would be the stones – there is a lovely quote from Neal Acherson (about Scotland generally) ‘…human experience in this difficult Northern place has been built so intimately into the geology and the post-glacial ecology of Scotland that a people and its stones form a single cultural landscape’ the ‘spine’ of the region that I spoke of before is paralleled by the literal spine of the Southern Uplands that run just to the North of the A75. This band of hills that runs from Portpatrick in the West, right across to Berwickshire in the East of Scotland was formed 400 million years ago when the then separate land masses of England and Wales crashed into Scotland and the sea bed of the Iapetus Ocean between them was squashed like a concertina and pushed up into the light. The grey, hard and brittle local Whinstone (properly Greywacke) makes up the Southern Uplands and was formerly the seabed of the Iapetus Ocean.

    I was born in the South West of England and I make a connection between the energy of that South West with the South West of Scotland….people often say ‘sleepy’ or even ‘hippy’ ….but it is not that, I sense a comfort with time….and I mean long slow time as opposed to short fast time – a sense that things take as long as they take and that there is no sense in forcing the issue because you will probably end up using twice the energy for the same result. This corresponding lack of pressure on land has led to the marks that the old people made in (and with) the stones still being very much in evidence ‘Cup and Rings’ ‘Circles’ and ‘Cairns’ are everywhere as are old roads, dykes and the stone infrastructure of subsistence living on the land.

    Much is spoken today of the breakdown of communal life and the modern phenomenons of ‘de-centred community’ etc – for sure things have changed here too, but I think that there is always one eye on the past and the rush for the future is not so final and all-embracing…..we question the purpose of villages and towns in the modern age when they have been so fundamentally stripped of their former necessity by mechanization and modern communications….but, there is still that South Western eye on the past that suddenly becomes an important beacon by which to navigate into the future. I am not talking about a flabby and pointless nostalgia, serious and important innovation has happened here and continues to be a vital spark in our midst, rather I mean the confidence to recognize the value in both the future and the past….a quality of innovation that does not need to burn all its bridges in order to prove its worth.

  3. and this is part 2....

    This brings me full circle back to the stones and the land – the big challenge facing us is the future use, management and ‘ownership’ of the land. The culture of farming subsidy that began with the end of the Second World War (and the understandable desire to ensure that Britain was always capable of feeding itself) has led to the current situation whereby farmers are forced to decide the way they steward their land according to subsidies handed out by a central government. We are arriving at a moment in history when this centralized control will no longer be sustainable…things will fracture and break apart meaning that the land will once again come under more localized control through the logic of local market forces rather than beginning with large amounts of cash being entrusted to the few who claim ownership of the land. I feel that D+G is ready in its own unique way to take on the challenge of again confronting the genuine reality of ‘productivity with purpose’ as opposed to the crazy game that we have been asked to literally ‘buy’ into whereby if we all bought enough stuff all the time then we could rely on the clever folk in the City to make a big enough margin on the transfers of money that we’d always still have enough money to keep buying.

    And as for an art scene, a cultural scene whatever you choose to call it – we are one of the vital communication threads that binds the region together. We keep pointing at things that others might have forgotten to see for a while – wondering if an innovation is worth throwing something away for or nagging about something that should have been consigned to the attic for long term storage. We are passionate about the quality of the light moving across a hillside and keep telling people to stop and watch – we live and work here because when people value the old stones they also respect people who can put that worth into words, songs, pictures or form.

    We live in a difficult and temporary historical moment when we are coming off money ‘cold turkey’ – for the next wee while the cry will keep going up that ‘there is no money for art’ …..but deep down art, culture, heritage, belonging is worth much, much more than money and I believe that creative people can give a lead in kicking ‘dependency culture’ and in doing so prove their worth in this region that still remembers what worth is.