It’s ok having ideas but making things happen takes some special people who could make the idea WHAT IF….., come to life to bring artists and communities together.
North Light Arts have been fortunate to work with so many talented artists starting with the ‘Taking a Line’ project when we were so delighted that the artist Ross Combe stepped forward to coordinate ‘Knitting the Harbour’, two weeks of knitting, weaving and lots of cups of tea: Over the years others have stepped forward – Lucy Dunce hung exhibitions, Linda Greig worked with older people in ‘Grey Matters’, Justine and Chris Watt hung recent exhibitions, Carey Douglass-Carnegie coordinated the ‘Natural Magic’ project and Felicity Bristow who helped to co-ordinate the year of ‘Knitting the Rainbow Garden’ and the ‘Floers’ John Muir Residency Hannah Imlach and Alec Finlay.
However nobody has had such a lasting influenced on NLA more than the Project Manager Tracy Morgan, who spreads a little magic over all that she does – she helped to develop our continuing vision and the processes that guide us. She stepped in to manage the ‘Walking a Line’ project in 2013 right up to the celebrated residency ‘Homing’ by Dalziel+Scullion .
Go Outside and Appreciate Nature
North Light Arts has taught me to ‘go outside and appreciate nature’.
‘Taking a Line’, was my first taste of North Light Arts (NLA) creative programme. In the summer of 2010 I remember meeting Susie Goodwin, NLA Creative Director, in McArthur’s Store, the home to Dunbar Harbour Trust (an ancient stone building situated on the eastern edge of Dunbar’s Cromwell Harbour, the building dates back to the 17th century). I followed my nose to the salty sea and as I entered McArthur’s Store I was met with a hub of creative activity, a loom with a community tapestry in progress, people spinning wool and knitting and lots of chatter. I was inspired.
North Light Arts inspired me again 2013. I was invited to an artist’s gathering at the Bleachingfield Community Centre, Dunbar. A group of twenty artists presented their ideas for their North Light Arts commissions including: Karen Gabbitas, Emma Herman-Smith, Alistair Cooke, Sheree Mack, Steve Ronnie and Hannah Imlach. We visited White Sands Beach and the geologist Fiona McGibbon demonstrated how to use a magnifying glass to examine fossils. We talked and walked through the remains of a 320 million year old fossil forest. I remember that summer fondly, sitting outside the NLA wooden beach hut at Dunbar Harbour, welcoming each artist in residence.
The ‘Fertile Ground Conference’, a two-day event held in 2014, was a turning point for NLA and placed the organisation on the artistic map. The conference aimed to evaluate the power of environmental arts and its place in raising issues and questions of global concern. Drawing delegates from across Scotland, the first day of presentations was held at the Bleachingfield Community Centre and in the evening we were presented with a memorable supper created with foraged and locally source ingredients, made by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods.
‘The Alchemy of Soil Exhibition’ by Natalie Taylor was held in 2015, as part of the John Muir Festival at Dunbar Town House. The United Nations proclaimed 2015 International Year of Soils, which offered an opportunity to address the crisis in soil sustainability. Soils are essential to our ecosystems, playing a key role in the carbon cycle, storing and filtering water, and improving resilience to floods and droughts and providing our edible plants with nutrition. Natalie was commissioned to create a large mandala painting on paper using pigments made from soils collected from East Lothian.
Dunbar is a remarkable place, local community organisations such as Sustaining Dunbar and The Ridge, have long been active in exploring sustainability, carbon reduction, composting initiatives and the circular economy and Dunbar was named Scotland’s first ‘Zero Waste Town’ in 2014, piloting a then new initiative in Scotland to dramatically reduce waste and encourage the reuse of waste products.
Dalziel+ Scullion created ‘Homing’, a publication they describe as a ‘field guide for reconnecting with nature’, inspired by their NLA, John Muir Residency in 2018. This beautiful book is a fitting legacy that has inspired me to make more of my environment.
I have watched North Light Arts grow and develop over the past ten years, welcoming artists to Dunbar and developing creative conversations between specialists and the community. NLA now has an artist studio, which overlooks the Backlands Community Garden, built by local volunteers working with The Ridge. The Pavilion is a workshop space and an artist’s residency venue, providing an opportunity for creatives to get outside and appreciate nature. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic it is perhaps more important than ever for people to re-connect with nature. I have enjoyed my connections with North Light Arts over the years and I hope they have continued success in the future developing more innovative and thought provoking projects.
By Tracy Morgan
Tracy’s vibrant personality and easy way with people combined with her experience and professionalism allowed her to manage a number of successful projects such as Growing Arts Seeds, and working with emerging and established artists. She also worked with us to develop our very successful two-day conference ‘Fertile Ground’ in 2015.
This project brought over 100 people together: Artists, specialists and environmentalist from across the country gathering in Dunbar. Chaired by the reader at Aberdeen University Chris Freemantle, speakers and specialist came from across Scotland, also from Wakefield came the Education Officer from the Hepworth Gallery. Fertile Ground didn’t shy away from the urgent environmental issues of our time: giving people the opportunity to share the potential of the arts to raise questions – questions about the way we live here in Dunbar, but also about how we can be greener and more sustainable in this world given the climate crisis we are all facing.
Our collaboration with Sustaining Dunbar and their ‘Gathering In’ event, held in a marquee outside the Bleachingfield Centre:, allowed delegates to experience the activities of local groups some of the green initiatives in action. We then enjoyed a foraged evening meal prepared by Galloway Wild Foods and the Ridge Café, the diners being welcomed by song, harp and spoken word.
The second day saw the delegates exploring our SSI coastline of ancient fossilised rocks guided by the local Geologist Fiona McGibbon, and along the beach we saw Hannah Imlach and her the sight specific artwork. We then visited Belhaven Community Garden where we took part in a Slow Sensory Walk led by artist Karen Gabbitas – followed by Sue Guy of Sustaining Dunbar who helped to identify some local environmental issues and to see some potential solutions in action in the garden.
Tracy also organised a lively and fruitful plenary session at Dunbar Town House where people could share their impressions of the event and get to the heart of the subject and it’s relevance to us. The whole conference still influences our work and was filmed and carefully edited by Summerhall TV in Edinburgh.
NLA shared some really exciting times with Tracy so we were really sad on her return to the Fruitmarket Gallery where she is their Education Officer.
Films by Summerhall TV
Photography by Mike Bolam taken at the ‘Fertile Ground’ Conference