The Shape of the Arts in Dumfries and Galloway Today
Dumfries and Galloway is one of Scotland’s most creative regions. Sparsely populated, rural and miles from the country’s big cities it constantly surprises visitors with its rich and diverse cultural life. We are inviting a number of key people to give a brief overview of what’s happening in their area of arts and cultural life.
The Performing Arts
By Graham Main
Director of the Electric Theatre Workshop and Artistic Director of Big Burns Supper
With the Theatre Royal’s £2 million re-development in Dumfries – and capital investment to the Stove and the Fullarton by Creative Scotland in the last three years, there seems to be a positive trend across the region.
The performing arts are one of our emerging art forms, and one that DGU prioritises across each of its Area Arts Plans. And so it should be – there are lots of interesting performance makers living in the region, with a strong background. Alex Rigg is one example of an artist who is not scared to cross the boundaries, and his work is both visually stunning and deeply thoughtful.
We have an abundance of visual artists who have constantly invited performance makers around the table for collaboration, and the result is a community of artists who are close enough to meet in the streets of our villages and towns. Working with each other is an intimate and inspirational process, which somehow adds colour to our rural environments. Delve into the sheds and barns throughout our region and a treasure chest of installations will be waiting to be reborn.
Over the last four years the drama output being created included Blood Orange, Singing I’m no a Billy he’s a Tim, and last year we were one of five regional hubs for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Five Minutes surrounding the national question. Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival regularly attracts the national performing arts companies, and has been presenting rural programmes for over 30 years.
Our audience asset is made up of an estimated 200,000 per year which is spread among a variety of different venues – and most importantly our festivals. These account for just over 65% of our annual performing arts audience, and include Big Burns Supper, Eden Festival, Moniaive Folk Festival, Electric Fields and Wickerman.
Rural arts centres deliver a strong programme of work which is being presented in the Catstrand (New Galloway), The Ryan Centre (Stranraer), Old Well Theatre (Moffat) and The Buccleuch Centre (Langholm), Fullarton (Castle Douglas) and A’the Airts (Sanquhar). Village halls play a strong role in sustaining audience enthusiasm, and help develop our community life by presenting lots of different performance.
Big Burns Supper and Electric Theatre Workshop run creative learning across our region’s schools which includes participation for just over 2,000 young people a year through workshops and shows, supporting both the development of the Curriculum for Excellence in primary schools and interdisciplinary learning in secondary schools. The Burns Night Carnival in January is now the single biggest community arts event happening each year, and this includes over 30 schools who sign up to take part.
Environmental Arts Festival Scotland is also pushing new types of interactivity with its audience, and presents work from artists like Jo Hodges who use our stunning landscape to interrogate our thinking. It seems wherever we go in this region, there are colourful artists with things they want to say.
Rural performance is quite different to the artform development happening in cities. Our theatre institutions play a much stronger role in arts participation in engagement, particularly surrounding creative learning. In Dumfries & Galloway there is no formal pathway to higher education in the performing arts, as young people can learn in hands on environments through work-based placements such as the Associate Artist role which runs at Electric Theatre Workshop, which attracts young people from all over the region. Rural touring is currently about to get a bit of an overhaul and several organisations are scoping out potential working models for this
Youth Artists now work with Electric Theatre Workshop at the region’s rural performance hub in Dumfries, which has saw an increase in pathways to cultural employability with several young people moving onto become undergraduates various Conference Drama Schools in the UK, including Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Glasgow), Royal Central School of Speech & Drama London), Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (Liverpool), East 15 (London) and Manchester Met (Manchester)
Make Performance in 2012 was developed as part of Creative Scotland’s Rural Talent Development platform and it saw Bryony Kimmings and Rob Drummer coming into the region to develop our emerging performance talent – it has helped develop two pieces of new work Me, Myself and Id which premiered at BBS 14, and by Wee Betty by Catherine Major which premiered at DGAF14. Make Performance will be returning to the region in 2016.
Dumfries & Galloway boasts a developing youth theatre network with lots of work happening in community arts settings, such as Centre Stage Youth Theatre in the East, Annan Academy Performing Arts Centre in Annan, Ryan Youth Theatre in the West, Moffat Youth Theatre in the North and of course, Dumfries Youth Theatre in Nithsdale. There are more and more Youth Theatres popping up every year.
Dance has a strong presence across the region through, particularly with young people who train at a variety of street dance schools, and the art form is being slowly helped along by Dance Galloway who are championing the development of dance everywhere.
Visual Arts in Dumfries and Galloway
By Bea Last
Bea is a visual artist who has been based in the region for 20 years. Her reputation is international and she has also worked as an adviser and mentor.
The visual arts across Dumfries and Galloway, are a vital and vibrant sector, connecting our historical, cultural heritage, through to a strong presence of current artists who are working with other creative disciplines to take the arts forward and to continue to build upon our reputation as an amazing, creative place to be.
The visual arts cover a broad spectrum of disciplines such as arts within community, education and healthcare, commercial art and artist-led initiatives. There are the more cutting edge and those that are public gallery and museum based.
There has been a huge amount of support, from within our own community, and that of local and national funding bodies, in recognition of the cultural talent that we have. With connections now being forged on the international platform, and with the strong foundations that we have historically, this is a really exciting time to be living and working in D&G as a visual arts practitioner. Over recent years our reputation as The Creative Place To Be has gone from strength to strength and that reputation is being built on, moving us forward onto a wider international platform.
In D&G it is possible for all creative disciplines to work together, encouraged through the diversity of many High Street galleries, museums and artist-led initiatives. We have had ARTIST ROOMS, in conjunction with Anthony D’offay and The Tate, in partnership with The Gracefield Arts Centre, that brought us DAN FAVIN, the American Minimalist artist (circa 1960s) whose work with light installations is as contemporary to today’s recent graduates. Vital for our next generation of young artists to be inspired & encouraged by. As a region, we are fortunate to have this working relationship with the Tate.
This is a very dynamic time for a new generation of artists and recent graduates, who can fully engage with what is a vibrant creative sector, full of support and development opportunities via various arts groups that have in turn been established by the previous generation of artists, offering resources, opportunities, support through bursaries and mentoring passing on the experience of what are now considered to be the more established artists from within D&G.
I don’t believe ‘in a one size fits all’, or in a particular hierarchy of how the arts should be or have been. Creativity is very fluid by its nature and develops accordingly. Wherever you decide to place yourself as a visual artist on that broad spectrum that is the visual arts, by working together and supporting each other as we do, Dumfries & Galloway is a stimulating and energetic place to be right now.