24 Sept 2013

Changin Scotland - Scotland’s alternative festival of ideas, culture and politics - 1st - 3rd November 2013 - Newbattle Abbey College

Changin Scotland

Scotland’s alternative festival of ideas, culture and politics

Friday 1st November - Sunday 3rd November 2013 

    Newbattle Abbey College, by Dalkeith

This November Gerry Hassan and Jean Urquhart are at Newbattle Abbey College just South of Edinburgh for a weekend on how to do social change, activism and campaigning in a different way!

This weekend will be a departure in feel, style and setting – and is facilitated and led by Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert of the Centre for Artistic Activism who are based at New York University.

This will be a participatory weekend bringing together community politics with cultural and civic engagement. It will look at how to be a creative kind of activist, build alliances, and beyond tactics and strategy, start to envision a different kind of politics and world!

We cannot promise to change the world in a single weekend but we can make a start! The weekend will address how cultural activists and practitioners can develop a better political intelligence, and political campaigners nurture a more informed cultural awareness, and the two influence and cross-fertilise each other.

This weekend will be stimulating, demanding and challenging, enjoyable and fun. We ask that people come rested, open minded and willing to collaborate with others.

Weekend Details:
The weekend runs from Friday 1st starting with a meal at 6.30pm, all day Saturday and Sunday concluding 4.00pm. Extra attractions include an intimate gig with acclaimed folksinger Karine Polwart on Saturday night.

Tickets for the weekend are £60 (accommodation and food extra). Please contact for booking: Newbattle Abbey College Reception: 0131 6631921.

What previous participants say about the Centre for Artistic Activism:
‘It’s magical. Recalibrating reality.’ ‘It made me rethink my politics and challenge people who say, “I am not political”’. ‘Culture is everywhere. We all do it and this helped me embrace how to do a more creative politics’.

What they say about Changin Scotland: ‘The alternative Davos’ National Collective

We have a limited number of places so book early!
Next Changin Scotland dates: March 28-30 at The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool

10 Nov 2012

Conference report: Arts and identity at 'Changin' Scotland'

'Changin' Scotland – The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland' looked at how artists and others can influence public policy.

By: Richard Taylor


Introduced by writer and commentator Gerry Hassan and Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart, 'Changin' Scotland – The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland' took a 'Yes' campaign slant on how Scottish cultural identity could help educate public opinion on Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014.

The conference was organised by artists and facilitators AHM (Sam Ainsley, David Harding and Sandy Moffat), who in 2011 produced the State of Play – Art and Culture in Scotland Today symposia. In their opening session, and in light of having attended the open public meeting at Glasgow's Tramway on October 31 which addressed the need for change at funding body Creative Scotland, AHM asked: "How do artists and those involved in the arts change public policy?"

Further sessions followed over a full day on the Saturday, with a screening of 'Brigadoon' in the evening, and two morning sessions on the Sunday. Representatives of Scotland’s cultural sector presented their ideas, followed by open discussion facilitated by AHM. The role of cultural action as a stimulus for social transformation and political change was discussed in terms of national institutions, such as the Royal Scottish Academy, the role of Creative Scotland, and events in recent Scottish arts history such as 'Windfall 91', a seminal artist-led exhibition in Glasgow involving Scottish and European artists. All sessions were visually recorded through drawing by artist Emily Wilkinson.


There was strong support for Scottish independence throughout the three days. Artists such as Jim Mooney and Roderick Buchanan, art historians, politicians, poets and literary figures such as Janet Paisley and Alan Bissett, as well as former representatives of what was the Scottish Arts Council, including Sam Ainsley and Lindsay Gordon, put forward arguments that harkened to late '70s Scottish nationalism and its influence in the arts in the '80s and '90s. Creative Scotland was also scrutinised on its dismantling of the specialist voice of artists at board level.

Speakers from the visual arts sector included Malcolm Maclean, former CEO of Proiseact nan Ealan (the Gaelic Arts Agency); Will Maclean (RSA), former Senior Research Fellow and tutor at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design; Craig Richardson, Professor of Fine Art, Northumbria University; novelist, journalist and filmmaker Ewan Morrision; and Tom Normand from School of Art History, St Andrews University.

A strong argument came from Malcolm Maclean’s Saturday morning session 'Out of the Invisible: The role of the visual-arts in re-imagining Gaelic Scotland'. In presenting historical events that dealt with the promotion of Gaelic language through visual art, Maclean put forward ideas on how artists can project change through media coverage and a public voice.
He commented: "The blank canvas of giving artists full license to realise their ideas whilst working with the Gaelic language – Proiseact nan Ealan’s foremost ethos – in turn allows an effective politicisation of ideas… a slow-burner effect of instilling social and political movement." Foundation funding was this year withdrawn from Proiseact nan Ealan by Creative Scotland.

The importance of history
Craig Richardson’s Saturday afternoon talk, ‘Scottish Art since 1960’ discussed historical definitions of Scottish contemporary art in light of post-modernism, Thatcherism and devolution – all reference points that were brought together in the conference to promote 2014’s independence vote, and to politicise the creative act.

Anchoring social change to artists' responses, Richardson stated: "An insurance policy for Scottish artists is the knowledge of their recent art history, a record of which has been difficult to trace in a British sense… to look at the topology of Scottish visual art since 1960 unearths either exclusion or inclusion – a predicament the artists’ national confidence will face in upcoming political shifts."

Ewan Morrison’s later talk, 'The role of great art and art education in social transformation', questioned whether social change is indeed possible through the work of artists. He instead suggested that such tasks should be left to politicians. He said: "Artists feel the need to symptomatically respond to politics, yet successful practitioners have responded instead with entrepreneurship in order to survive."

With many artists now avoiding the art market to pursue alternative ways to make a living, context-specific work is realisable, as are socially engaged projects that look to the community. Yet this type of work is clearly dependent on funding.

Much focus was brought back to Creative Scotland’s role. It was characterised as a product of decisions made by governmental shifts ignorant of Scotland’s international cultural standing and overly focused on activity in the central belt (Edinburgh and Glasgow). The overiding message of Changin' Scotland was that the change brought about by being an independent nation would allow for inclusivity, rather than exclusivity.

'Changin’ Scotland – The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland' took place 2-4 November, in Ullapool, Scotland.

6 Nov 2012

'Changin' Scotland - photos from the event

'Changin’ Scotland – The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland' took place 2-4 November, in Ullapool, Scotland.


Alan Riach

David Harding and Malcolm Maclean

David Harding

Dr Tom Normand

Sam Ainsley, Craig Richardson and Ewan Morrison

Sandy Moffat

Will Maclean, Malcolm Maclean and David Harding

Will Maclean

2 Nov 2012

Changing Scotland conference programme


          NOVEMBER 2nd-4th 2012


        The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland

Friday November 2nd
Welcome 8.15pm  
Gerry Hassan and Jean Urquhart 

Gerry Hassan, Sandy Moffat and Anthony Barnett
Gerry Hassan poses questions to artist Sandy Moffat and Anthony Barnett, first director of Charter 88 and founder of Open Democracy 

Saturday November 3rd
Saturday and Sunday Welcome:
Sam Ainsley, David Harding and Sandy Moffat
Artists, curators, campaigners and facilitators. 

Alan Riach Prof. of Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow.
The story of Scottish Literature and the story of teaching literature.

Janet Paisley, Writer, poet and playwright
New initiatives for the support and promotion of the Scots language.

Alan Bissett Author and playwright
Anger as a legitimate response to political and historical injustice.

Lunch 1.00-2.15pm

Malcolm Maclean, former Chief Executive Officer, Proiseact nan Ealan 
Out of the Invisible: The role of the visual arts in re-imagining Gaelic Scotland.

Will Maclean  Artist and Hon Fellow of the UHI University of the Highlands
Some Notes on Land Works : The Land Raiders Memorial Cairns on Lewis

Craig Richardson, Prof. of Fine Art, Northumbria University
Scottish Art since 1960 

Ewan Morrison, Novelist, filmmaker and journalist.
The role of great art and art education in social transformation?

Saturday Evening 8.30pm        
Classic Films of Modern Scotland selected and introduced by Allan Hunter, Co-director, Glasgow Film Festival

Sunday November 4th
Dr. Tom Normand, School of Art History, University of St. Andrews
The past and the future of Scottish art institutions.

Doug Eadie, writer and Eddie Dick, movie producer
Wee Country - Big Screen - Wee Screen: An illustrated dialogue

25 Sept 2012

Here Comes Langholm: Birthplace of Hugh MacDiarmid: An Introduction by Alan Riach

Here Comes Langholm: Birthplace of Hugh MacDiarmid: An Introduction
by Alan Riach, Professor of Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow

When Scotland becomes an independent nation once again, our best poets and artists will surely come into their own. Generations have passed knowing nothing of them, our education has neglected their value, our institutions have dismissed their significance.
It is time to change this.
The prospect of political change, real educational and cultural vitality, has taken a century to be brought to the present stage, where we do have a choice about what might be done next, and one man was more of a catalyst for this than any other: Hugh MacDiarmid.
He was born Christopher Murray Grieve in 1892 in Langholm, a small town just north of the Scottish border with England. His father was the local postman, his mother's people lived in neighbouring towns and villages. As a boy, he roamed the nearby hills and forests and read all the books in the public library housed above the family home. In later essays he recollected the loveliness of the country around him and claimed to be able to identify his location by the sound alone of the three rivers that run into a confluence in Langholm: the Wauchope, the Esk and the Ewes. But the early years of the twentieth century were full of war and revolution. He joined the British army for the First World War but he was deeply affected by the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916: a Celtic nation violently asserting independence from the authority of British imperialism; and by the Russian Revolution in 1917: a socialist ideal, a Communist revolution, an act of defiance towards the class system, social hierarchy, economic discrimination. Later, he joined the Communist Party, believing in the ideal of international socialism, and he was a founder-member of the National Party of Scotland in 1928, believing in the cultural difference and value of Scotland, as opposed to the British imperial ethos.
All the arts are ways of exploring the world, of representing reality, of criticising what is taken for granted. When he began to explore it seriously, he found that his own national cultural identity included different languages: Gaelic, Scots and English, different geographical terrains: borderlands, industrial cities, fertile heartlands, stretching Highland moors and mountains, island archipelagoes, landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes: this variety was not compatible with a single London-centred British state.
So he had a vision. What was required now, after he was demobilized and returned to Scotland, was a strategy.
He went to the north-east seaside town of Montrose, became a journalist on the local newspaper, a socialist Justice of the Peace. He started writing in Scots, using words and phrases he knew from boyhood in Langholm and acquired from reading in dictionaries and works of Scottish literature from earlier eras. His poems were shocking, adult, wry, difficult, piercingly sweet, unsentimental and sometimes brutal. They established a new dispensation for Scottish and modern literature, alongside James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound and Virginia Woolf, Wallace Stevens and Paul Valéry. MacDiarmid is of their company. He argued for plurality, the specifics of multiple strands of history, the coherence that might be found in the diversity of Scotland and in the international world at large.
He travelled: to Shetland, the furthest archipelago in the North Sea, where he suffered physical and mental breakdown after a period of intense isolation, introspection and psychological anxiety. Yet his greatest poems of the 1930s delivered a way through the crises. 'Lament for the Great Music' reconnects with deeper traditions, the classical music of the Highland bagpipe and all that signifies for a multi-layered, complex, tragic, defiant, strengthening, persistent national character. 'On a Raised Beach' begins with the poet utterly alone but it ends with the understanding that life is an act of participation in a way the lonely observer could not comprehend. The later work, In Memoriam James Joyce (1955) and The Kind of Poetry I Want (1961) extend this comprehensive vision. These poems attempt to accommodate as many of all the languages and art-forms of the world, gathering information about subjects you would never encounter anywhere else, turning from Finnish dialect to Fred Astaire, from Shakespeare to Tarzan. And yet, his favoured place remained Langholm.
After the Second World War, a new generation of great Scottish poets, writers and thinkers grew up around him, lyrical, intellectual, sharply perceptive, passionately commmitted, and each with their own favoured place: Sorley MacLean from Raasay and Skye, Norman MacCaig from Edinburgh but also from Lochinver in the far north west of Scotland, Robert Garioch from Edinburgh, George Mackay Brown from the Orkney achipelago, Iain Crichton Smith from Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Edwin Morgan from Glasgow, Sydney Goodsir Smith born in New Zealand, but adopted by Edinburgh, the philosopher George Elder Davie, proposing the ideal of the 'Democratic Intellect' – the idea that intellectual distinction was to be prized but must always be open to all – Ronald Stevenson, foremost Scottish composer, Alan Bold, poet, polemicist and MacDiarmid's biographer, Tom Fleming, one of Scotland's finest actors, and Neal Ascherson, political thinker and journalist, whose recent reports on the political state of our country show clearly how far MacDiarmid was right in his visionary hope and strategic work for a new, artistically regenerated Scotland.
When Scotland becomes an independent nation once again, MacDiarmid, the company he kept, and the values he learned as a boy in Langholm, will remain vital co-ordinate points, as this splendid exhibition of marvellous portraits by Alexander Moffat reminds us.

23 Sept 2012

Hugh MacDiarmid Exhibition

An exhibition of portraits By Alexander Moffat entitled 'Hugh MacDIarmid and the Company He Kept" was shown in the Town Hall Gallery, Langholm from August 18 to September 14. The exhibition celebrates the 120th anniversary of MacDiarmid's birth and will travel to the Corn Exchange Gallery in Biggar where MacDiarmid spent the final thirty years of his life, next month.

Norman MacCaig pastel on paper 1980

The exhibition comprises portraits of a range of MacDiarmid's friends and fellow poets -
from Norman MacCaig, Robert Garioch, Sorley MacLean and George MacKay Brown to the
composer Ronald Stevenson, the actor Tom Fleming, the philosopher George Elder Davie,
Alan Bold, poet and MacDiarmid's biographer, and the journalist Neal Ascherson.

 Alan Bold charcoal on paper 1969

Also included are letters from MacDiarmid to Moffat and photographs of Moffat and his students at Glasgow School of Art painting a mural for an auction in the Third Eye Centre in 1981 to raise funds for the MacDIarmid memorial sculpture.

Edwin Morgan pencil on paper 1979

George Elder Davie charcoal/pastel on paper 1999.jpg

 George MacKay Brown pencil on paper 1980.jpg

Hugh MacDIarmid (with pipe) 1978.jpg

Hugh MacDIarmid and Alexander Moffat ( at the opening of the John Heartfield exhibition organised by the New 57 Gallery Edinburgh Festival 1970 ).

 Hugh MacDIarmid watercolour on paper 1988

MacDiarmid mural Painting studios Glasgow School of Art

MacDiarmid mural Painting studios Glasgow School of Art

Ronald Stevenson charcoal on paper 1969

Sorley MacLean watercolour on paper 1979