Dancing Days

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Occupying the Space between Professional, Amateur

and Community Arts

I just found this report from the DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport)


It seems to support my thinking that there are many things to learn in

The space between Community, Amateur and Professional Arts Programmes

I was exploring this notion in my latest project ‘Dancing Days’ in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland

Dancing Days Poster stamp02

Born out of a belief that there are amazing stories to be heard from the dance halls of Fife we created a new theatre company, Fife Performance Ensemble as an off-shoot of my new company The Performance Ensemble – an ensemble company of performers over the age of 60.

We began a search to find those memories and to meet the dancers and the musicians who had played in the many dance halls around Fife in the 1950’s and 1960’s, notably the Burma Ballroom in Kirkcaldy.

It inspired, informed, and shaped the beginnings of a brand new piece of theatre, Dancing Days, which we will continue to work on for another year before opening it  in October 2014.  

In this project we will occupy the space between community, amateur and professional arts working with people from each of those areas to create an ensemble of equals, bringing different skills and experiences to the process.

An Ensemble of Equals

The project was organised by Fife Cultural Trust and was initiated by local writer Stuart Paterson, designer Neil Murray and myself  – who have been working together for 25 years – with local people who have reached the age of 60. Some of the people we worked with were from the local amateur dramatic societies, some were people who danced at social dances across Fife and others were members of the local community who had little or no experience of participatory arts but who brought their own uniqueness to the project.

We have been very lucky. The communities around Kirkcaldy are very interconnected – word of mouth got around very quickly, and with this place having such a strong community, it grows.

From attending the afternoon tea dances at the Adam Smith Theatre, I began to discover many more classes in Fife, including dances at Burntisland, Buckhaven, Windygates and The Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation  (CISWO) in Glenrothes. All were eye openers for me. When you walk in, it hits you.

There’s something so special about that feeling you get at these dances. I hope that’s what our theatre piece will reflect, authentic theatre from the heart of communities .

(c) David Wardle

The first performances of Dancing Days was a short musical theatre piece informed by and created from the people who attended Fife’s dance halls. Passages were written by Stuart Paterson and locals Tom Young and Bob Christie, it was directed by me and designed by Neil Murray with a community cast from across Fife. Live music from some of the original Burma Ballroom band members joined with dancers from local dance groups lead by professional dance teacher Betty Cunningham.

This version was  ‘work in progress’ and lasted  just over an hour. Over the next year the plan is to develop the production, with the participants, into a full-length theatre piece involving a number of professional, amateur and community based practitioners to create an ensemble that makes theatre of the highest standard.

Making contemporary theatre – created by older performers – for audiences of all ages.

(c) David Wardle

Dancing Days was first performed on Mon 28th,  Tues 29th and Wed 30th October, at Pathhead Hall, Kirkcaldy.

The project was funded by Creative Scotland and Fife Cultural Trust with support from Luminate Festival and Fife College.


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What has The Isle of Eigg and Marfa,Texas got in common?

I got a message the other day from my friend Lucy Conway inviting me to a meeting in Edinburgh. She wrote:

“As part of the evolving process to create an Eigg Box building that provides space for the island as well as visiting artists and creative types, Eigg Box has appointed WT Architecture to help us develop an architectural brief for the building. This brief will be included in a stage one application to Creative Scotland’s Capital Programme.

We have had various meetings on Eigg to find out what islanders want from the building, but as visiting artists are an important part of Eigg Box, we would like invite you – as someone who might come and use the building – to tell us know what you think too.”

I so wish I could be there. I think the Eigg Box is a really exciting project. 

“Eigg Box will be a cultural enterprise hub, bringing together local creative businesses with artists from around the world. 

Established as a self-sustaining social enterprise, Eigg Box will be a powerhouse of creative activity, entrepreneurship, inspiration and collaboration. However, unlike its urban counterparts, Eigg Box’s eco-built studios and creative workspace will be on the Isle of Eigg; a community-owned, renewably-powered island, off the north-west coast of Scotland with a population of less than 100.

Eigg Box turns on its head the notion that a centre of entrepreneurship and creativity needs to be at the centre of population. Eigg Box makes the remote central.”   Quoting from their web site

I only know about the project from what I have read on the website and the odd exchange of notes from Lucy Conway – but I really feel something special is happening on Isle of Eigg.

A remote community that will be at the centre of creating art that will soon be making a huge impact internationally.

Eigg Box makes the remote central

If I was at the meeting in Edinburgh I would be suggesting that the relationship with the local and the international should be central to the creation of the building.  I would be suggesting a residency of an exceptional international artist during the building phase  – creating art alongside the actual building process  – working with islanders to make something lasting that would contribute to the final look of the building. For my taste  a building  that feels contemporary, minimalist and  timeless.

Something like the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas 

Donald Judd

Not long ago I was in Marfa making a film. We stayed there for a couple of weeks and I got to know the place a little. It is strange and fantastic mixture of art and the dangerous world of “No Country For Old Men”.

I kept imaging I would bump into Javier Bardem.

Marfa is situated in the high desert of far West Texas in Presidio County, located between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, with a population of  about 2000 – twenty times the population of The Isle of Eigg I know, but I think there is a model here to look at.

Donald Judd

In 1971,minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York City. After renting summer houses for a couple of years, he bought two large hangars and some smaller buildings and began to permanently install his art.

In 1976, he bought the first of two ranches that would become his primary places of residence, continuing a long love affair with the desert landscape surrounding Marfa. Later, with assistance from the Dia Art Foundation in New York, Judd acquired decommissioned Fort D.A. Russell, and began transforming the fort’s buildings into art spaces in 1979. Judd’s vision was to house large collections of individual artists’ work on permanent display, as a sort of anti-museum. Judd believed the prevailing model of a museum, where art is shown for short periods of time, does not allow the viewer an understanding of the artist or their work as they intended.

Donald Judd Marfa Texas

Since Judd’s death in 1994, two foundations have worked to maintain his legacy: the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation. Every year the Chinati Foundation holds an open house event where artists, collectors, and enthusiasts come from around the world to visit Marfa’s art. Since 1997, Open House has been co-sponsored by both foundations and attracts visitors from around the world. The Chinati Foundation now occupies more than 10 buildings at the site and has on permanent exhibit work by artists such as Ingólfur Arnarson, Dan Flavin, and Claes Oldenburg.

Of course what works in Marfa won’t necessarily work on Eigg, but there is something to be explored about the relationship with individual artists and remote communities. I have absolutely no doubt that Eigg Box will be an extraordinary place to visit and I hope to be there myself one day soon. We, who are engaged in the debate about the role of arts in the community should look at the Isle of Eigg with great interest. I think we will all learn a lot from the way they are creating space for people and art.





A Creative Independent Scotland?

Michael Clark Company

I feel optimistic. Janet Archer the new Chief Executive of Creative Scotland wrote the following as an opening gambit to the publication of  Creative Scotland’s plan for 2013 -14 recently published.  Full report here

“We are here to support the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland, through our funding, advice and advocacy, on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here.

Our first public facing Annual Plan aims to offer clarity around what we do and how we go about doing it, through setting out and sharing Creative Scotland’s detailed activities for the Year 2013-14.

It presents our work, our budgets and the aims and objectives of our organisation.

This is a transitional document. It reflects feedback that we have received over the past year and begins to present our purpose and the main parts of our work in a more simplified way.

There is of course more work to be done.

Over the coming months, I will be working with the senior leadership team and staff at Creative Scotland to develop the long term vision, plan and policy framework for the organisation. As part of this process we will take stock of the intelligence which emerged from the Open Sessions and Sector Reviews as well as other feedback we’ve received over the past year. Once we’ve produced our outline direction of travel we will consult with current and potential partners and stakeholders, including artists, film-makers, creative organisations and creative businesses, I aim to have this new strategic plan in place by April 2014. Alongside this we will continue to work on delivering the change commitments made by our Board in December 2012.

Creative Arts and Welfare Reform Hand in Hand

I  believe this to be a sincere and heartfelt statement from somebody that believe in artists, filmmakers and creative practitioners and in the power of the arts to change attitudes, perceptions and, dare I say it, people’s lives.

This follows on from the great speech given by Fiona Hyslop on Scottish Culture that she gave recently at The Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh  Full text of speech Here

I believe that the Creative Arts in Scotland are really interesting and innovative  at the moment and with the vote on independence just round the corner – Scotland is the place to be.  It is clear that artists and filmmakers and creative practitioners will play a crucial role in defining the future. My hope is that all people in Scotland have enough opportunity to speak loudly about what they want for the future of their country

I love Scotland  – I worked there for many years and I believe in Independence from the rest of the UK.

I was stuck by a recent article in The Guardian that wrote of Alex Salmond’s claims that independence would allow Scotland to set up a better welfare system – and that – that view was supported by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Apparently the IFS have said that an independent Scotland would be able to scrap many existing UK benefits “which make little economic sense” and discard “poorly designed reforms” by the Westminster government.

This is likely to be a significant discussion point in the independence debate. The IFS  agreed with Salmond and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, that some benefits and reforms were ripe for reform. Those included the bedroom tax on unoccupied rooms; the benefits cap, fixing total payments to claimants to £26,000;  and capping local housing allowances.

A fairer Welfare System designed for the people of Scotland by the people of Scotland seems to make as much sense to me as celebrating the idea that the arts and culture have a significant role to play in the well-being of the nation.

Both things are excitingly possible in the very near future.