forest floors viewpoints ruins abbeys cathedrals riverbanks closes garages containers car parks oak copses street corners living rooms cafés summer houses sheds garages outhouses canteens bedrooms riverbanks closets walk-in wardrobes foyers dining rooms beach blankets kitchens doorsteps garden tables follies empty bandstands corridors park benches cars buses boats trains tv salesrooms
This is my pitch. To the artists, creative professionals, funders, socially engaged institutions and community groups in the Borders.
For over a decade now I've seen the need for a physical space, a building in the Borders which would serve as a hub from which a programme of Creative Placemaking can be developed. The Stove in Dumfries and Galloway is an excellent example of what can be achieved. Have a look in particular at 'What we do'. It's almost overwhelming. There's no good reason that such a project cannot be successfully implemented in the Borders. I have to say that I've attended dozens of meetings, forums and workshops from which very little if anything emerges in terms of sustainability. I've listened to the jargon shift and change as different buzzwords rise and fall. Jargon is reductive, stultifying and often weaponised by bureaucrats on order to avoid talking about real issues facing real people. None of it means anything unless we're prepared to act.
Please hold in mind the words 'Creative Placemaking' as we proceed because it's a very important and relevant concept. Creative Placemaking isn't jargon. It used to be when people were fumbling around trying to find words to describe sustainable models for creative engagement with communities. Now it is a sophisticated concept, tried and tested, yet sadly beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of civic functionaries. A place is different from a space. It is one of the fundamentals of architecture, an anthropological reality. A place can be anything. Think of a blanket on the beach. In the olden days councils used to employ town planners whose job it was, in theory, to create nice places out of streets, buildings and public amenities. I knew one very well, a family member from an older generation. He was an artist, an illustrator. He applied his creative skills to the job. Obviously the whole cadre of town planners has been abolished. I say obviously because no self-respecting town planner would run an A-road through a town centre.
The Borders is a mix of urban, semi-rural and rural environments. The urban environments, in particular Galashiels and Hawick, suffer from serious poverty, poor housing, unemployment and so forth. If ever creative placemaking was needed there we have it. One understanding of creative placemaking, as I suggested earlier, is as a process whereby creative minds apply their skills to solving social, community, wellbeing and similar problems in order to establish a sense of place for the benefit of citizens and communities (that's actually a definition I made up put of several others but you get the gist). If we drill down though, there are two fundamental aspects to creative placemaking, the ethical and the aesthetic. The ethical, broadly speaking, tackles social and wellbeing. It deals with 'real people' defined by Claire Bishop as 'people who are neither the artist's friends or family or other artists' (I paraphrase). The aesthetic tackles how to do so elegantly and with grace, in addition to the very important work of providing beautiful works of art for citizens. It doesn't matter whether an artist sustains a practice of producing objects for detached contemplation or whether the artist is socially-engaged. It's the mindset common to both that is of value in creative placemaking. A Venn diagram of the various identities that artists 'practice' in their life - family member, partner, parent/guardian, employee, employer - will have a large space in the diagram common to all artists, ie the 'art' bit, the bit that characterises our way of thinking.
Why am I going on about all this? First, my view is that we need to act more urgently, with more focus, in order to better represent ourselves as creative professionals and to work more strategically with communities. Second, because I believe that councils and similar agencies are hobbled for various political and structural reasons. They simply cannot do what needs to be done nor can they adequately represent and support artists, similar professionals and their engagement with communities, held down as they are by the need to reproduce themselves and their mechanisms from day to day. This is where the creative community has an opening which would be of benefit to both the creative practitioners and the communities around them. It is of course being done by some excellent individuals and small businesses, truly gifted and dedicated people, but I would argue that we need more, hence this proposal.
By the way, this has nothing to do with turning artists into social workers. We've gone way beyond that type of counter-propaganda promoted by High Modernists. Even out of sheer self-interest a hub makes sense as a point to where structural and other funding can be directed for the benefit of artists.
I propose therefore the following: to sit down (round the kitchen table or in the pub) with at least three other people willing to put some time and energy first into establishing a ground from which to proceed and thereafter towards developing a plan which will lead to the establishment of a physical space/building/hub. I refer again to The Stove.
My first suggestion would be that we answer the question: 'What is the purpose and/or function of such a hub?' because that's what everyone will want to know. If this is done well I can almost guarantee that the result will be a whisker away from a fully workable and sustainable statement of the aims and vision of the project. Alongside this I propose that we approach potential partners - funders, the Council, other creative businesses and organisations. I've begun this process and have had a positive response.
The next step would be to establish a Social Enterprise, most likely a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO). Advice on this is easy to find. I've even done it myself in the past. Simultaneously, more detailed discussions will be had with funders in particular. For my part I don't worry about funding because without it nothing happens. All I can say is that there is money out there alongside government policies and guidance on how to carry forward initiatives of creative placemaking. Others in a similar situation to us have accessed those funds.
But what about x, y and z? The answer is I don't know. What I do know is that artists as a species, within the social ecosystem, have unique properties and occupy a specialised niche. Nobody else can or will do what they do. Many artists are very clever, well-educated, provocative and resistant to complacency. They do research and solve problems. They project their ideas into the material world then produce and provide things, often ex nihilo - objects, processes, concepts, complex ideas, social contexts. I can't speak for anyone else but I start every day with nothing and end up with something.
So this hub idea is a long-term large-scale project. There will be detractors and naysayers. This is the way of things. I refer you to bullet point seven (or thereabouts) of 'problems to bear in mind when trying to do placemaking' (this is an actual thing and I've seen it twice online - apologies for not providing the link). There will ALWAYS be naysayers. Some people are just wired up that way and are best ignored. Others simply don't know what to do - it's outside of their experience. Nonetheless people can always be brought on board once the objectives are clear. In my experience the doubters can often turn out in the end to be the hardest working partners. Most people like to do the right thing.
That's it. Thanks for reading. I'm here if you want to reach out.