by Zoya Mirzaghitova
There is a small town in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, called Huntley, with a population of 4500 people. It has been the site for a unique art experiment. Deveron Arts, a group of artists based there, began to use the entire town as a sort of art gallery. There is no established exhibition place but instead artists are invited for three-month residencies during which they can live in the town and find out about topics and issues relevant to the people there. They turn these topics into artworks that can take the shape of a festival, bike race, drive-in cinema, town tour, or any number of other unconventional events. The artists draw from their environment and, in turn, contribute to broader conversations about local issues, and potentially provide some solutions.
Over the years, Deveron Arts has done many projects with diverse artists and on a range of topics. One project, grouped under the broad category of environment, dealt with transportation in the small town context. In older towns not designed for cars, many city squares have been transformed from public spaces into parking lots that are unsightly and unsafe. Slow Down, a project organised by the artist Jacqueline Donachie, was originally intended to shut down traffic in the entire city for a period of time, thereby showing residents what it would look and feel like to be without cars. However, the residents’ dependence on and love for their vehicles made that impossible. To engage with the same topic, Donachie organised a three-day walking and cycling festival that did succeed in shutting down the traffic in the town square, allowing it to be turned back in to a public place.
Slow Down didn’t just deal with a concern specific to Huntley, but rather an issue found within many small European towns. The basic issue of car dependency and environmentally friendly transportation is relevant on a global scale, and the event in Huntley used art to contribute to the discussion.
This exciting departure from the white cube of the gallery is an innovative step towards creating new kinds of institutions (or even anti-institutions), as well as a new type of public art. Here, the art is not just shown in a public space, it engages the public in a way that is meaningful to their lives. As an institution, Deveron Arts is a more public organisation with a focus on people’s issues and relevant topics, and is intended to make art approachable for all social levels. The group is dedicated to being local, while connecting to global discourses through art.
For more information about Deveron Arts visit: www.deveron-arts.com