For our VACMA Spotlight series we will be looking at how artists and craft makers have used their VACMA grants to further develop their practice.

Dirk Robertson is a Shetland-born painter inspired by our rich heritage of folklore that spans as far back as Viking times. His contribution to Shetland’s rich tapestry of contemporary customs is to illustrate the old tales in colourful acrylic paintings. His aim has always been to bring to life encounters with malevolent monsters, benevolent music-loving trolls, sea-dwelling giant beasts and ghoulish warnings from the other side.

Having been successful in his application for our last round of VACMA, he has shared with us his experience of the application process and his plans for how he will be using the funding.

"Now, heading into the new year and a new project, I am bolstered with funding and all the benefits to experimentation that it offers. If you think you’re ready for applying for VACMA funding through Shetland arts I would recommend it, and I would defiantly advocate their excellent support team." - Dirk Robertson.

"Well here we go again, another year! Normally at this point I’ve just shaken off the Christmas/New Year carnage and I’m hankering to plunge headlong into a fresh art project. This spring I will be supported on my latest creative exploration by funding kindly granted by Shetland Arts.

I have been working with acrylic paints for over a decade to create my images, and at this point I have been yearning to start telling my visual stories through 3D wood carvings. As always, what one is able to work with comes down to what they can afford. For me, the possibility of a helping hand was something I dreamed of.

My wife and I were right in the heart of a great big house renovation this past October when I became aware of the Visual Artist and Craft Maker Awards through Shetland Arts. I downloaded the forms and strode out into the labyrinth of questions, word counts and tick-boxes as far as I could. However, at the end of a day of dealing with door jams, framing out shelves, young kids and a day job to boot, sitting down at night hunched over a laptop to decipher an application form was a job too big for me on my own. Then I discovered that Shetland Arts would be hosting a workshop run by Kathryn Spence so I jumped on board right away.

There were some specific questions about the sections in the form I had when I attended the workshop that day. They were to do with what risks might be inherent to my project - were we talking about risks to me, or risks to my art, or people who see it? Plus, how did the terms “Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion” apply to me? And how do I approach the whole issue of budgeting?

Getting a chance to take in Kathryn’s presentation was so valuable in breaking down how to think about my proposed project through the lens of the application process. I already knew what my artistic ambitions were, I could visualise the creative process intuitively, but how could I communicate that externally to a board of assessors? What really helped clarify the process was sitting down with other artists and speaking through it more informally as a group with Kathryn, finding out examples that might apply to what I wanted to pursue. The workshop was also a chance to confirm what it was that I did already know when it came to completing the document.

After that, I could just sit down on my own time with the application form and inject my proposal into it with a lot more confidence. I was still a bit hazy due to my inexperience but I found Kathryn’s availability to speak to me through e-mailing on matters concerning budgeting to be illuminating. In some ways, the form was asking questions I couldn’t fathom, but at the same time they seemed so ridiculously simple, I just needed that extra push in the right direction - a voice to say “yes, it really is that simple, no tricks”!

A handful of weeks after submitting my completed application I received the wonderful news that I had been successful. That news was both validating and a helping hand. It evolved my proposal from a vision into a fully-fledged approved endeavour. The whole process was a great chance to really think about what it is that I wanted to do from a vantage point outside myself."

The Visual Artist and Craft Maker Awards (VACMA) are a programme of small grant schemes administered by local authorities and art agencies, offering support to visual artists and craft makers. Previous VACMA recipients have used their bursaries for various purposes, including training, attending courses, production costs, testing new techniques and experimenting with new materials.

The application deadline for the next round of VACMA awards is February 6 2024. To find out more and apply, please click here.

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