Arranging a meeting to talk about future projects, little did I think that June 24th would be a problem. I don’t think we expected to be in such a disappointed, sad and uncomprehending mood – it can be hard not to be negative in the face of such a result. Despite the disappointments of the referendum result, we agreed to meet regardless – and actually some really positive things came out of it which is comforting and gives hope for the future.

Since meeting my mentor Susan in October last year, I have informally been guided and supported by her – often asking for advice on funding for example, or proposals and ideas for future projects.

Deciding to apply for and then be awarded the professional development bursary and formalise this mentoring relationship, we have had a number of conversations exploring how this could work. We have maintained our regular conversations and ad hoc assistance which works well, fitting this in around the demands of work, life and other projects. However, to have a programme and defined outcomes and expectations is important and having the resource to do this is beneficial in two ways: recognising the value of the level of support provided and reinforces the importance of giving this area of development opportunity.

It is interesting to note also how mentoring should not be seen as a one way relationship – there is such opportunity for both parties to learn and develop. As an example, we were chatting through marketing and social media strategies, website provision and how this can be used efficiently and effectively. This is an area I feel I can better contribute to (despite not being a digital native) as I have good experience and am interested in this area. Being able to contribute in some way through the passing on of knowledge is really affirming – creating a good balance in the relationship, and mutual respect. I am aware my experience in many other areas is much less, but by simply  being able to pitch in at one level or on one thing feels good.

We’ll continue to have this kind of relationship but it will be interspersed with more formal aspects – I have asked Susan to specifically look at teaching me better skills in budgeting for proposals and writing proposals. Budgeting skills for applications and proposals is a key area which if you get right can have a tremendous effect overall. This area encompasses a greater understanding of how projects run and the resource really needed for different activities – having a better insight to this is essential. Written proposals and the development of ideas through writing is an area I don’t excel in and I’ll be looking to develop this through practical understanding and studying how to convey ideas together.

So far, this support has been particularly helpful in recent projects. The next big thing I have coming up is an exchange residency I will run locally. I received funding to complete this project which will get 6 artists together for one week to work collaboratively to explore notions of rural and urban identity and networking and collaboration in those environments. There will be a number of events within the scope of the week – artists presentations, round-table discussion and a closing presentation event. The presentations will give the artists, who are mainly emerging and locally based, a platform to present themselves and their work  to the public. The round-table discussions will focus on the themes of the residency and encourage a wider discussion. The closing event will show the product of the time spent together – this may just be a presentation or show, it very much depends on how we work together for the week and it is exciting to imagine what may come out of it.

From the beginning of this project, Susan has been on hand to read over proposals and critically discuss how this could work in practice. Having this kind of support on a project like this is invaluable, and makes me confident in achieving its aims.

I also got the chance to discuss the project with the administrator of the funding bursary, Kirsten Body – being able to approach and take advantage of assistance in running this kind of project is so important, Kirsten has been so generous with her time and has a wealth of experience to draw from. Sometimes it is easy to forge on ahead without the input of others – this may work in some situations but I prefer to work collaboratively and gain insight from other practitioners. This may sound as if a lack of confidence is at the root, but I don’t see it in this way at all – being able to ask for help and including others makes for a stronger result.



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.


Part of the circle of mentoring which I am developing includes being part of a peer network and providing educational experiences. I strongly believe either having a creative education or at least including aspects of creative thinking, making and exploring in education is essential to an all rounded experience.

I enjoy teaching and with that enabling people to either do things they were previously unable to do or open up new possibilities and experiences for them – this can enjoyable and challenging and the results fascinating and unexpected.

I have been involved in quite a few workshops recently – for example for youth groups, a primary school and informal adult classes.

In one of these I got the opportunity to work with the artist and writer Janie Verburg to deliver a series of workshops to a small group of young folk. They had, with our help, developed a proposal which received funding from the Highland Youth Arts Hub – part of the National Youth Arts Strategy to encourage young people to get involved with creative activity.

We were keen to work with them in taking the group through the creative process – inspiration/research/development/editing. We had a  proposed outcome of a series of postcards which had a visual art element and a creative writing element, and the initial inspiration of a familiar walk developed. In discussion with the group, a more collaborative approach to the walk came about and in the end became something we did together; each taking individual inspiration from a collective experience.

Janie and I felt it right to go through the process too, to participate fully with the group – a kind of vulnerability which helped us consider how the participants felt. It also served in reminding ourselves how we approach this kind of making, what our creative process is. Each artist has their own way and making processes, so it was more a case of saying: this is one way to do it, try it and make it your own.

Leading a workshop with another artist was a particularly useful exercise and something I’d do again. The benefits of the conversations around the planning and during the workshops were more than expected – although you are teaching or facilitating, quite often it becomes a two way thing where you are gaining just as much as the participants.

I’ll finish up this project this week by working one-to-one with one of the participants in editing and getting the work print ready. We have an opportunity to launch the work next month at another event – bringing another dimension to what started as a small proposal and has become a lovely project to work through.



My mentoring year has started well; I received confirmation of funding for a project I’ve been planning since relocating to the Highlands (more on that soon) and I recently went to the Working Together Symposium, organised by the Wysing Arts Centre.

Report on this here:

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel to London to attend the “Working Together” symposium at the Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea. The symposium, organised by Wysing Arts Centre, was a one-day event which covered different aspects of artists working with institutions and their impact on them. I was fortunate to be granted a travel bursary to attend this event, provided by East Contemporary Visual Arts Network (ECVAN), the provision of which is great to see coming from larger organisations and funding bodies providing support which allows artists to be involved in events such as this. Support of this kind facilitates the opportunities I am seeking to network further afield and connect with creative practitioners working in similar areas.

Including speakers from the UK and the Netherlands, the programme focused on working with large institutions, residency programmes and within communities. The presentations ranged between conversational to more conventional, but kept within a fairly informal remit which led the tone of the day agreeably. Specifically in terms of the speakers from larger institutions, it was good to hear their stories and points of view, as in normal circumstances as an emerging artist, it would be unlikely that one would have contact. This perhaps reflects the gulf that sometimes appears between the two bodies; institution and artist. However, the session focused mainly on the positive and how good working relationships can be transformative for both the artists’ practice and for attitudes and working methods of the institution, creating historical precedents for artists working with institutions. However, it was noted that often larger forces which are controlled by budget among other things take priority (of course…) in decision making processes.

A particularly important point from listening to Beatrix Ruf, Director of the Stedlijk Museum, was going back to the how and why museums are founded – how they can be initially representative of what is missing in a societal context. Furthermore, how institutions then need to continue to constantly revisit this: what is missing now? It is a challenge to rethink what the institution is and what it can be, what its public relevance is. Perhaps this is why some institutions don’t carry on forever. Perhaps what is missing is the voice of the artist? Artists often seem to not be the main focus, but can offer potential creative solutions when included (on a practical level for example). So how can these types of larger institutions support artists? In making artists part of the institution, reducing the perceived apprehension sometimes felt on either side. Although it was a fascinating insight to hear from such a large and successful institution, it would have been a helpful counterpoint to hear from a smaller, less well funded institution (gallery or museum) about their artist/organisation relationships and how these same themes are addressed and their insights.

Next followed a combined presentation from Casco, a collaborative space for artistic research and experimentation in Utrecht, The Netherlands and Werker Magazine, a collective photographic experiment. These focused on collective work, artist led activity and connections with the communities in which they work. At the core of the projects looked at were the foundations of contribution, exchange and working together in micro societies and within these, finding new ways to share and collectivise work. In contrast to the larger more robust institutions explored, the conditions of precarity were explored and the influence and presence of the artist (including considering who that is) being larger forces from which these collective, social projects develop. I felt that collective work meaning common goals was firmly iterated and pointed to a clear distinction between this kind of smaller, artist-led organisation and larger institutions – yet the topic of the role of the artist and their responsibility to the public fitted in well here too – does this responsibility depend on the kind of institution worked with? (e.g. its purpose, size, sphere of activity).

In contrast, another large and well established organisation then spoke on artist residencies, De Ateliers, Amsterdam. Like many high quality funded residency programmes, De Ateliers is a very competitive and quite niche opportunity for young artists*  (*this definition we explored later = perhaps emerging is a better suited term to use in most contexts but in this residency it is unlikely you would be selected if over 30).

However, De Ateliers seems to be kept simple and has been for many years – and summed up by Director Dominic van den Boogerd – you learn art by doing it. And I like this simplicity and uncomplicated way of ensuring quality – because certainly the quality of the participants reflects on the way the institution is viewed. Suggesting this can be in some parts achieved by institutional everyday critique – questioning what the institution is and making constant re-evaluation, echoing the earlier speakers’ thoughts.  Artists are clearly at the heart of this institution and its priority, which perhaps by having kept things simple has ensured this.

This was a good example of a different kind of institution, however it sits quite comfortably in a large European city – I wonder how other less well funded residency schemes are able to prioritise artists? I recently heard a talk from Timespan, an arts venue in the north of Scotland, who among other cultural activities host artist residencies. Due to its peculiarity of location, this question of what the institution is (and its obligations to the surrounding area and expectations of the community) featured greatly and this pull between competing roles can perhaps sometimes shift focus away from the artist or the limits of what is possible within the framework. However, this is not meant as a comparison of like for like, just an introduction of a contrasting perspective.

Later in the breakout group sessions, amongst other things, this question was raised: what can bodies such as ECVAN do to support artists? Having recently attended a sector review session hosted by Creative Scotland, I felt well placed to contribute – the answer could be; ask the artists, listen to what they need now, and value their time and contribution whilst doing so. These sector reviews were an information gathering exercise which included artists and creative practitioners in the visual arts sector in Scotland. As an example, there included an attendance allowance to be there – at once valuing artists’ time and contribution. Focuses for discussion included what has worked in the past, what people need now and how might this be achieved. This example of institutional critique reiterates this notion of constant questioning and re-evaluation to reassert its fitness for purpose (and indeed what that purpose is). Clearly the feedback loop will need to be completed and when the results and subsequent changes and developments occur, those working in the sector will be able to evaluate this process. Meanwhile, it is encouraging to see this kind of collaboration and relationship building happening, beginning to break down perceived barriers that exist between a large institution and a wide variety of creative practitioners.

The day at Southend finished with a short film screening and a look at their exhibition Duh? Art & Stupidity before heading back to London. Attending an event like this alone meant for meeting others, another objective of the day in which I was not disappointed. Leaving one’s own sphere of activity to learn and widen networks has shared benefits, a souvenir from Southend; collective work equals common goals?