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Freeing the Spirit: Part Three

Freeing the Spirit or Causing Chaos: 35 Years with a Scottish arts’ organisation

Following on from Part Two, we come to the final instalment of insight shared by former Programme Manager Susan Davis!

A care for the environment and how resources are used 

I’ve long appreciated the value of living in Fife with its rich and varied landscapes, from countryside to coast. Working for an arts’ organisation in the Kingdom and being aware of the great strain on the planet already, it felt appropriate that our programme and activity reflected that care. 

Working with 3 artists in the (wet!) autumn of 1998 (Jim Buchanan, Julian Compton, Jane Kelly) on the Straw Bales’ Project highlighted this time of year and its importance agriculturally, but also how the march of change has meant shifts in agriculture in ways that are not always the best for the environment. 

Three 2004 projects stick in my mind: The Meaning of Water (Elizabeth Ogilvie and Douglas Dunn poetry) was an installation for StAnza Poetry Festival, a contemplative playing of words against the reflection of water, making you think about its importance for life. What in the world is more beautiful was an exhibition about artists and gardens, curated by Gair Dunlop and Susanne Nørregård Nielsen. As part of the project, Gair and Susanne also created a colourful ‘Mondrian garden’ at St Andrews Botanic Garden.  

For Lovely Weather, artist Diane Maclean worked with scientists to produce a range of poetic and colourful works which highlighted the issue of climate change (organised in collaboration with Peterborough Digital Arts, and University of Guelph, Canada). It also involved the intrepid Bruce Pert climbing scaffolding beside the gallery to install a weather-vane transmitter! 

Out of the 2010 Artists’ Forum came the idea of a Scrap Exchange Challenge. Bags of artists’ cast-off materials were randomly swapped between attenders and new artworks created with them. These were displayed in the Town Hall foyer.

Scrap Exchange Challenge exhibition, St Andrews Town Hall; photo Susan Davis

Our 2nd touring exhibition on Fife Cultural Trust’s MAC (mobile arts coach), curated by Jonathan Baxter and Sarah Gittens, considered how artists can make a difference. As well as touring schools and community centres for about a year, 3 Tree Days took place in the early winter of 2012 – planting small orchards at 14 primary schools across Fife. The Artists’ Environmental Resource & Sharespace was launched on 7 May 2021, a document that pulled together many of the suggestions for working sustainably.

Finally, RESOLVE: a creative approach to the Circular Economy (2022, Kirkcaldy Galleries) curated by artist Mella Shaw was a practical demonstration of the power of art and artists for inspiring change. 

We have toured many of our shows (since my early beginnings in 1987!), including joining forces with like-minded people to form STEC (Scottish Touring Exhibition’s Consortium) which enabled more ambitious projects to be realised and toured more widely. Partnership-working also helped us participate in the country-wide Generation project in 2014, celebrating the best of Scottish art from the last 25 years, linked to the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme. Toby Paterson created a new installation of work for Kirkcaldy Galleries and venues in Dumfries, Inverness and the Scottish Borders.

Installation view of Toby Paterson – GENERATION exhibition, Kirkcaldy Galleries; photo Chris Park

The Craft Pods continue to be a successful way of reaching non-gallery audiences across Fife, now on their 9th tour (since 2010) with embroidery by Francesca Rea.  

Francesca Rea’s embroidered shirt for the 2022-23 Craft Pods’ tour; photo Francesca Rea

Embracing digital 

From the early digital artworks by Gurpreet Singh described in Presence and Absence above, to Fife Contemporary’s growing list of online exhibitions and projects, we have acknowledged and used the power of digital to help expand audiences and also ideas. Our first exhibition in 2006-07 was Past Present. This had a physical presence at St Andrews Museum but a digital/offline website also toured schools and libraries in the Dunfermline area.  

The Fife Contemporary website was quickly regarded as our ‘virtual venue’, a place where information could be shared for anyone to view. A microsite was added to the website around 2018 to host the Materialise programme which provides support and a showcase for new makers. 

From April 2020 onwards, for most of the next 2 years, the programme moved online – either using Zoom for talks and meetings, or for online exhibitions. Lines from Scotland had just finished a highly successful showing at St Andrews Museum and was newly installed at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries when Covid-19 forced its early closure. Within weeks, and with the help of its curator Amanda Game and some of the participating artists, a series of exhibition INSIGHTS was created online. I particularly enjoyed INSIGHTS 3 which included a short film by Frances Priest, describing her creative drawing process when designing the wonderful ceramic door furniture, tiles and Parian vases for Raasay House (project by ATLAS Arts).  

The annual Summer School for senior Fife art and design pupils moved to an online version in June 2020 with 100 packs of materials being distributed to schools, and films by artists on YouTube instead of meeting face to face.

The StAnza 2021 offering was online, Resolve to make it new, with contributions from around 60 members of the public, some artists and some poets, coming from across the UK. The original idea tapped into the growth in popularity of ‘repairing’ something during lockdown, but in fact also included some very personal words about loss as a result of the pandemic. 

The combination of words and carved wood was used to great effect in Trail of Thought, a contemplative walk through the upper woods at Falkland Estate created by Lesley Acheson and Seb Chaloner in the summer of 2021. So many of the phrases they used resonated with living during the pandemic – It’ll Blow Over, Onwards and Upwards

It’ll Blow Over for Trail of Thought at Falkland Estate; photo Julian Davis

So, there you have it – a shortish list of some of my highlights since 1987 (and I could write the same amount again mentioning different ones)! I have been sustained in so many varied ways by the wonderful people connected to the organisation and am so proud of what the Crawford Arts Centre has evolved to become by 2022. I anticipate even greater things to come! 

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