Creative Dundee

Blog: ‘What if …’ A CULTIVATE trip to Moray

Photos by Jaz Grady @strangerandfiction / @jazgradyartist

Our CULTIVATE Storyteller, Lu Kemp, reflects on a recent creative learning exchange and trip to Moray with her fellow Creative Practitioners.

At the end of February, our six CULTIVATE Creative Practitioners took to the road and headed north to Moray to join Findhorn Bay Arts’ Combine to Create: Learning Exchange – an event exploring and sharing their Culture Collective project.

The trip was an opportunity for the CULTIVATE team to hear from and share with other creative practitioners who have been part of a similar programme. The day was filled with presentations of ongoing projects, a panel discussion with artists and community partners, opportunities to engage in activities with the artists and their work, and a performance that beautifully captured the entanglement and crossing paths of all the residencies.

It was much needed time for everyone to connect, explore, reflect, and share together the values of our work and the creative spaces being built colectively. Our CULTIVATE Storyteller, Lu, reflects on the trip:

We are in a bus heading North, and Claire hands us each a paperback book and a packet of sunflower seeds. The seeds are from a sunflower my daughter and I grew in our allotment last year, which we gave to Claire. And now some of the seeds have returned to us, so we can begin a new crop this year, and the others will travel further afield. I like the thought of all those seeds creating new plants that will in turn create new seeds. The paperback – From What Is to What If by Rob Hopkins – I read it in two sittings across the journey from Dundee to Moray and back. Of all the brilliant points and questions Hopkins makes, I am most struck by a quote (let’s call it a warning) from social theorist Rob Unger about how dangerous it is to ‘confuse conformism with realism’.  In four words he debunks the magic trick that capitalism plays on us, the one which tells us ‘no, no, don’t have a different idea about how to do something, stay with what’s safe, for god’s sake don’t question the system.’ Stay safe. Stay safe. 

But ‘safe’ is so clearly not working. 

The book references a character called Antanas Mockus (his name doesn’t immediately fill me with confidence). Antanas shot to fame in 1993, whilst president of the National University of Columbia, when he mooned his audience because they weren’t listening to him. This sounds so much like the behaviour of a public-school donkey that, had I been his audience, I might have stopped listening then and there. But Mockus’s use of the absurd turned out to be useful. He went on to be elected mayor of Bogota a year later and his non-conformism blossomed. He appeared on live TV taking a shower to try to convince people to cut water usage in the city. He established ‘A Night Without Men’ where men were asked to stay home and look after their family while women went out into the night, with the city’s female police officers in charge of keeping the peace. He asked residents of Bogota if they might be happy to pay an extra 10 percent tax, on a voluntary basis, in order to enable the works the city needed – and 63,000 of them did. 

They’re all brilliant ideas, brilliant new stories, which ask us to imagine what might be if we didn’t stay safe – if we did things differently. 

On arrival in Moray, we – a contingent of artists embarking on a new journey together across Tayside – walk around the point as the light falls to meet another group of artists here, who have just finished their journey together. One of the artists speaks joyfully about seeing the Northern Lights from her back-garden the night before. The back garden of a house that she, her artist partner and son, have recently moved into. A house that the previous owner, an older local woman, left to a trust to rent out at an affordable rate. It cannot be sold. It cannot be used to extract income. It can make someone else’s life better. It is a small act and a radical one. 

At the following day of sharings between all the artists who have participated in the Culture Collective programme in Moray – a day full of joyful, inspirational works – this challenge to ‘realism’ comes up over and over again: What if we did things differently? What if we let kids learn with their bodies? What if we gave artists and communities time to come up with imaginative solutions to current problems? What if there were artists in residence at every local village hall? What if we baffled noisy rooms with co-created tapestries? What if we asked people who can to pay more tax? What if we demonstrate how safe we want a city to be by asking men to look after the children for one night whilst women walk free? What if we put tomatoes back on the shelves of our supermarkets by growing them ourselves? 

What if we resisted the narrative that time is money? 

What if we gave ourselves time? 

The time to be imaginative. 

The time to be and live as humans working together to solve problems. 

The time to create the future we want to see within this big beautiful world of ours.

With thanks to Lu for sharing this reflection and also to Jaz for her wonderful photos of the trip. Discover more about CULTIVATE and meet our second cohort of Creative Practitioners.

Watch Findhorn Bay Arts’ project film to find out more about Combine to Create.

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