Getting Community Arts Right: The Stove Network

Kaitlin Dryburgh 7th June 2023

When Common Weal wrote Sorted we really wanted to demonstrate how the arts could play an important role in the community, as well as the artists themselves. Providing artists with the proper funding to do their work helps to protect Scotland’s culture and helps to create a thriving art community in Scotland. But also it’s important that we make the arts accessible to everyone in Scotland, that we get people participating and allow everyone the opportunity to get comfortable with having the arts be a permanent feature where they live. The current structure in Scotland makes it extremely difficult for artists to fund their work and have a decent living, especially when they’re first starting out.

Common Weal would like to see a structure where there are easy accessible places in every village, city and town where people can be creative, connect with one another and learn, in the form of culture centres. Although for some this may come off as slightly utopian thinking, there are already places bringing community art to life in this way. This newsletter will look to highlight some of the great projects happening around Scotland, projects that we should be looking towards to model a thriving Scottish arts scene on.

The Stove Network based in Dumfries and Galloway is a fantastic place to start for some inspiration. An arts and community organisation, the Stove Network was established in 2011, their goal is to be an organisation driven by local people, focused on culture, arts, community activism and re-generation. The network its self isn’t limited to what would be perceived as the normal artist, e.g. someone who might display their work in a gallery, but anyone at all creative, such as chefs, DJs, designers or small businesses all count themselves as part of the Stove Network. The Stove Network looks to bring creativity to their local area through many different platforms and mediums, be that online, or through groups coming together and discussing or spaces for people to appreciate art, whatever it’s form may be.

It’s an organisation that is entrenched in it’s surrounding and community, making it a much more relatable place for residents, it helps that they’re based right in the heart of Dumfries high-street. Using their network of creative people the Stove has some truly inspiring active projects for many to enjoy and use to explore their own creative interests. If you live close by it would be worth your while keeping an eye-out for their up-coming events.

One of The Stove’s most mentionable projects is their Reel to Real Cinema nights, which allow people to come along to the Stove café once a month for a movie night. Pay what you can and discover a hidden cinematic gem, supper and drinks are also an option. The aim of their project is to inspire people to think more about film and generate great discussions, all while watching a movie that they might have otherwise missed.

One of the markers for a successful community arts project should be it’s ability to knock down barriers for those who’d like to venture into a creative industry or project but don’t know how to. There’s no point having an art gallery if those inspired by the art still feel helpless when it comes to creating an outlet for that inspiration. Soap Box is The Stove Network’s answer to giving people practical advice to achieve what they want when it comes to getting started in the arts. For example you can access expert advice and tutorials in starting your own podcast, how to crowdfund effectively, becoming a filmmaker or getting started with Graphic design, and many more. Free good quality resources and knowledge is hard to come by, so whether it’s for personal use, a charity, or business the advice provided by The Stove Network’s Soap Box is a huge asset. Like almost everything the Stove Network produces they have their community in mind when they created this project and use Soap Box as a way to showcase local experts.

Community is all about celebrating and exploring the very best of your area and the Nithraid Festival set up and ran by the Stove Network does exactly that. Set in Dumfries the Nithraid festival looks to celebrate the river Nith that runs through it, once a historically important part of Dumfries the festival recreates the journey farmers had to make with their cattle across the river at low-tide. So now this family day out that has been running for the last ten years, lets any boat owner battle it out down the river against a range of different teams for the fastest time. People can discover the history of the river and take part in activities that tap into your creativity, as well as enjoying local food and drink. The Nith used to be essential for connecting the surrounding communities and now the Stove Network looks to celebrate this by once again connecting communities at the festival. The arts can take so many forms and this proves it, they should be something that are enjoyed by everyone and help to create tradition and culture within all areas of Scotland.

One of the shining aspects of the this organisation is it’s ability to bring people together, and that’s what you want from any community based organisation. Gathering people together to create new connections, share ideas, information and delve into issues effecting the community and the rest of Scotland. The Open Hoose project allows anyone in the local area to submit their ideas for ways to get people together and if accepted the Stove Network will work with the person to decide the best way to support their idea. So be that a climate kitchen, a repair shop, or even a club for bread enthusiasts, anything goes if it helps to connect people with the same interests. That’s not to mention the other events that already take place at the Stove café such as writing workshops, Gaming groups, art exhibitions and even Signwriting groups.

Unfortunately, community art projects like the Stove are struggling like the rest of the arts community in the face of funding cuts coming from all directions (an average of ten percent), as well as lessening donations as the public deal with the cost of living crisis. Thankfully the Stove Network has been able to demonstrate it’s usefulness to the Dumfries and Galloway area and was awarded £60,000 from the Scottish Government’s Rural and Island Communities Ideas into Action Fund. Spokesperson for the Stove Matt Baker says the funding for the Stove is just brilliant and will really help them continue the good work that the “What we do Now” project achieves. Perhaps one of their biggest undertakings, the “What we do Now” project has some grand aspirations for five towns in Dumfries and Galloway where The Stove will support artists and communities to explore new ideas for their area and kickstart new initiatives to celebrate the unheard voices of the region.

If only we all had a Stove Network in our communities.

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