Event 3 – Island of Raasay (Skye)

March 2022

One of the concerns raised from Event 2 was a desire to see presentations from the host organisation as a way to understand the specific experience of their context. As such, this RANS session was in collaboration with Atlas Arts’s Commonplace book launch that included a public programme featuring talks, readings, screenings and other creative activities. This not only
provided a deeper insight of how a specific cultural offer might operate within a rural context, but also a chance to sense-check some of the previous discussions and insights about cultural organisations. These conversations were deepened by the addition and inclusion of members new to the network, all from different contexts who were able to bring different perspectives.

A Commonplace Book of Atlas – Edited by Emma Nicolson and Gayle Meikle.

Concerns Identified

Concerns Identified in Pilot Study and Event 1 were:

  • Delivery (to local community)
  • Perceived lack of understanding from funders and policy makers
  • Infrastructure: Transport. This includes travel TO these venues, but also just travel within the local context to experience ‘cultural.
  • Infrastructure: Living costs (Especially considering the rise of ‘staycations’ and tourism)
  • Professional Development Opportunities for staff – this included both how staff already employed can develop and grow without having to go study/get bigger employment in the central belt, but
    also how you ensure the local population has sufficient education/training to take on local
    cultural jobs
  • Funding. Not enough.
  • Romanticism of the rural (perceptions of ‘remoteness) – the multiple distinctions of ‘rural’ (i.e., ‘Peripheral’ is contextual to those who think themselves as ‘central’. To those who live within a rural/remote settings, the central belt is actually peripheral.)

Concerns Identified in Event 2 were:

  • How can we ensure that there is space to express difference of politics/approaches of each different area that make our experience distinct, and yet also find the similarities that join us
    together? (Eg, How does RANS be a support mechanism and not an echo chamber?)
  • Evaluation: can we develop workshops/activities WITH funders / policy makers that develop a more responsive/appropriate methodology. Can Rural Arts Orgs be at the forefront of thinking
    through this? For example, timelines and budgets are urban-centric: what would they look like in a rurally based-ontology?
  • Funders: can we work more collaboratively about how we are funded and have conversations with ourselves and with funders as a way to explore alternative economies
  • Can we advocate for multiple funders to work together to develop a strategic funding response to complex landscape of rural funding (Eg, where CIC, social enterprise and arts culture can be understood)
  • The group want to have more of a view of work in other places: can the next session have more presentations from the host? Or a way to understand the experience of their context a bit more profoundly?

Via a series of discussions, the network identified some further concerns in Event 3:

  • How do you balance bringing in new ideas Vs. supporting local connections? The pace of living in rural/remote contexts means there is often a disjunct between short-term and long term projects. Culture does not just ‘stop’ when a project’s budget runs out: how do you ensure a continuity of a cultural project, rather than short-term project funding? Why are Artistic Residencies the Assumed Model? Are there local artists that can be further nurtured rather bringing externals in?
  • Alternative Models of Evaluation: Evaluation is seen as very rigid and serving of specific agendas (eg, numerics) which are not useful to cultural organisations operating within rurally social contexts: How do we make evaluation valuable to a rural context? What might such
    evaluation look like that does that, and how to get funders to accept those forms? How can we develop/share multiple forms of evaluation that allows us to examine projects in appropriately honest manner suitable to our context? How can evaluation become seeds for new projects, as opposed to a reporting exercise?
  • Access and inclusion values in the context of the Rural: How do we address the implicit erasure of People of Colour/Disability within the placements we operate within? How do we accommodate People of Colour/Disability within the Rural? How do we work with partners who
    might have different political values about racism, ablism, social binaries? (Do we even have the choice to not work with people who hold different perspectives?) (“Racism within the rural”)

Pragmatic Wishlist

The aim for this session was to look forward to developing some pragmatic responses to the issues raised above. There was insufficient time to address all of the concerns above, and as such, groups focused down into concerns particular to them. Some of these above ideas could be explored in the final event, explored below.

  • Develop a Charter of Questions for Rural Arts Network Scotland
    • Creates transparency to the sorts of things that link us, but also gives space for difference
    • Accessible to Artists and Orgs.
    • Can be a signifier on a website that have signed up to principles and aims of operating within the Rural.
    • Regular check in Activity
    • Implicit advocacy: a useful tool for funders/policy makers
  • Devolution/Decentralisation of funding (For example, who in Creative Scotland (CS) has specific expertise and/or insight into rural living and culture?)
    • Can CS have a rural arts officer live in rural setting for 6 months? Can CS have a ‘rural arm’?
    • Funders need to be at the next session to give insight into the mismatch
  • RANS to host Rural Funder Training so that they can get a better understanding of the needs of funding activities in the Rural.
  • RANS to have micro-funds. i.e., RANS becomes a funder that understands the contexts. Could RANS members become consultants for CS in regards to funding?
  • Can RANS develop a Collaborative Policy Making exercise. This would help ensure policy that framed funding and outputs emerged from a clear place of understanding of the rural.

Final Event

While the hope of the network is that these events continue, there is an awareness that RSE funded portion of this work will wrap up at the end of this financial year, and there is only one further funded event. Significant time was therefore spent on discussions about the format or shape of this final event. Some ideas and insights being:

  • There was a strong call for the event to be hosted in the East, as Events 1, 2 and 3 were in the South, North and West respectively: this would give a symmetry to the events/network. Deveron Projects suggested it could be held in Huntly.
  • It was felt that it should both give space to celebrate all the great work that the partners do in the rural (but not evaluative!)
  • As well as celebration, it should also give space for both reflection and further conversations. It should continue to be playful and perhaps use play-strategies (Eg, games etc) to help develop tools for further conversations.
  • A 2 day event was considered optimal to both get an understanding of activities of the Host organisation, but also to develop better conversations.
  • It was unclear if it should be internally focused or externally focused: perhaps a 2 day event would allow both
  • Working with other events/activities (Eg Culture Collective) could be a way to expand the offer and expand the network. (Curiously – and importantly – it was discussed several times that the spaces like RANS should exist as many conversations could not be had in the same manner if formally funded by CS)
  • The network does need to be opened up, but it was unclear how to do this: should it be invite opening, or open? Either way is limited by the resources available: working with partner organisations (eg, non-art partners) could be a way of including external voices. Snowballing
    has also been suggested on how to grow this network. This expansion is a pressing concern to
  • Suggestions of how to rely/work with our community partners could also be a way to ensure a comprehensive final event.
  • It was important to have accommodation in the same location so that the networking was natural and maximised.
  • It perhaps needs to be held in a neutral space, rather than hosted in a specific location.
  • Some suggested activities
    • Writing the “Charter of Questions”
    • Collaborative Policy Making exercises (with policy makers!)
    • Rural Funder Training activities (with funders

Going Forward: Legacy

The sense from the attendees at this particular event is that there are multiple perspectives and differences emerging about how to go forward with this group. This is a positive, as it indicates that the network is actually forming a stronger bonds. Indeed, rather than seeking consensus, a more active representation of the democratic realm would be diseases and conflict (“A democratic society is one in which relations of conflict are sustained, not erased” (Laclau and Mouffe, 2004); and: “Conflict, division, and instability, then, do not ruin the democratic public sphere; they are conditions of its existence” (Deutsche 1996)) This conflict between groups is also backed up by literature within the cultural management realm – eg, Tuckman, 1965.

1) It is clear that the network members strongly wish to continue with in person meetings as a way to share learning, to explore questions, and to grow relationships: it is clear that all members indicate this an immensely rewarding part of the Community of Practice
2) RANS needs to be about individual relationships, not just Cultural Organisations. This takes into consideration that most cultural workers operating in the rural are often doing so wearing multiple different hats. In other words, within a rural context, people are not just a member of community but actually part of multiple communities, and this complicates identities; indeed many are possibly individual artists AND organisations. Therefore individual artists should also be part the network so as to ensure not speaking to a very narrow context.
3) Facilitation a network needs ‘a body’ and a shape, rather than a collection of people. In other words: RANS needs to be administered by a neutral body. One suggestion put forward was that it could function like a ‘union’ instead of a ‘network’?
4) It was felt that the network is still quite embryonic, and perhaps more time is required to grow the Community of Practice and many members were resistant to setting up a formal structure at the present, saying it perhaps need more time to grow organically. This was a concern about becoming overly-structured or over-bureaucratic, and this would lose the quality
of a ‘community of practice’ that is both organic and something about which members have ownership. (“How do we not become a monster?”).
5) Additionally, and related to the resistance to a formal incorporation, they did not want RANS to be ‘propped up’ by the central belt, but rather be for-and-by the local.
6) Rather than thinking about specific events, a member proposed that the network provide resources to attend other events that were already occurring (Eg, launches, project outcomes etc). This could cynically be considered ‘rent an audience’ but actually would be more about supporting learning between different orgs and situations. Travelling to see other exhibitions and activities are ubiquitous and easy within the central belt: why could not this be funded for Rural contexts? Another member, however, suggested this would be good in regards to relationship building (which is also a part of the community of practice) but would not lead to the facilitated learning and sharing that was a central part of the network
7) The idea of sharing resources is very welcome and something like a spreadsheet of shared resources and insights on a website was very supported. It was felt this might lead to more collective advocacy – eg, writing letters that we can all sign, etc. This might be a good outcome: i.e. – a signed letter to Gov’t and funders from rural organisations that recognises the context specific issues.
8) In whatever form, it needs to be cooperative, not competitive.
9) It is clear that there is little representation from the Islands of Scotland, and the expense of travel to and from these places limits RANS being truly representative of ALL those operating in rural/remote settings.
10) It was suggested to change the name to Rural Art Networks Scotland. (Ie, RANS should be rhizomatic in its structure to allowed multiple networks to exist simultaneously which were local, but also that came together as a larger network.)
11) The ‘Charter of Questions” was keenly supported.

The session ended with strong feeling that cultural management in “rural” was not a model or tool-kit approach, but rather a set of diverse practices which were innovative and unique. It was strongly felt that the ‘urban’ could learn from these practices. It was underpinned that the space for conversations was still incredibly important and helpful. This shared learning was the key potential for any sort of Rural Art Networks. The problem would be how it 1) is managed and 2) who is part of it and 3) how they are supported to meet to continue growing these unique and innovative practices.

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