Arts and Sustainability | The third in our series for the ‘What If ?’ exhibitionNorth Light Arts develop projects that create a ripple effect – like when you drop a pebble dropped into a pond – leading people towards more sustainable ways of living in the environments we share and the global climate emergency we all face. Our projects encourage explorations and conversations that touch people in ways that act as a catalyst for positive change.

We work collaboratively to help our artist communicate imaginatively, their individual processes helping people to visualise new and more positive stories and actions that lead towards a more resilient future – addressing our collective needs and ideas in this fast changing world.

In collaboration with *The Ridge our Rainbow Garden in the Backlands Community Garden (which is now over looked by our new garden Pavilion) is the result of the John Muir Artist in 2016: Kathy Beckett talked to the community about what they would like to see in a garden by travelling the streets on her bike and creative trailer and then in the gallery – the result was a desire for colour and this inspired our Dyers Garden. In this man-made space in the middle of Dunbar town centre the wild planting was supported by the Grow Wild project from Kew Gardens in London.

We also work closely with **Sustaining Dunbar and these projects are designed to promote community growing and a better understanding of were our food comes from but they are also about wildlife and providing a home for the insect life which is so important for the whole food web – including the fertilisation of our food: The loss of insect life is a very real issue, one that we may have heard about but not know we can do anything about.

Our work has linked us with other local organisations like ***CoastWord, the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace and the Dunbar Schools; we plan to work with other creative and sustainability organisations using the power of the arts and creative thinking to inspire, educate and raise a dialogue and a culture of change.

Artist Karen Gabbitas developed a number of Sensory Slow Walks for us over many years as she engages the community in the performance, subtly re-connecting people to our landscapes; At our Fertile Ground conference in 2015 artists demonstrated the power of that arts  promote a sense of connection to the places where we live;

Hannah Imlach is an artist who uses her research to respond to the places she works, choosing  sustainable materials to create her beautifully made sculptures. On graduation she was one of our Beach Hut Artists and returned for the John Muir Residency with Alec Finlay, her film documents the process of testing her site specific work in the ancient limestone circles of Whitesands: ;

In our Town House exhibition Tide: Dialogues of Change eleven artists submitted works that ranged from the dance performance ‘Bodies Of Water’ by Saffy Sotohy; to the confusing and thought provoking 3D printed rocks; the work of Julia Barton who had a mini residency on Dunbar Harbour dealing with marine plastics waste; and the bursary winner Jenny Pope who used up-cycled found materials to ask questions about the local issue of green energy production and the psychology of change.


*The Ridge are a social enterprise based in Dunbar who work with the vulnerable.
**Sustaining Dunbar is a Community Development Organisation who works in collaboration with other organisations to promote better local resilience.
***CoastWord are a creative organisation that develops a festival of the written word.

By North Light Arts


Arts and Environment | The second in our series for the ‘What If ?‘ exhibition

The environment we live in and share is the enduring focus of our work in collaboration with artists, specialists, volunteers and communities.

The landscape around Dunbar and the John Muir Way is our canvas, whether in a gallery setting or in the landscape itself – but more than that we work in and with our environment to leave a lasting impression on the people we connect with: We take people into local places they may never have been before, creating experiences and art works to delight, to question or to look at the world in a different way. Through our work we want people to develop a new visual language, one that expresses an understanding of their place in the world.

Dunbar is the home of the great environmentalist John Muir and these are the landscapes he trod as a boy. If you read his philosophies many are so relevant to contemporary thinking, He talked about:‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.’
My First Summer in the Sierra , 1911, page 110.

We now live in a world where the pace of change is huge and not easy to navigate or understand. With the climate emergency affecting our lives more and more it is even more important that North Light Arts have been generating a space where environmental arts can flourish: encouraging a creative culture where more people benefit from a stronger link to, and sense of investment in nature and the inextricable link of nature to the habitats we create for ourselves and leave to our children.

See more images in this short video here:

By North Light Arts


Chris Fremantle
This is a short introduction written by the writer and cultural historian Chris Freemantle .
‘What If?’ on-line exhibition explores our environmental arts curating from 2010 to 2020

‘Gert Biesta proposes that we need to be ‘in the world, without occupying the centre of the world’ (2017 3).

Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison (the Harrisons) regularly use maps putting somewhere (originally San Diego, but since then most of the places where they have worked) at the centre of a world.

Putting a place at the centre of a world opens up thinking at the domestic, settlement, national, continental and global scales. It invites considering how the place became what it is now, how it has been different, and what it could be in the future.

Biesta is concerned that the arts are either expected to be useful, or simply valued for their ability to enable us to express ourselves. If the arts are only valued for their usefulness, then if another tool is cheaper it will quickly take over. If the arts are only valued for their expressiveness we can quickly slip into narcissism. Narcissists occupy the centre of the world both for themselves and for those around them. Biesta points out that the world has an integrity of its own, and successfully being the centre can result in destroying that integrity. Equally failure to realise ambitions can destroy us.

Practices which imagine art and ecology as a hybrid have the potential to be in the world without occupying the centre of the world. The key is the focus on relations: between living things, and of living things with their environments. Ecological sciences are one way to understand this. Art is another way to understand, and also to imagine, these relations. Art has always been ‘in the relationship’. As Duchamp said, what is art is always decided both by the artist and also by the spectator – opinions can differ.

If art is a way of understanding and imagining relations in the world, then it might sometimes be useful and sometimes expressive, but never reducible to either. If art enables us to be in the world without needing to occupy the centre, it is because it enables us to imagine something different.

North Light Arts have taken John Muir as their Polestar, guiding their work in the east coast town of Dunbar. Aspects of his philosophy are very much in tune with Biesta and the Harrisons, saying as he did, “Most people are on the world, not in it. ” North Light’s work over the past ten years has enabled artists to be in the world, in a town which is trying to work out a different way of living. The artists have each turned their experience of the place, some aspect of their relationship with it, into something that can be shared and which speaks of the place. The value of this ‘going in’ cannot be underestimated.’


Biesta, G. 2017. Letting Art Teach: Art education ‘after’ Joseph Beuys. Arnhem: ArtEZ Press.

Compass Collaborators, 2012. Deep Routes: The Midwest In All Directions. Chicago: White Wire.

Duchamp, M., 1957. The Creative Act. Convention of the American Federation of Arts, Houston, Texas.

Harrison, H. and Harrison, N., 2016. The Time of the Force Majeure: After 45 Years Counterforce is on the Horizon? New York: Prestel.

By Chris Fremantle


‘What If?’ on-line exhibition from 2010 to 2020 | June 2020 onwards to the end of the year
Written by Jo McNamara


North Light Arts aims to be a catalyst for change and connection. This urge drives our work that brings people together across ages, art forms and disciplines to share creative energies and experience and to explore connections with our natural and social environments.

‘ Taking a Line’ was our first major programme that brought these themes together in a series of projects and events over the summer of 2010.

Having launched the proposal we received enthusiastic responses from artists, creatives, an archaeologist, a geologist in the locality who wanted to  journey with us through time and space to connect the coastline and its geology  with the archaeology of settlements from past events across the landscape. Then we celebrated in the community woodland with nettle soup, fairy trails and artworks displayed in the landscape.

Thousands of people participated in walks, talks, exhibitions, workshops, shared poetry and songs, exhibitions plus the knitted the harbour.

For the people of Dunbar the harbour is fundamental to their sense of place and community. The notion of knitting the harbour swept through the community igniting the imagination and boundless creativity.

The Harbour Trust agreed that the Fishermen’s Store could be used a  focal point and so over the course of 2 weeks children, families, residents and visitors came and went and returned to learn and share skills, have tea and cakes, tell stories and reminisce. We brought them to the harbour and they made astonishing interpretations of the people who worked there – over 100 people helping to make the fishermen and lifeboat crew, seals and seagulls, the burger van crocheted in bright yellow wool and boats, houses, the castle, all instantly recognisable to the people of the place.

Projects rarely satisfy all expectations but Knitting the Harbour exceeded them all.  The buzz of creativity, companionship and connections across all ages and groups in the community, the sense of place and identity, confidence and pride were palpable.

These were to form the aims of the fledgling organisation North Light Arts

By Jo McNamara