I am a director of a local community group, the kirkton woodlands and Heritage group , which is why I haven’t done much painting this last year! It is highly rewarding voluntary work, sometimes there has been a little funding to pay me for specific projects like delivering & organising rural skills or art/crafts training programmes, but mostly it is hours and hours a week of unpaid work. At times I will be tearing my hair at, the slow pace of negotiating between committees and groups of individuals, the chaotic communications, having to consult widely on every single decision or action. However it is amazing what we have achieved in the last 18 months, inspiring what we have put in place for the future, humbling how many people have got involved and how many are benefiting.
This winter I was organising a programme of classes and training courses, that was a whirlwind! Rag weaving, lichen dying, basket weaving, willow planting, quilting, felting, stone walling, crochet, drawing & painting, papermaking and much more. While this was on-going we could use one of our big new Crafts Cabins as a training space, we also used it over the winter for seminars, crafting training days, meetings and so on. But with summer coming we needed it fully tenanted for the season. The community group is currently asset rich but revenue broke, we need the income from rental of our buildings to fund the purchase of the Kirkton Woodland, our ultimate aim.
Locally there are many micro ( or smaller! ) businesses, of artists and craft makers, talented people who lack sales opportunities, or retail outlets, perhaps in come cases lack experience in business. There seemed to be a demand to put all these people together to create some sort of collective showcase. We also needed somewhere to house a visitor information point. Having an info point will attract people in off the main road, and point them into our village and beyond, which often gets overlooked by passing trade. I organised lots of meetings, the first one was very hopeful, a big turn out of people all keen to get involved and form a collective or co-operative to sell & showcase their work.
As the meetings went on & we got to the nitty gritty of rotas, bank accounts, tenancy agreements, insurance, names?, it seemed to get bogged down and negative. Some folks didn’t want to share with a tourist information point, they wanted to pay less for their exhibition space, they didn’t want to sell items on behalf of the community group, they didn’t want to participate in a rota, what colour table cloths would we have? After much haggling we realised that a self determining collective just wasn’t sustainable, so with less that 2 weeks until Easter, The community group offered to run the building instead, renting table, wall and shelf space to people on an individual basis. Very quickly thereafter everything fell into place, still a little chaotic, who is in charge of what, when, how!?
I found myself as the liaison between exhibitors and the KWHG directors, putting in whole days voluntary labour. The last venue hire was on the 26th, on the 27th people started setting up and volunteers starting building furnishings etc, these had been begged borrowed or donated from all over the place. We dipped into overdrafts for a hanging rail system, causing tears and stress no doubt to the long suffering treasurer! My spider senses must have been working, I was fretting about silly things like table layouts and organisational details, so I was going down to the building at silly o-clock to arrange the space and clearly label who was going where…and sure enough, then the Fires started.
I only had snatched moments between call-outs to pop back and direct things. Without me, while I was tramping hills with my beater and dashing about back roads in the fire engine, the Gallery took shape. It opened on Monday 1st April, I was on rota duty on 2nd, but no sooner was I in the door and another call out. Luckily many of the exhibitors were about that first week with the excitement of it all, so with hastily scribbled notes and instructions about keys I ran & left everyone to it.
The iGallery space has a great feel to it, the name & logo clever designed by local printmaker & painter Michael Stuart Green. There is a steady stream of visitors, even though it is the slack time of year. Most people are having good sales, I’m certainly pleased to be selling a lot, work that has laid in boxes a year or more is now on display. There is no signage yet, I haven’t had time to promote or market it at all, but already its steadily moving in the right direction, empowering local creative people, generating an income and providing a focal point for visitors. Combined with the other two businesses on site, the treehouse and 2 acres of woodland, this is an amazing community achievement. It may not always be easy, it may leave me exhausted and grumpy, but I’m very proud to be part of such an important project, local people solving local problems themselves from the ground up, mucking in, getting along and getting it done.