One of the aims of my bursary led activity is to engage in opportunities to network and learn from other practitioners – now living in a rural area, I assumed this would mean always having to travel. Indeed this was brought up at a recent forum – if you live in a rural area, you accept that travelling potentially long distances is a factor in taking part in cultural activity (indeed in any activity – work/medical care/food shopping etc.) and travelling for and hour or more to attend a conference or evening event is normal. Conversely two weeks ago XpoNorth was held here in the Highlands, which instead brought the people here – to a 2 day creative industry festival.

This festival mainly covers music, writing, publication, design, screen and fashion/textiles but not so much on the visual art side. I was still keen to go along as there were a number of networking events, screenings and panels I wanted to see. One of the best things about XpoNorth is that it is free to attend – making it accessible to so many people from the area, indeed I saw what seemed to be quite a varied demographic (certainly in the events I attended).

I attended a number of different panels and events over the two days. On the whole, when a single speaker was talking about a specific theme the presentation was a lot more successful and interesting/relevant than the panel discussions I went to. Panel discussions depend a lot on the chair being able to steer conversation well and I felt this didn’t always happen. One of the best presentations was from a guy from the BBC talking/demonstrating how to make broadcast level film with just a smart phone – amusing and technical but ultimately could be very useful! Getting or offering something practical out of events like this is key, and it can be completely complimentary to talking about creative ideas. I feel it is so good to get something tangible to take away and inspire you to try something new or explore something further.

I also got the opportunity to see the premier of a film, directed by a friend of mine, Robin Haig. Hula, has already won Best Drama at BAFTA Scotland New Talent Awards 2016 and it duly proved to be a great film – there was also a Q & A after where Robin spoke about the possibility of developing more from this film and its characters, exciting and so great to see local talent recognised and flourishing.

The other big side of the festival was the live music from up and coming bands both local and from further afield – these were showcased in a number of venues around the city centre for both nights. We dotted around finding plenty to choose from until the small hours. It was fantastic to see so much activity going on in this place where so often it feels as if there is the need and talent for this to happen more regularly but there is something missing and stopping it or making it difficult to happen.

Which leads on to the other activity which happened co-incidentally right in the middle of all this – a public discussion about the creation of a creative centre in Inverness. WASPS have been pursuing planning of a creative hub. A survey of creatives was carried out last year and showed there was a definite need for this here. Progress has been made and there is even a building earmarked and 2/3rds of funding in place for this to happen. This would be a fantastic development if it goes ahead – it really does feel like there is a distinct venue missing in this city. There are so many creative people living and working here but lack of studio provision for artists and a place in which to gather and share and use as a creative hub is really missing. However, this project is still at an early stage – hopefully it will go ahead as planned and the uncertainties which have been thrown up post referendum do not take away the chance of this much needed space.

Lastly, I helped present the postcard project I had worked on with a small group of young people who got funding from the Highland Youth Arts Hub – a visiting artist who was working on a project (which some of the group will participate in) was presenting his work locally, so it was an ideal opportunity to add in the work the group had done. We had a little explanation and offered the audience to take some of the postcards at the end – something really informal which suited the young folk. They didn’t want a big formal presentation, just something to mark the conclusion of their project and show an audience what they had done. It worked really well and they loved the postcards (which they hadn’t seen printed before!). A reminder that not every presentation has to be big or official, it should be something appropriate to the project and experience of those taking part. A fitting conclusion to a worthwhile project, and a busy week.


The first Dundee Design Festival was held on 25th-28th May this year. I had booked in for one of the events, Mass Assembly, which was a one-day forum “exploring the future of collective working for creatives and the places they are based”. I headed down a day early to get the chance to check out the accompanying exhibition and DCA (Duncan Marquiss) and the degree show at DJCAD.

One of the focuses of the bursary has been to attend events such as this and to then disseminate the learning and ideas to my peers.

The design festival was held in the former printing works of DC comics; a fantastic large industrial space which provided an industrial historical setting fitting for the subject matter. Sometimes a huge space such as this doesn’t always work but on the whole it was pulled off by sectioning areas for different usage and some simple but effective exhibition design and display methods. This more open plan feel was a problem for the associated events (sound interference) but worked for the exhibition.

The exhibition “weaves together some of the great design stories currently emerging from the city, including new innovations in textiles, game design and design for health and wellbeing. These are stories of local design with global impact, stories about what design can do when we join forces.” There is certainly plenty going on in Dundee and great to see it celebrated at an event such as this, but I felt some of the displays needed a little more substance to them – what if there had been a fashion show or people actually wearing the textile design in place of a few garments on show?

Duncan Marquiss at DCA was a lot quieter, the video work (including Margaret Tait Award commissioned film) was strong; I particularly liked the midgies short film – as annoying and relentless as the insects. Some of the positive and negative print images and layered drawings were quite satisfying but the exhibition space felt really large for the works, perhaps it felt a little rushed?

On to the degree show at DJCAD, a massively varied mix of work with some good highlights in installative, print and illustration work. The overall layout of the buildings are difficult to navigate and particularly so with the signage/lack of directions given. There was a map but some better more obvious signage would have been of great use – we were not phased and poked our heads into corridors and doors which appeared to be empty which opened up to more and more work – I would imaging plenty students’ work was not seen due to this basic oversight.

On to Mass Assembly which aimed to bring “together individuals who are part of creative hubs, collectives, networks and clusters from all locations, rural and urban. The forum aims to build stronger connections across Scotland and beyond whilst offering inspiration and practical insights to practitioners and producers.”

Produced in partnership between Creative Edinburgh and Creative Dundee, it started with questioning how creative networks in cities contribute in Scotland, how these clusters and hubs of collective working can contribute to economic stability, their social impact and shared influence.

The first speaker, literary translator Canan Marasligil, talked about viewing translation as a bridge. How through translation partnerships and trust are built – networks and interactions created – and through this, communities develop. She talked about her Cities in Translation project “exploring languages in urban spaces, focusing on individual cities and their specificity with regard to language diversity.”

Here we see the social impact of culture/language/connection – that translation can offer diverse perspectives of a culture. I am no polyglot, but from my own experience of studying and living a language that is not my own, there is so much to be gained from these kinds of interaction and sharing of culture that is particularly enriching and empowering.

Next up was Josyane Franc from Saint Etienne, talking about the industrial city’s reinvention as a design city. Their tagline “design changing city-city changes design”; for the creative district which has become a centre for cultural activity having changed from a disused industrial area. Although interesting it seemed as if there were many commercial/political influences in this project. It didn’t seem to be something which has evolved naturally and directly from collaborative groups and start-ups as a response to a changing city environment.

Steve Drost then talked about start-ups and creatives; how they can best work together, the challenges and stages involved. How creatives can bring back the loss of humanity some brands go through at some point in their life cycle – but highlighted the question of how can creatives contribute when start-ups are unlikely to be able to pay at first?

Steve Hamm then talked about the future; how it belongs to crowds. The problems the world faces, how isolationism will be increasingly difficult – it may become impossible to separate ourselves individually from the problems of the world which means we need collective solutions in place of individual ones.
Crowd based action along with diverse participation perhaps can make this more meaningful and responsible. But how can we collaborate with people with differing ideas, ethics etc? It is essential; perhaps out of the hopes and fears that are felt, motivation is created. When people are removed from their comfort zone, inspiration, creative solutions and real engagement happen.

A “live audit” was also on the go during the day – questions like how you imagine creative working in Scotland to be, what is it missing, opinions on opportunities for international work etc. In asking participants to stick dots on scales in answer to specific questions, very quickly it was visually clear what people were thinking and there were a lot of common themes coming out. The summary of data will be made available at a later date.

There were also opportunities to participate in break-out groups; good to engage with a smaller group but had the tendency to go off topic and the acoustics in the large space made for difficult listening.

This kind of event is undoubtedly a good opportunity to network and find out what other people are doing and how they are working with similar challenges. I’d like to see more practical elements in these kinds of sessions however; I sometimes feel a lot of time is spent going over these common themes but this is then not followed up, or the link with how to address these challenges is not there. I feel there is a lack of understanding in how to tackle these issues in peoples own individual/group situations which could perhaps be helped by including elements of how-to/more case study elements which are relevant to situations here in Scotland.
Lots of good points to take away from the day however, and I’d like to see this festival and its associated events programme develop.