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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Which way forward?

from Belle Doyle
As we all take stock after the Stranraer Arts convention, the feedback I have received has remarkably open and candid. Who was the convention for? Who were its audience supposed to be? Is this the pattern of how things will be: people from the public sector congratulating themselves on supporting artists in what was supposed to be a revolutionary model for Scotland? Most of the people I talked to on the day and people I have been talking to around the region for nearly a year now are hungry for action and what everyone is insisting on is openness, transparency, and better communication. Above all, they are interested in the movement, in the flow of ideas, debate, discussion and arguments that a good artistic and creative ecosystem should support.

All four of us working as convenors in the Area Hubs have been as open and honest as we can be: some questions can’t be answered right now and for others, it is a question of waiting for the right moment. You have all been asking them: how accountable is the DG Unlimited Board? What is the mechanism for communication between Dumfries & Galloway Council and DG Unlimited? What is the relationship between the Regional Arts Hub and the Board and how is it made formal and accountable? Having spent the last few months trying to support this model, and trying to persuade others to bury their suspicions, I think we probably have until the end of the year to get this radical idea to work. And it is truly radical – this could be a fully functioning system of grass-roots, artist-led policies and strategies. Not public sector-led, not a top-down hierarchical system, but a supportive, open, intelligent network of people who realise the vision. This could be an incredible leap forward for this region, and this could be our one opportunity to get it right.

I was asked to write a Commonty piece about Nithsdale. Apologies - this is about the entire region, and it involves all of us.


  1. Refreshingly straightforward words Belle! I believe you are right that it is everyone's interest to make DG Unlimited work and that now is the moment for us all to take a deep breath, listen, speak, trust and make.

  2. Unfortunately I wont hold my breath hoping this is a grass roots movement that will shape policies or strategies. I suspect the most pressing issues will be the 1.2 million pounds of cuts the Dumfries and Galloway council are planning to make next year.

  3. I am one of those people who are hungry for action and openness. I want regular communication about what is happening, and not just through The Commonty or Facebook (which I'm not on). I want weekly emails telling me exactly what is happening and the progress being made. I want consultative meetings held in the heart of D&G, in a place which is accessible from all parts of the region (Dumfries? Castle Douglas?) and which everyone can attend without constant changes of buses. I want meetings of the board which are open to all of us as observers who are involved in the arts.I live out in the sticks, and getting to Stranraer would have been impossible.

    I am also suspicious of an organisation which changes its name soon after its foundation. How does the Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Arts relate to DG Unlimited? Is DG Unlimited a "trading name" of the Chamber of Arts? Should we forget about the D&G Chamber of Arts as a name altogether? No one has told me, and I want to know. Was I consulted about a name change? I don't remember anyone getting in touch with grass roots members and asking them.

    I haven't yet got to the stage of "same old, same old" when thinking of DG Unlimited, but the names of the great and the good who are associated with it are scarily familiar to me from other organisations in the past.

    Alas, I myself cannot participate in any meaningful way in DG Unlimited, but we need to recruit new names and new faces, and not jusr rely on the movers and shakers from the past.

    Sorry to be so negative, but we have a great chance here to do something that is open, responsive and meaningful. It's not happening just yet.

  4. I agree entirely with the previous comment. Still the same old faces. Still top down. Still too elitist. Still not enough communication or consultation, especially for those who are not connected through social media! I know that area conveners like Belle are trying really hard, but perhaps they are not being heard? Where are the voices coming from grass roots level? It's not what you know, it's who you know. Same as it ever was! Feeling thoroughly disillusioned with the whole thing.

  5. I am sure that Belle appreciates the irony of using an image from a totalitarian kleptocracy which states ''Soviet' - means outstanding', but there may be some on the circulation list who are unaware that the high ideal of running things via a bottom-up collective was never realised in Russia. Far from it. As in 'Animal Farm', so with the arts in D&G: some players are very soon proved to be more 'equal' than others. I would urge along with Belle that transparency and accountability are the key - and healthy competition. Here in Moffat we took a particularly grim relish in the brandishing at Stranraer of the 'mapping' initiative as a fruit of the re–organisation with no acknowledgement that we not only had it here first, but had privately funded it before the information was handed over: the 'mapping' of all Moffat's creatives – artists, writers, performers and musicians etc that is. Oh well, there's still The Commonty…

    Let a million flowers bloom!