We caught up with three artists who recently took part in our Culture Collective Artist Lab, 'Centre of Everywhere, Middle of Nowhere'.

The idea for our the lab was conceived with the intention to really place rural artists and the excellent work they do at the centre of discussions, using cross island working to reflect on our similarities and differences and how we can share resources to develop our work.

Sandra Kennedy (Lewis), Helen Robertson (Shetland) and Barry Nisbet (Shetland) were selected from an open call across the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland to reflect upon rural artistry, the Culture Collective project and set themes that each outlined in their applications. This was a funded opportunity and artists were selected from a panel made up of a representative of each of the island groups.

The lab was led by our Creative Project Manager Kathryn Spence. She was also joined by Carol Dunbar from Pier Arts Centre, who represented the arts and artists in Orkney. Helen, Barry and Sandra worked together to create a publication that will be shared and distributed online and by paper copy, designed by our in-house marketing team. It will be available to the public soon.

Sandra Kennedy

"It was a wonderful experience for me to travel to Shetland - a place I’ve always wanted to visit - and especially to meet up with Shetland and Orkney artists. We are from different disciplines - music, textile and jewellery design, visual art and dance. I loved hearing about how other artists work, how they have developed and adapted to be able to practice their art to such a high standard and be able to also study and live in the islands.

We could have talked over ideas for months, but having only a few days forced us to focus and to prioritise. I loved the playful, open way we worked together. Our many ideas or trains of thought were quickly picked up or rejected with an underlying understanding that we all respected one another, as if we had been friends for years. Sometimes a word would trigger a gut reaction and this would lead to important concepts in our design of the leaflet. The idea of ‘even here’ made us laugh at first, but then made us think more deeply about our own and visitors perceptions of islanders and their abilities.

It was really great to meet some of the local artists who were invited to join us for a morning. The time was short, but making the connection was important, and opened the door for further contact and discussion. We also had an afternoon with art students from UHI based in Orkney. It was fascinating to hear their experiences of how weather, bus and ferry timetables, as well as finances shape what they can and can’t do. They are realistic but determined and I found them inspiring.

I really appreciated that the workers at Mareel made time to contribute to our project. We were given an in depth presentation and opportunity for discussion to help our understanding of how the art centre works. This gave us insight and context - helping us make connections with some of the issues we were discussing.

I was sad to leave new friends, and an island I hadn’t physically explored. I will definitely look for ways to return and to strengthen the new pathways emerging between the Scottish islands."

Helen Robertson

"I was very glad of the opportunity to meet with Creative Practitioners from other Island groups in Scotland. I learned a lot about the situation for them and enjoyed exploring the similarities and differences between our Islands both culturally and geographically. I was delighted that, having just met, we four very quickly learned how to work together and that we produced a document that will serve as a celebration of Scottish Island Creativity and a guide for those who wish to support its development.

I was very inspired during the 3 intense days. Although the time was tight, it served to focus our minds and we completed the task successfully. It made me realise that while it's important to support and promote our own Shetland Creative Community we can also support our Island cousins at the same time.

I look forward to meeting up with the other participants in the future. It was my first experience of working on Sharepoint and I really enjoyed that way of collaborating in real time.

Thanks again for the opportunity. It was a fab and memorable week."

Barry Nisbet

"I very much enjoyed working on the Artist Lab project last week; I joined Kathryn Spence and other staff at Shetland Arts along with Helen Robertson, Sandra Kennedy and Carol Dunbar, with Arwen Haselden and Jamilla Garrett tuning in from Orkney.

I found it affirming to spend several brain-storming and philosophy-orbiting sessions homing in what we wanted to say and how best to say it, helping put long-held passions and ideas into words.

It was illuminating to see how the other artists approached presenting themselves and their practice; working across disciplines was particularly valuable in this respect."

Culture Collective is funded by Creative Scotland and run in partnership by An Lanntair (Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides), Pier Arts Centre (Orkney), Shetland Arts (Shetland) and Taigh Chearsabhagh (North Uist, Outer Hebrides). The Creative Island Network aims to build connections and share experiences and ideas between creative practitioners and project participants across our islands.


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