Town is the Venue. The town center and outskirts, Huntly, Scotland.
The Town is the Venue: Art, Community and Place
The town is the venue is a curatorial practice developed over the past 15 years at Deveron Arts, a contemporary arts organization in Huntly, a small rural town in North East Scotland. In contrast to the overwhelming structure of contemporary art that favors people living in urban metropolises, our work demonstrates that it is possible to create a sustainable life for contemporary arts within the context of a small town. We have no arts center, rather, the town, its history, geography and community life, are the material, context and place of artistic intervention. This shift to new forms of embedded art practice has emerged over the last few decades. Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 was an early harbinger of more processual and experience-based art practices. Recent scholars have contributed new critical frameworks and understandings of participation, dialogue and community in contemporary arts practices. Grant Kester brought together case studies of art from the 1960s through the turn of the century in Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication, 2002. Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells, 2012 explores socially engaged art in the twenty first century. However, relatively little attention has been given to how curators can facilitate socially engaged practices, let alone those of us striving towards creative and critical work in small towns and rural environments. Together with curator Nuno Sacramento I published ARTocracy: Art, Informal Space and Social Consequence in 2010 to help fill this gap. This article draws on this material, highlighting key aspects of our work as well as profiling a number of socially engaged art projects from the last five years.
Art in What Context?
The story of Deveron Arts starts with its context. In 1995, three like-minded people living in Huntly– Annette Gisselbaek, Jean Longley and myself–felt that there were not enough cultural activities in the area. What we had in common was that we had moved here from larger cities (Copenhagen, London, Berlin). Huntly is a rural market town with a population of 4,500. It serves a hinterland with a radius of approximately twenty kilometers, with another 4,500 inhabitants who live on farms, or in small hamlets and villages. The nearest major urban centers with cultural facilities are Edinburgh and Glasgow, both around four hours away by train or car. It is the rural location itself that makes it special as a center for contemporary arts development in the North of the country.
Map of Scotland showing Huntly as seen from the South.
Huntly lies at a longitude of 57° North, just above this are the cities of Quebec, Stockholm and St. Petersburg, and further above that the largest cities are Helsinki, Turku and Rovaniemi. Outside of these cities, very few towns exceed a population over 100,000, with the vast majority of people living in settlements not so different to Huntly. The social needs and capacities to host a contemporary arts program in these settings demand a very different approach to the status quo generally oriented for the metropolises in the South of the country.
The town dates back to the fifteenth century with the arrival of the Clan Gordon,1 who built the (now ruined) Huntly Castle.1 The town center is a designated conservation area with a rich granite-based architecture that indicates the former prosperity of the town. Life today, as in the past, revolves around a historic square in the center, and the town hosts over 140 clubs and societies, ranging from Women’s Rural Institutes to a Rotary Club and the relatively new Huntly Development Trust. Further, it has a cultural tapestry that ranges from traditional Scottish bagpipe playing, folk music and dance to the contemporary realms of Deveron Arts.
There is a lot of economic change in the air. Major employers are public services. In terms of industry, there has been a lot of change with companies outsourcing to Eastern Europe. Some change to the economic life of the hinterland was brought through the advent of the internet, which meant that some small businesses settled in the area, often to escape property prices in the South and in the pursuit of a quieter lifestyle. Like in many other towns in the North of Scotland, Huntly’s economic position has been weakened due to the decline of agriculture, changes in shopping trends (e.g. internet shopping) and the centralization of services to larger centers in the South of the country. Two new supermarkets located on the edge of town pose a significant challenge to the town’s traditional retail heart. Decline is apparent in the town center, which now features empty shops, charity shops and undeveloped industrial land alongside traditional shops like butchers, bakers and a bookshop. Thus, Huntly has been identified as an area that is socially vulnerable with relatively high unemployment and a number of poverty indicators. On the other hand, Huntly has been designated as part of Aberdeenshire’s growth corridor for development over the next 25 years. This undoubtedly offers economic opportunity but what will it mean for the town? A housing boom, an influx of migrants, more wind farm developments, increased connections?
Although unique in many ways, several barriers to setting up a contemporary arts organization were apparent in similarly sized small towns. After initially running several summer schools, workshops and small exhibitions, Deveron Arts looked into developing a venue. However, the results of a feasibility study were not favorable given the weak financial base and remote location. In comparison to an urban environment, the potential audience was limited by geographical reach and the town lacked an established gallery-going audience likely to attend events. The financial costs of acquiring or building a venue were unlikely to ever generate a return, and indeed might actually have alienated local residents from a space by following a model designed for cosmopolitan urban trendy tastes.
This predicament is mirrored in many similar sized rural towns throughout the world. Considering the “North” in particular, the size and remoteness increases the closer one moves towards the arctic. The size of Huntly is important: it is observable; one could say “manageable.” It is about a square kilometer in size, and it takes about a ten-minute brisk walk to get from one end to the other. This allowed us to consider the town as a manageable entity, like a large bustling gallery: one large place that could be scrutinized from an arts point of view.
For the three people that started Deveron Arts, the first impetus was personal. Having had an international past, we decided to bring elements of that into Huntly. Art seemed to be a good process to confront the needs of a local context, like Huntly, with international ones. Underlying all of this was the notion that a town with a variety of cultures, foods and habits makes a richer community. The second impetus was society-driven. One could say Huntly, like many other places, needed it. Huntly has often been criticized as a community that takes too little pride in itself. Like many other places across Europe, young people are moving out and the town population is aging. The cinema shut down a long time ago leaving a gap in entertainment. However, Huntly’s history and heritage are far richer than first meets the eye. It has many pubs, clubs, a market, music traditions including Ceilidhs, sports facilities, historically prominent figures, etc., and a large number of inspirational social and cultural topics to inform an artistic program. Coupled with a great number of fun, inspirational and talented people, Huntly is a great place to live, work and experiment.
How Does Art Fit into This Context?
For town is the venue, we started with the selection of a topic. As opposed to a venue, which is a building in which the physical parameters define the logistical possibilities of each event or project, when the town is the venue, the possibilities are set by the social, cultural and geographic character of the town. Getting the topic right was fundamental, as the topic is what creates a relationship between an incoming artist and the local community. As the public for Deveron Arts was mainly people living in the constituency of Huntly, the topic had to engage them.
It was less important whether the town is the venue sat in the public space of the town, or whether it moved to more rural locations outside of it. The town is seen as a perimeter that defines the location of topics, not only of spaces or buildings. What was utterly vital, however, was that a topic be identified that was relevant for the social life of the communities, and then an artist would be invited to work with the community around this topic. It could be any topic as long as it found resonance within the cultural and socio-historical context of the town. This starting point was unusual, as often projects begin with the intellectual ideas of the curator and artist and are presented as an ingenious insight for an audience to admire and respond to. In Huntly, this simply would not do.
Both to identify the topics and to identify the groups Deveron Arts wanted to work with, a cultural audit was carried out, which established various facts relating to life and assets in the community (e.g., number of houses, employment level, etc.) as a baseline for research and development. The cultural audit contains all kinds of facts that range from demographics (size, economics and geographic situation) to more subjective interpretations (political issues and social problems). This audit helped us to identify ideas, themes and topics to address collaboration with the community and the artists that were engaged. The research to identify the topics and venues and the individuals and groups Deveron Arts work with was largely based on word of mouth and direct engagement, using a method of participant observation borrowed from social anthropology.
Diagram explaining the cultural audit for Huntly from Artocracy.
ARTocracy Context Diagram
An important point to make at this stage is the fact that, although the artists are temporary residents, all Deveron Arts staff live in the town where we curate projects. We are part of the community and have the same social responsibilities toward it as everyone else. This sense of belonging underpins the ongoing research carried out daily through a range of town activities– everything from attending public events and reading the local press and meeting frequently with its editorial staff to participating on boards and committees. It was vital that the whole team, including interns and short-term staff, felt comfortable with this way of working and lifestyle and, if necessary, could be trained to undertake the application of these methods.
This participatory anthropological research is fundamental to conducting a cultural audit and gives direction to shaping relevant topics that can be fruitfully applied in just about any small town. Responding to the cultural audit of Huntly, Deveron Arts’ projects today are loosely structured around themes of environment, heritage, identity and intergenerational issues. These themes crosscut a number of specific topics that can be questioned and explored in relation to the particularities of the town and within a diverse range of art practices. With a cultural audit and broad themes in place, we then began to form an organizational structure and invited artists for specific projects.
Diagram explaining how to make your own cultural audit from Artocracy.
How Can You Do Arts in This Context?
In setting up an overall organizational structure and coordinating individual projects, several project layers were required. Here we’ll go back to basics and list every detail relating to people, context, processes, and results in project making.
Each of these must be considered for every project, but experimentation in emphasis and arrangement keeps the organization evolving and developing. For instance, in some cases it may be that the funders have a bigger say in the direction of a given project, while in others the direction has more to do with stakeholders and the public, or the artist. Deveron Arts is funded by a large variety of public, private, local and international funds as well as some of its own income through events and sales. Some projects have very concrete physical outputs, while other more ephemeral projects create a lasting change of opinion. It is up to the curators (at Deveron Arts this is myself and the external curator who is appointed for each project) to negotiate an overall balance between these layers in the organizational programming.
We call this balancing act the 50/50 approach. By this we mean: half local and half international; half community and half artistic; half emerging artists and half established; and half conceptually driven and half organizational. It is important to apply this balancing act on all levels: selection of artists, themes and venues, but also in operational terms such as fundraising, marketing, learning and education. The board of management quite strictly consists of 50% local people (a teacher, an accountant and a social worker) and 50% arts professionals (curators, artists and other people in the cultural sector). This balance provides a mechanism to ensure projects are of good quality in both artistic terms and in terms of responding to local social issues.
It is through striking this balance that Deveron Arts not only creates a space for arts to be considered and appreciated in the town, but also creates a space for the town to be considered and appreciated in an international arts discourse. Due to the relatively small and remote context in which this method is applied, this relationship to the wider arts world is not automatic. A very proactive effort must be made to keep in touch with movements and trends in the arts, inviting not only artists, but also a range of other professionals into the town. One method that has proven to be successful is to invite a Shadow Curator for each project. This is an external arts professional selected for each project to provide a critical voice on the conceptual and organizational development of the project. Much like the ministers in the Shadow Cabinet,2 a feature of the United Kingdom’s system of government, the Shadow Curator’s relationship to the main curator is comparable to the Shadow Minister’s relationship to the Minister in Office in parliament–it is one of peaceful and constructive agonism or critical antagonism.2 However, while the Shadow Minister is interested in the downfall of his opponent in order to take his or her place, the Shadow Curator is interested in consolidating the position of the Curator, as such a more robust curatorial practice results. The first Shadow Curator at Deveron Arts was Mozambique-born Scottish-based curator Nuno Sacramento3, who developed the methodology. He was followed by writer and researcher François Matarasso4, who worked on Utopia Group’s Palace of Puzzles; artist Dave Beech5, shadow curator for Maider Lopez’s How do you live this place? and curator and critic Christine Eyene6 for Nancy Mteki’s Mbereko.
Once a topic has been defined, and a general organizational structure developed, curators can begin to invite artists to create projects. The curators immerse themselves in the community and set up discussions between inhabitants and the incoming artists. An artist is invited to spend time in residence. Residency time, or time away from home, is particularly relevant because it means the artist has full commitment to the project and at the same time arrives with a fresh outlook on the context. Deveron Arts now hosts four residencies a year, each lasting about three months. We have found that this period works particularly well; any shorter and it is difficult to fully respond to the town, develop conceptual ideas and put them into action; any longer and the artists often find it difficult to balance their art project with their personal life back home. Also, projects can grow too big and disrupt the organizational balance, and then it might become difficult to determine when to stop the project.
The fact that artists come from all over the world has deeply impacted the community. They bring in new ideas and approaches to old topics, while appreciating the specificities of the place in which they are working. The artists undertake a deeper engagement with parts of the community and members of the community who care about a particular topic. After the first few weeks we ask the artist to finalize a proposal describing in detail the people and the format of a project that they are interested in. Then we start to look for suitable contexts, places and collaborative partners.
Looking at the project Slow Down by artist Jacqueline Donachie can help illustrate how a topic is developed conceptually and pragmatically.
Jacqueline Donachie. Slow Down, 2009, Deveron Arts. Photo: Alan Dimmick
Slow Down, 2009, Jacqueline Donachie
The curators selected the theme of transport. Environmental issues are high on the political agenda in Scotland and the wider UK and are often addressed in multiple forums and across disciplines. Urban planning has been dealing with the issue of car-free cities, challenging the widespread fashion of the second half of the twentieth century, which turned many town squares into car parks, Huntly among them. It is now widely acknowledged that these car parks are unsightly, unsocial and unsafe places for children, residents and incoming visitors. How would the quality of life change in the market towns if car access was limited to deliveries and collections and the central areas of the towns were given over to bicycle lanes, parks and other social spaces? What would the towns look like if within minutes of cycling people could be in shops, sports centers, schools and golf courses? And what effect would cycling and walking have on daily lives?
The artist invited to deal with this issue was Jacqueline Donachie, who is based in Glasgow and was solicited through a previous call out. Jacqueline has a track record of working in a socially engaged way, bringing difficult planning issues to a community’s attention.7 Thinking of places further afield that were successful examples of car-free towns (e.g., Hallstatt in Austria, Zermatt in Switzerland and Vauban in Germany), Jacqueline decided she would try to turn Huntly into a temporary car-free zone.8
The artist began the project process with a broad community consultation, which allowed the public to voice its opinions on the issue of limiting car use in Huntly. This in itself created a heated debate, highlighting the artist’s role as a critical catalyst. Many Huntly residents love their cars and the logistics of making a town completely car free were just not practical within the framework of a three-month residency.
As it proved nearly impossible to close the entire town, the project developed around the closure of the square. This became part of a wider Deveron Arts three-day walking and cycling festival called Slow Down, which brought together specific groups and organizations, as well as the local community, to celebrate and promote slow, environmentally sustainable activities.
Jacqueline Donachie. Slow Down, 2009, Deveron Arts. Photo: Alan Dimmick
During the residency period in the run-up to the festival, the program included a town bike amnesty, cycle fixing workshops and a cycling session for novices. This was all done in collaboration with AutoSpares, a car shop that has since diversified with the provision of cycle materials and services. During the festival itself, Jacqueline encouraged as many people as possible to get out on their bicycles and cycle around town, culminating in a giant cycle parade where over one hundred townsfolk set off with a specially made device attached to their bikes that drew colored chalk lines on the road as they cycled. It became a six-kilometer-round drawing that used the town as the canvas, leaving a ribbon of color on the roads that took days to fade away.
Jacqueline Donachie. Slow Down, 2009, Deveron Arts. Photo: Alan Dimmick
During the process, Jacqueline also engaged with local businesses, schools and many community groups to discuss how Huntly might develop a more sustainable approach to transport The project was designed to encourage the use of cycling—until now unusual in Scotland—as an alternative form of transport, leading to improvements in the environment through the reduction of carbon emissions, but also in relation to quality of life and physical health.
While Huntly’s town square is still not pedestrianized, the project still lives vividly in people’s memories and is often held up as a great event, bringing together different community ideas in a fun way.
Jacqueline Donachie. Slow Down, 2009, Deveron Arts. Photo: Alan Dimmick
A Perfect Father Day?, 2011, Anthony Schrag
The stereotypical Euro-American family image–mother, father and two children in a detached or semi-detached house–much promulgated post World War II, is fast becoming a myth. The 2011 census confirmed that a greater proportion of the UK’s households now comprise single parents, adult children living with their parents and pensioners. This is a substantial increase from the last census in 2001. For Deveron, this prompted an interest in the shifting dynamics of the family unit and, specifically, the role of the father in the modern family due to the absence of the father either through work or a relationship breakdown. We began to formulate the provocative question: What use is a father?
Edinburgh based artist Anthony Schrag9 was invited for a three-month residency between April and July 2011 to respond to this issue.9 Anthony is a socially engaged artist who uses the physical experience of the body within his practice. He has in the past made falling walls, sticky floors, kidnapped city councilors and climbed buildings to engage the public with art and its role in societal change.
Anthony’s work seeks to ask the right sort of questions and as such his work in Huntly developed in ways that encouraged quality engagement with locals that invited them to examine the role of fatherhood (and of men in general). As the notion of fatherhood/male role model is such an entrenched part of society, the artist’s idea was to approach it obliquely, with humor, physicality, and a “performative research” strategy.10 This strategy says the artist “is less about the traditional ‘performance’ and ‘live art’ genres, but actually being present and ‘alive’ with the participants – instead of a mediated space such as a gallery or theater, this is about being out ‘in the street’ and living with people, performing every day life.” In so doing he aims to find an unmediated, relational connection where the participant and artist are equal partners in a shared experience that encourages ownership and investment in the development of the concepts being examined. Anthony engaged with a wide and varied public within the town of Huntly with actions that included, amongst others, “Male Roll Model”11, “Rent – a – Dad”12 and “Make Beer Drink Beer”.13
Anthony Schrag. A Perfect Father Day? Tug of War. 2011. Deveron Arts. Photo: Jan Holm.
Anthony Schrag. A Perfect Father Day? Make Beer/Drink Beer, 2011. Deveron Arts. Photo: Jan Holm
Anthony Schrag. A Perfect Father Day? Rent a dad, 2011. Deveron Arts. Photo: Deveron Arts
The culmination of his residency was an event called “A Perfect Father Day?” day. Held on Fathers Day its aim was to explore the issues and stereotypes of fatherhood through a variety of games and activities.
While the role of the father in the modern family is still in flux, this project brought the topic into the consciousness of a community where it is common for the father to work “offshore”14 or away from home, leaving families and children “fatherless” for long periods of time.14
What is the Impact of the Arts in this Context?
In evaluating each project we distinguish between outputs and outcomes. The outputs vary greatly. They can be public interventions, events, fêtes, installations, exhibitions, books, videos, websites, and so on. Often discussions, debates, festivals that bring together people from the community, art and the thematic fields accompany such physical outputs. Each takes place in a part of the town relevant to the topic. All projects are documented, reviewed and archived in a fairly traditional way; recording attendance, photographic documentation, reports, etc.
Different from outputs, we see outcomes as having to do with a change in people’s perceptions regarding certain issues within the community, on the one hand, and a furthering of artistic concepts on the other. This could be instilling community pride or a new sense of place, gaining insight into the positions of more than one community group, realizing that there are similarities between several European Towns or simply changing opinions as the result of a specific project.15
Simon Preston. Town is the Menu, 2012, Deveron Arts. Photo: Deveron Arts.
Each project has an immediate impact, but also has a cumulative one in shaping the life of the town. In terms of outputs, Deveron Arts has established a kind of living museum of its art history in what is called the town collection. At the end of each project, an output, a physical document, an object used in the process, an image or installation, is kept and hosted by a relevant place in the town. This now means one can walk through Huntly as if it were a gallery, but of a living kind. Not with bare white walls, but with characters, stories, architecture, food, trees, blue or grey skies, old shop windows or police station waiting rooms housing the pieces. As such, the town is the venue does not collect or hide its artwork in a sealed off unit, but submits it to the everyday life of the town.
In terms of outcomes for the artists these interventions can be an opportunity to shape their artistic practice going forward. For example, Ross Sinclair, the artist for Real Life Gordons of Huntly said of his experience: “Before I arrived I had proposed a couple of defined projects which had been politely rebuffed by Deveron Arts… when I arrived I didn’t have a hard and fast idea of how the project would develop. However this turned out to be very useful as it enabled me to really work my way into the project in an open and organic manner. This was a departure for me as I am more used to developing a project and then making it happen with the venue, to my plan, as it were. So this approach has been challenging but very refreshing at the same time.” Parallel to artists gaining experience that shifts and evolves their own practice, through each project and cumulatively over the years Deveron Arts aims to develop new and transferable frameworks for curating, and thus contribute to a wider artistic discourse as well as to town and community planning. In addition to, and as a result of including a wide array of stakeholders in its organization, Deveron Arts has itself become an influential stakeholder in local community planning and within the national cultural landscape. Through its ability to explore social issues in creative and engaging ways, local services and community groups have found the projects useful for their own agendas to develop social, economic and cultural programs.
Room to Roam Choir. Project realized in conjunction with town re-branding with Jacques Coetzer, 2008, Deveron Arts. Photo: Deveron Arts
One example of Deveron Arts’ role as a key town stakeholder is a collaboration with Huntly Development Trust to carry out a rebranding of the town, intended in part as an artistic exercise investigating what is important to local identity and to make Huntly more attractive to tourists and investment, boosting the local economy. After a rigorous selection process, artist and designer Jacques Coetzer16 was invited with his family from Pretoria in South Africa.16 The project tied together many aspects of the town, which were both important to residents and interesting to outsiders. A new logo was designed; a new coat of arms was approved by the national authority; a new town motto was established–Room to Roam–this motto was taken from a poem by George Macdonald, a famous 18th-century writer from the town; it was developed into a song by the local band, The Waterboys. The song was then re-appropriated as a new town anthem. The outputs and outcomes of this project are visible throughout the town, as well as in a video of the anthem being sung at the town hall, now on view as part of the permanent collection at the Aberdeen Art Gallery.
Town entrance road sign. Project realized in conjunction with town re-branding with Jacques Coetzer, 2008. Deveron Arts. Photo: Deveron Arts
How Applicable is Deveron Arts Practice in Other Contexts?
The town is the venue connects a geography usually excluded from contemporary arts in the wider international artistic community. While this practice has evolved in the context of a rural Northern town in Scotland, it is transferable to other locations. To illustrate this possibility Deveron Arts curators have visited a number of small towns in varying locations. We chose randomly, or based on community interest, or were prompted by a suggestion from an artist. Size was the only common denominator–between 2,000 and 6,000 inhabitants with a minimum distance of twenty-five kilometers to a larger city. The first two examples chosen were Huntlosen and Sesimbra, towns from Germany and Portugal. The third example was the town of Ribeek Kasteel in South Africa, where Jacques Coetzer—the artist who developed the “Room to Roam” branding for Deveron is based. Cultural audits were conducted in each place and comparisons were made with Huntly’s themes of environment, heritage, identity and intergenerational issues in each location. For instance in Sesimbra environmental concerns could center on over-fishing, while in Ribeek Kasteel people are more concerned about irresponsible use of pesticides and industrial fertilizers. In Huntlosen, also based in the North of the country, heritage could be considered in relation to the author August Hinrichs from the town. In Ribeek Kasteel, heritage would demand tackling the legacies of Apartheid. Each of these contexts could richly benefit from a “town is the venue” approach.
In addition, Deveron Arts’ practices are not only relevant for socially engaged art in small towns or rural contexts, we see them as readily adaptable to collaborating with and producing engaged research for various disciplines. The practices can operate on many levels. Over the years working with Deveron Arts, curating numerous social art projects and working with communities and a wide range of contemporary artists, I have seen how our work resonates in different circles and is felt to be important. It is neither the town nor the arts that gets priority in determining what happens, but the two in relation to one another. If we are to consider contexts outside of large cities as venues for the arts, the many small communities that define its social geography must be a starting point for curators to develop sustainable and meaningful artistic programs. I see this approach as broadly applicable. Wilderness, small towns and rural contexts exist everywhere, and the uniqueness of each place can be richly inspiring, each requiring specific methods, sensitivity and responsiveness to community and context to produce exciting artistic programs. Small towns are rich and rewarding places for new and emerging art practices. Artistic communities would do well to recognize this potential. Small towns, too, should acknowledge the potential of these art practices to engage in and question urgent social, cultural, political, historical and environmental issues. Both must develop a social and artistic ecology that sees the town or place as their starting point, in other words the towns are the venues.
1Clan Gordon is a large Scottish clan also known as the House of Gordon. The chief of the clan was the powerful Earl of Huntly now also the Marquis of Huntly. A Scottish clan (from Gaelic clann, “progeny”) is a kinship group that gives a sense of shared identity and descent to members, and in modern times has an official structure recognized by the Court of the Lord Lyon, which regulates Scottish heraldry and coats of arms.
2In British Parliament the Shadow Cabinet is made up of frontbench Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of the Lords from the second largest party, or official Opposition party. The Opposition party appoints an MP to “shadow” each of the members of the Cabinet. In this way the Opposition can make sure that it looks at every part of the government and can question the members thoroughly. It also means that the Opposition has MPs and Lords that are ready to take specific jobs in the Cabinet if they win at the next General Election. In the House of Lords the term “spokesperson” is used instead of “shadow.” See Glossary www.parliament.uk (Accessed September 2013)
8See em http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_car-free_places for other places.
10The artist says: “performance research strategy” – for me, this is less about the traditional ‘performance and live art’ genres, but actually being present and ‘alive’ with the participants – instead of a mediated space, such as gallery or theatre, this is about being out “on the street” and living with people, performing every day life because it is within this lived experience that gives insight to the pertinent issues and concerns of participants – rather than any perceptions of the (external) artist. It is also the place where the difficult questions that artists ask can be made explicit and meaningful, rather than at one remove from a population in an institutional setting (ie, museum/gallery). Email communication with the artist, September 2013.
11 The artist invited participants to question the purpose of a male role model by being led up a hill and asked to roll down the hill. The play on words with “roll” and “role” was intended to hark back to the strong tradition of “terrible dad jokes,” but also to allow an oblique approach to the topic with humour and physicality.
12An advert was placed in the local paper offering the services of a “dad” – and any family that lacked a father (for reasons of work or other more personal reasons) could contact the artist and ask he do jobs the dads should or would have done.
13The artist invited those men remaining in the village (i.e., those that didn’t work away from the home or overseas) to join him in that manly activity of making beer as a way to develop conversations about what issues and joys they faced as fathers and how they felt the role of father was changing.
14 Aberdeenshire is a center for offshore oil workers due to its proximity to the North Sea.
15For example the Town is the Menu project. Throughout the autumn of 2012 Simon Preston, a food consultant usually based in Edinburgh, worked with local people to unearth Huntly’s food identity and to create and adopt a Signature Menu for the town. The menu was inspired by the stories and traditions of local people and brought together by a group of local chefs. This project helped to reawaken Huntly’s food identity and brought to the fore a selection of local foods with a contemporary twist. The menu is still served in local restaurants and food establishments.