Public access production facilities 'provide a strong foundation for exploring new pedagogies and bringing people together'
SSW Lumsden Weekender 2018 / credit: Erika Stevenson
Some of the people behind Scotland's top-class facilities tell us about the role they play, not just for artists, but for their communities as a whole
Across Scotland, there are currently eleven regularly funded public-access production facilities, offering the use of state-of-the-art printmaking, sculpture, photography and glass making facilities for low cost, often subsidised rates. Most are located in the central belt, in some of Scotland's biggest cities, but three – Highland Print Studio, Scottish Sculpture Workshop (SSW) and North Lands Creative (NLC) – diverge from this path, serving some of Scotland's most remote, rural communities. This changes and informs their work; these public-access facilities are not simply supporting the making of art, but the making of communities.
'Something that feels so exciting in Scotland is the artist-led approach to its cultural ecology,' explains Sam Trotman, director of SSW, an impressive sculpture centre in Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, complete with a foundry, metal and wood workshops, and ceramics studios, located in the village's former bakery. 'Our main focus is on supporting artists and makers through our residencies, projects and open-access facilities. [But] as one of the only civic spaces in the village, we are always finding ways of connecting our programme to others interested in starting, sharing or enhancing their skills and passions. We are particularly interested in the unique skills and resilience of rural communities and as such utilise our projects to connect contemporary artists and local folk together.'
SSW's current projects range from 'Into The Mountain' by artist Simone Kenyon, which connects women who walk in the Cairngorm Mountains to share and collect underrepresented narratives, to joining community protests against Aberdeenshire Council's cuts to local the bus service, which connects the area to nearby towns. Trotman describes it as 'mutual survival'.
Karen Phillips, the director of NLC, which is based in the Caithness village of Lybster, has seen the impact a strong artistic presence can have for a community: '[NLC] is seen very much as a social and cultural hub for the area', she explains. The centre plays an important symbolic role in its upholding of the local glass-making skills in the area after the closure of Caithness Glass, which was set up to counteract the area's unemployment crisis following the decline of farming and herring industries, and the ongoing decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear power plant. Ex-Dounreay scientific glass-blowers currently teach lamp and flame working at NLC alongside visiting artists from across the world, including the likes of Eric Goldschmidt and William Gudenrath from the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.
'A decline in the traditional industries, high levels of unemployment (especially among the young) and an older and ageing population have all contributed to [Caithness] being identified high on the multiple indices of social and economic deprivation,' explains Phillips. 'NLC plays a part in the regeneration of the village through employment, by bringing people to the area, using local accommodation and services and the renovation and use of old buildings in the village.'
Highland Print Studio is a similar 'creative hub' and a key part of the visual arts infrastructure of the north of Scotland. Though based in Inverness, it attracts makers from across the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Aberdeenshire. 'We enable access to professional-grade equipment that could only otherwise be accessed by travelling to the central belt or east coast. Some of the people who use us have hours of travel just to get to Inverness, so having an additional three hour journey would simply make access to this type of facility impossible for many,' says director Alison McMenemy. Highland Print Studios offer screenprint, intaglio, relief print and lithography facilities, plus a digital suite with resources including high-spec digital imaging, large-format photographic printing and high-resolution scanning. 'We are conscious that our area includes remote rural communities, so have invested time and resources into adapting techniques to be taught on an outreach basis and this is something that we continue to work on.'
McMenemy describes Scotland's generous provision of public access facilities as 'cultural socialism'. '[These facilities] make access to professional grade facilities available to most and not dependant on personal wealth, which is the case in other countries,' she says. Artists' also benefit from the close proximity and interaction with the small communities these spaces support and work closely alongside: 'As a key part of the community, we are integrated into all aspects of the community life,' adds SSW's Sam Trotman: 'These facilities provide a strong foundation not just for making artwork but for more expansively nurturing our material knowledge, exploring new pedagogies, bringing people together and, in the case of us, rural organisation spaces where we can act upon these things with a close relationship to our rural landscapes.'
Scottish Sculpture Workshop, Lumsden, ssw.org.uk; North Lands Creative, Caithness, northlandscreative.co.uk; Highland Print Studio, Inverness, highlandprintstudio.co.uk.
Highland Print Studio
20 Bank Street,
Highland Print Studio is an open access workshop with facilities for printmaking (intaglio, relief, sceenprinting and stone lithography) and digital imaging. Anyone from professional artist to complete beginner can learn to use our facilities. Simply…
North Lands Creative Glass
Scottish Sculpture Workshop
1 Main Street,