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Scotland's visual arts sector can play a vital role in the recovery

This opinion piece is over 2 years old

Moira Jeffrey discusses the #ArtUnlocks campaign

This week, a small cultural centre in a community of just 800 people in East Sutherland was a runner up in the biggest museum prize in the world. Timespan, in Helmsdale, joined finalists from Leeds, Barnsley, Colchester, and Derry-Londonderry for the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award, a trophy that has been won by such well-funded behemoths as the British Museum and the V&A.

Timespan may not have won, (the prize went to Firstsite in Colchester) but here at Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN) we’re not surprised it was in the running. Timespan is one of our 300 organisational and individual members who work at the heart of communities from Shetland to the Scottish Borders and from East Lothian to the Western Isles. The organisation was nominated was for its vital role in the rural community during lockdown, including its work with young people, its quarantine cooking club, Recipes for a Disaster, and its support of 150 sheltering households.

Visit Timespan in person now and you might encounter everything from a pop-up nail salon, (a tribute to local icon Barbara Cartland) to its regular Caribbean grill and sound system. Timespan’s programme might be fun and creative, but its perspective is serious and urgent: its online exhibition Real Rights looks at local heritage through the lens of climate change and the history of colonialism.

SCAN’s #ArtUnlocks campaign showcases how our members, like Timespan, contribute to their communities and why those contributions are more vital now than ever. They sustain a network of free at the point of access galleries, community organisations and venues together with the workspaces, expertise and production facilities that support artists to pursue their livelihoods. These are responsive and agile institutions that anchor local communities and open their doors and activities to their neighbours and visitors alike.

Over the summer and early autumn through #ArtUnlocks the SCAN team have been meeting with parliamentarians of all political hues to show them our members’ work in their constituencies. This has ranged from the cheerful chaos of an artist-led youth club in multicultural Govanhill, to the huge culture-led investment in Edinburgh city centre where the Fruitmarket has re-developed its premises, by opening up a former nightclub to the daylight as a new exhibition space, ensuring free access to culture in the heart of Edinburgh’s tourist-led economy. In Argyll we’ve introduced the local MSP to Cove Park, a unique artists’ residency centre which welcomes local communities and artists from all over the world and has just launched an outdoor classroom designed with the input of young professionals from Scotland and Ghana to inspire and promote a global dialogue around climate change.

Artists and arts organisations unlock talent as well as placemaking, wellbeing, health, international working and environmental action in communities across Scotland. We’re shouting about it because we believe that given the right support and investment art organisations and artists can be at the heart of the national recovery and our wellbeing economy and bring new thinking and perspectives to what will be a complex and difficult path to recovery. We’ve seen that future in a community like Helmsdale and, thanks to Timespan, we know it works.

Moira Jeffrey is director of Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN)