The Isle of Skye offers more arts and culture than you may think
The island is home to a bustling calendar of visual art, live contemporary music and film events
The devastatingly good looking isle of Skye doesn’t like being patronised. ‘Please don’t call us “remote”,’ one local tells me with only half a smile, as we eat slippery langoustines and pints in the bar of the Eilean Iarmain hotel on a Saturday night. (The bridge connecting Skye to the mainland is just over a mile long after all, which makes it a shorter drive than over the Forth Bridge). It doesn’t like being misunderstood either. ‘Think you know what to expect from a night out in the Hebrides?’ Shouts the Skye-based podcast, Radio Free Hebrides, run by Mylo’s musicican/ DJ brother Hector MacInnes. ‘Think again!’
Skye wouldn’t like to be considered a cultural backwater either. No sir. Although a lot of weekenders and visitors want their visit to include a night of straightforward fiddles and folk song after an invigorating day of munro bagging – Skye can definitely offer some of the best trad musicians, not to mention munros, around – that’s not all the island can offer the culture lover. It’s becoming increasingly popular as a destination for fans of the experimental, the site-specific, the interactive and the avant-garde.
It’s been selected as one of the spots on Creative Scotland’s visual arts trail, GENERATION, a programme of art exhibitions across Scotland, celebrating artists working in Scotland over the past 25 years, including David Shrigley, Toby Paterson and Richard Wright. From August to October, Skye will host a 10-week sculptural installation with the working title ‘An Experience Being An Experience Like An Experience You Just Had’, featuring Glasgow-based artists Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan. It’s organised by Atlas, a visual arts organisation in Portree. Last May they commissioned sound poet Alec Finlay (son of Ian Hamilton Finlay) to create a work about our collective fascination with mountains. The result, ‘a company of mountains’, was then celebrated over a ‘PANORAMA’ launch weekend, with performances from Hanna Tuulikki, 7VWWVW and Wounded Knee, in an extravaganza of poetry, music and Tom Weir and volcano-appreciation.
The fact that Atlas doesn’t actually have a dedicated gallery space works only to its advantage; they’ve had to use Skye’s dramatic mountains and slopes as the walls for exhibiting their art on instead. It’s an idea that outdoor-arts mavericks NVA took, and ran with, back in 2005, where they used Skye’s landmark Old Man of Storr as epicentre for a dramatic 7-week sound and light installation.
‘We work very hard to bring a real variety of work together,’ says Rosie Somerville, project coordinator at Atlas. ‘So that people who don’t think they like sound poetry or analogue synths might end up enjoying it, after coming to hear a talk about mountaineering or geology.’ Atlas is also currently running a project called Spincycle, inspired by the spinning, knitting and weaving traditions on Skye, which has led to screenings of films in launderettes and hydro-electric showrooms around Skye and Lochalsh, and sonic explorations of ‘cycles, revolutions, oscillations and reels’ streamed on Radio Free Hebrides.
‘It’s not that we don’t think people want to experience traditional music and art forms, we’ve just noticed that often people want to do both,’ says Somerville. ‘Someone who came to last year’s PANORAMA event said “I’m glad I was able to witness this”. It had felt like something really significant to them. And we took that as a huge compliment.’
Skye Events calendar
The Grand Budapest Hotel, from Sat 29 Mar, Aros Centre
LGBT film screening
Blue is the Warmest Colour, Sat 29 Mar, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig/ Gaelic College
Student music showcase
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Fri 4 Apr, Sabhal Mor Ostaig
Puppet theatre show
The Secret Life of Suitcases, Mon 7 Apr, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Visual artist talk
Talking Art Series: With Caroline Dear, Thu 10 Apr, Atlas Arts
SEALL 1000 Festival, with Shooglenifty, The Fiona Hunter Band, Porridge (DJ set), Sat 3 May, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Classical/ folk concert
Michigan’s Alma College Choir, Tue 6 May, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Visual artist talk
Talking Art Series: With Neil Mulholland, Sat 10 May, Atlas Arts
The Nuala Kennedy Band with Troy MacGillivray, Fri 16 May, Aros Centre
Spring Garden & Craft Fair, Sat 24 May, Armadale Castle Gardens
Team sport challenge
Row St Kilda to Skye, May (date TBC), arriving in Portree.
Fèis an Eilein / the Skye Festival, various venues, Jul-Aug
National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland, Wed 16 Jul, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
In My Father’s Words, Dundee Rep, Tue 22 Jul, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Nature and heritage event
Skye Agricultural Show, Sat 9 Aug, King George V Playing Fields, Portree
Joanne Tatham & Tom O'Sullivan exhibition, part of GENERATION, by Creative Scotland, Aug–Oct, Atlas Arts
Gaelic and the Environment, ramble and talk, Tue 2 Sep, meet at the Drochaid Airidh na Saorach layby, near Broadford
Skye Book Festival, Thu 4–Sun 6 Sep, Aros Centre
Skye Swing Jazz Festival, Thu 30 Oct-Sun 2 Nov, various venues
Christmas Craft & Food Fair, Thu 20 Nov, Clan Donald Skye, Armadale
The Screen Machine, Highlands touring cinema lorry.