CULTIVATE is a regional leadership programme for Creative Practitioners and local communities to collaboratively explore new ways of embedding creativity at the core of grassroots collective action for climate justice, across the Tay region.
We introduced the programme and its participants in summer 2021, detailing each collaboration and the ambitions of the Creative Practitioners and Community Partners taking part. We also shared a mid-project reflection in February 2022, sharing some of the highlights and challenges we’ve experienced whist working on this pilot initiative.
This case study collates the work of Creative Practitioner Finlay Hall and his Community Partner in Dundee, the MAXwell Centre. These case studies act as an archive for each CULTIVATE project, aiming to share the learnings of each participant, demonstrate the impacts of individual projects, and provide concrete examples of the benefits of working with creative practitioners on community-based projects.
Finlay Hall is an artist and musician, and co-collaborator of Wooosh Gallery—a DIY art gallery in a car park on Dundee’s Perth Road. As Fine Art graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design who also studied Horticulture at the Scottish Rural College, he enjoys encouraging people to reimagine the world around them and make use of materials and places that are readily available – allowing them to see the places around them in a different light, and enabling them to then execute their own projects in those spaces.
The MAXwell Centre and their community garden team provide a welcoming and empowering environment where groups and individuals of all ages and backgrounds can learn, share, grow and socialise. They support people to address issues affecting them such as poverty, poor health and social isolation through dignified, creative and sustainable solutions.
Manuela de los Rios, Garden Mentor at the MAXwell Centre, said, “We want to find creative ways to engage more people from our community to share skills and tools, reuse, upcycle and improve the place we live, work and play in. Our ambition is to encourage them to connect with each other and with opportunities in our neighbourhood, enjoy the natural and built environment and feel safe and happy”.
Finlay said, “The MAXwell Centre’s ambitions really appeal to me and it’ll be a privilege to work with their community of amateur gardeners and growers. I’m also looking to talk to those who don’t use the space and explore why that is. Gardening feels good for my soul and is a nurturing activity which can really help those struggling with stresses related to poverty, poor health or social isolation. Lockdown has made us appreciate our open spaces even more but, like me, not everyone has their own garden, so the community garden is an amazing resource which communities can take ownership of. I’d love whatever I do to leave a lasting legacy which others can enjoy and benefit from.”
Half-way into their commissions, CULTIVATE’s Creative Practitioners, were invited to share their journeys so far; you can read Finlay’s reflections in his mid-project blog.
From the start of his commission, Finlay spent lots of time taking part in the many activities already happening at the MAXwell Centre, dropping in on different days and at different times. By introducing himself and striking up conversation with visitors and volunteers (like in this MAXhour Litter Pick podcast), he was able to hear directly from local people and better understand what the MAXwell Centre does, helping him become familiar with the community who use it as well as what they do.
With a busy programme full of activities that include cooking sessions, creative workshops, toddler groups and more, Finlay used this time to figure out where he best fit in and what support he could provide. Through creatively but sensitively challenging the team’s ways of operating and sharing, he worked to find new ways of encouraging people to visit the space, get involved and feel like it was theirs—as well as using this as an opportunity to show others what the MAXwell Centre does.
In combining the centre’s socially-focussed work and his musical practice, Finlay developed a series of events called Gig in the Garden. As well as providing a space for the centre’s community to come together to listen to music, socialise and share food, the events were designed to be an encouraging draw for those who didn’t already have a connection to the garden, or an interest in taking part in workshops or in gardening—and who therefore might not see the centre as “for them”. The gigs proved to be an approachable invite to drop in and enjoy some music, even in snowy weather, where a bowl of homemade soup made the sessions all the more welcoming.
“Music and gardens are similar in that they can transcend social boundaries like that. We all have music in common and we all have nature in common.”
In developing the events and putting together a tech kit of all that was needed to put on a small live music event, Gig in the Garden also became an opportunity to help communities and spaces outside of the MAXwell Centre to hold their own events. Finlay created resources to help others host musicians, with a shared technical kit, video instructions, and accompanying best practice advice to enable others to use music as a way to gather and connect people.
In this video, Finlay and Manuela talk about their experiences of working on Gig in the Garden at the MAXwell Centre.
As a community space, the MAXwell Centre used the events as opportunities to start conversations about connecting with the garden and with nature, through providing food made with garden produce and things that people could take home with them, like seeds and plants. This meant that gigs weren’t just about quietly observing; they became lively spaces for chats, discussions and dancing. The centre would also provide other activities, like games and painting, so that people had options for how they wanted to use the space.
The Gig in the Garden kit is now available for others to use, with the MAXwell Centre acting as its distributor—those interested in using the kit can content Manuela. In this video, Manuela reflects on how the project has benefited the garden and its community, and shares some advice on how other places can host a successful and welcoming Gig in the Garden.
“Bringing music seemed like a perfect option for us… the main benefit is bringing together people from all walks of life—all backgrounds, ages, cultures—in a very free and open space where they can interact and share food and that connection with nature in different ways, and just listen to the music together.”
Thank you to all of the musicians who came to play at the MAXwell Centre community garden: Callum Mackie, Murray Farquharson, Avril Smart and Haystack Monolith.
Led by Creative Dundee over three years, CULTIVATE brings together creative practitioners and community groups across the Tay region to explore climate justice in a practical and meaningful way.
CULTIVATE is part of Culture Collective, a network of 26 participatory arts projects, shaped by local communities alongside artists and creative organisations. Culture Collective is funded by Scottish Government emergency COVID-19 funds through Creative Scotland.
Culture Collective has the potential to place creative practice right at the heart of a just transition and help shape the future of local cultural life, demonstrating the critical impact of community engagement, and the role creativity and culture play within it.
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