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Is art the answer to social challenges?

This opinion piece is over 1 year old

Moira Jeffrey on efforts to bring together artists and the Third Sector.

Last week, in a session at the SCVO Gathering in Glasgow, my organisation, Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN), brought artists and art workers to share climate stories with our colleagues in the Third Sector.

Naoko Mabon, a Japanese curator who has recently moved to Oban, showed us a picture of some people she had brought together in a recent artistic project on the theme of “inter-tidal zones”. Among them were a local farmer, a teacher, a textile designer and a seaweed expert. The group, who had never met before, were sitting on the local shoreline discussing the challenges of articulating the urgency of climate action in the cool, wet weather of Scotland’s West Coast.

Later, Naoko shared the story of an artwork she commissioned for the window of the local youth café last autumn. By chance it had attracted the attention of a passing French climate activist, who was in Scotland for COP26. Through him Naoko learned for the first time about Climate Fresk, a French programme that uses interactive methods to teach people about climate science and empower them to act. When she left Glasgow’s SEC Centre last Wednesday, Naoko was heading home for an early ferry, she was off to Iona to facilitate a Climate Fresk workshop herself.

As Naoko’s story illustrates, art can bring people together and create an unforeseen chain of small actions. Here at SCAN our summer campaign, #ArtUnlocks, celebrates the power of contemporary art. We see every week how our 300 members across Scotland provide people with tools for thinking and doing in their own communities, and add meaning and value to the everyday.

As the parliamentary recess approaches next week we are asking MSPs to visit the people and places making art in their constituencies. From the Hebrides to Dumfries, politicians will be invited to learn about the great work being done by artists, galleries and workshops and art workers. And we are asking the public to share their own visits and creative activities using the campaign hashtag #ArtUnlocks.

From simple visual pleasures to finding the space or place to talk about big social challenges, art which is largely free at the point of access in Scotland, can support people to connect and to belong. In Midlothian, for example, the charity Artlink use participation as a tool to encourage partnerships between people with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) and some of Scotland’s most renowned artists and designers including Claire Barclay, Laura Aldridge, Laura Spring and Lauren Gault. This summer Glasgow venue Tramway is currently hosting the Artlink exhibition Human Threads (until 28 August). This show crafts beautiful artworks as rich sensory experiences derived from many years of developing methods and ideas with people with PMLD, their families and care staff.

The experience is quite unlike anything else I’ve seen in a gallery. There are vast patterned curtains that billow in the breeze, a ramp which if you lie on it gently hums and vibrates, throughout the exhibition soap bubbles, coloured lights and gentle smells provide stimulation for all sorts of audiences. Importantly however Human Threads is not a single vision, but a testament to tried and tested methods of working together. As artist Lauren Gault told us “I have learned how art can catalyse a new ‘closeness’, and that there is a feeling of shared togetherness only possible through encounters with art".

At the Gathering SCAN forged some new friendships in the Third Sector, we want you to know that artists and arts organisations in our network of small charities share many of your aims and ambitions. And this summer we would love if you could share our message that #ArtUnlocks.

Moira Jeffrey is Director of Scottish Contemporary Art Network. Find out more at



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Karen Kennedy
over 1 year ago

Perhaps its not relevant to this but our project will be about Art in Nature . Done before many times but we have taken the perspective of finding beautiful views, beautiful places are everywhere and we need to provide facilities to encourage people to go to their safe/ sacred / beautiful place in reality and then experience the feelings and sensations there. mindfully keep them inside.

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