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Revealing the Vision Of Caithness Index Education Culture And Sport - Index

Education Culture & Sport
Highland Council - Caithness

Revealing the Vision of Caithness
An Arts Development Study of Caithness

1            Summary and recommendations

 1.1              Summary

1.1.1        This report recognises that the use of the word ‘arts’ can be off-putting, separate from ‘entertainment’ and community activities. This study adopts the widest possible definition of the arts. When it talks about the arts it is concerned with people enjoying themselves creatively, whether spectating or participating. The definition of ‘arts’ adopted in this Study is culturally and socially inclusive.

1.1.2        The Study further recognises the phenomenon sometimes described as ‘arts and…’ The arts are now often experienced and promoted in explicit interaction with other aspects of social experience such as health, well being and community self-esteem. There is much overlap and synergy between what have traditionally been called 'the arts' and heritage, including the museum sector. Finally, the arts are very important in economic and social development, with particular importance in such areas as tourism and economic development. ‘The arts’ in this study is often best understood as signifying ‘the creative and cultural industries’.

1.1.3        Caithness is a centre of highly vibrant and creative arts activity. Members of its population have developed powerful self-reliant networks, which generate a wide range of arts and arts-related manifestations. There is much developmental work undertaken in supporting young musical talent in all genres. The large number of professional musicians, visual artists, writers and craftspeople in the area and the work of high quality professional companies such as North Lands Creative Glass, Lyth Arts Centre and Grey Coast Theatre Company all enrich the wide range of arts activity in Caithness. A lively range of visiting musical ensembles and touring theatre companies complements all this local provision. Such visiting provision is bound to be a key element of arts provision in a region with the geography and demography of Caithness.

1.1.4        What marks these activities, besides strong self-reliance, is a desire to develop and extend the arts and cultural provision in Caithness even further. This means that the community does not depend unduly on funders or central bodies like the Scottish Arts Council or Highland Council to initiate exciting new activity. Caithnessian self-reliance, however, can carry a negative aspect. Some informants observed that at times Caithnessians can see ‘outsiders’ -- or even other Caithness arts organisations -- as a problem, rather than an opportunity for co-operation. A balance has to be struck between individual effort and working across conceptual and geographical boundaries within the framework of Council and national projects. There is a pressing need for greater cross-organisational co-operation.

1.1.5        The Study offers detailed demographic analysis and applied national statistical evidence to the population of Caithness to demonstrate that there is robust evidence that there is a high demand for arts provision in Caithness and a desire to develop and strengthen that provision. Further it is clear, given the geography of Caithness, that there is a powerful case for developing arts provision in the area. Evidence of travel times and population distribution shows clearly that there is a need for a Caithness based solution to issues of arts provision.

1.1.6        The study draws attention to the very particular nature of the demography of Caithness. It is a fact that, after Fort William, Thurso and Wick are, taken separately, the second and fourth largest towns in the Highland Council area after the city of Inverness. In fact, however, Caithness has a highly urbanised population, the population of Thurso and Wick taken together being nearly twice that of Fort William. The fact that this urban population is split, however, almost equally between two towns, 21 miles apart, gives very specific problems of provision addressed in detail in the Study. Were the population in one conurbation, there would be no argument but that its population justified a much higher level of provision than is presently available in Caithness. Split as it is, the urban population’s needs do not disappear, but its provision is less easily understood and delivered. This study suggests a twin centre approach within a co-ordinated overall plan for provision for the arts in Caithness. It recognises that, because of distance from Inverness, while Inverness can meet certain needs of towns relatively close to it, it cannot meet many of the arts needs of Caithness.

1.1.7        The Study advocates a coherent and inclusive vision for the arts in Caithness as follows:

The arts in Caithness seek to achieve excellence as they arise from and serve the needs of the community and its culture. They draw on Caithness's uniqueness as a Scottish region and provide a means of fulfilling its spiritual and socio-economic needs. Through its arts, Caithness knows itself better and explores the vibrancy of its own special experience in an international context. Arts in Caithness celebrate difference and variety and offer the opportunity to be engaged and included to all, volunteer or professional. Arts provision is only possible with the support of community action and inter-agency co-operation. Co-operative and progressive arts provision is a signal of the health of Caithness society.

1.1.8        This vision is inclusive and understands that the arts are important not only in themselves but because they serve a wide variety of social, community educational and economic needs. Case studies of four recent, highly successful Caithness art events are examined as evidence of the way this vision already effectively exists in Caithness. Many of the detailed recommendations of the Study, therefore, follow this vision, examining the opportunities for the arts in Caithness. These recommendations fall under the following headings:



Development of case study events

Galleries and museums

Community developments

Performance and rehearsal spaces

Arts, social inclusion and well being

Discover Caithness

Festival and celebrations

Grey Coast Theatre Company

Social inclusion and marketing.

1.1.9        Among the key overarching and inter-organisational recommendations of the Study are those which advocate a co-ordinated interlinking and development of a number of initiatives already under way in Pulteneytown and suggest that Wick could become, through these and related initiatives, an international model for arts-led economic and urban regeneration.

1.1.10    The study recognises that previous attempts to establish a new build art centre in Caithness have, for whatever reasons, missed the opportunity offered by available levels of Arts Lottery funding over the last decade and that this opportunity is now gone for the foreseeable future. It recognises, however, the need to provide better venue facilities in both Wick and Thurso. It makes detailed recommendations as to how this improved provision might be achieved through inter-agency co-operation. It points to the need, at the very least, for the achievement of North Highland College’s Barrogill Hall project, some upgrading of Wick Assembly Rooms and upgrading of Thurso High School Hall through community school development.

1.1.11    The final overarching recommendation of the Study is that a coherent conception of Caithness be promoted through the arts to support tourism development and the economic future of the area. It is clear from the market research contained in the Study and the discussion of current provision that there is an immense liveliness in, and potential for, arts provision in Caithness. This lively potential is ripe to be fully interlinked with issues of social and economic well being and tourism and heritage development. At present, there is an absence of holistic and co-ordinated thinking about developing the creative potential of Caithness and the opportunities for its people and its economy this potential offers. A co-ordinated approach to attracting visitors is required, one that recognises that tourists now seek more than one aspect to their holiday. The inter-relatedness of all aspects of the life of Caithness should be recognised and promoted jointly, while high quality accommodation and food provision should be developed. There is a need for agencies and providers to join together, take pride in the great achievements and potential of Caithness, particularly in its arts, and develop a co-ordinated strategy to promote the Vision of Caithness.

1.2            Potential objectives of a Caithness arts development strategy

1.2.1        There are a number of general objectives that may be derived from the evidence and ideas researched and disclosed through the Study. From the research and consultation for the study and the vision for the arts outlined above, it is possible to set some clear potential objectives for an Arts Development Strategy and the provision in Caithness:

 a)                  to provide facilities for the residents of Caithness and its environs on a proportionate basis, so that residents do not have to travel outside this area for access to most arts events and activities;

b)                  to communicate appropriately what is on offer and the range of opportunities to every segment of the population;

c)                  to ensure that provision specifically meets the needs of young people, the elderly and any other members of the community with special or specific needs, on the basis of equality of opportunity, particular attention being paid to disability discrimination and to the engagement of people from minority communities or segments that are likely to feel socially excluded;

d)                  to provide facilities, both centrally and in the community,  for both presentation (performances & exhibitions) and participation, recognising local creativity, in a context of life-long learning so that people can have appropriate facilities and equipment to rehearse and create;

e)                  to deliver economic, tourism and quality of life benefits to Caithness, building on existing excellence such as Northlands Creative Glass, Grey Coast Theatre Company, Lyth Art Centre and the various heritage centres and museums;

f)                    to deliver facilities for the arts that are 'user-friendly' buildings, accessible geographically, physically, socially, psychologically, recognising that a large proportion of the community will be attenders and participants;

g)                  to provide opportunities for 'public art' throughout such facilities.

1.2.2        It is clear that, in addressing these objectives, the lack of full-time promoting/presenting staff, able to market events, build up audiences and co-ordinate ticket sales, is a major gap. Clearly the Northlands Festival showed that events could be staged in Caithness and achieve profile and attention, and one-off site specific events such as Assipattle have had high impact and attracted large numbers of the public. What is needed is all year round organisation, provision and marketing. Any promoting/presenting staff would also need to address issues of social inclusion, access and accessibility. With 60% of present attenders wanting easier access to What's On, it is clear that large numbers of people in Caithness believe they do not even know the options open to them in terms of opportunities to attend or participate. Current organisations that might be able to develop such provision include Lyth Arts Centre in its role as a key arts agency and Caithness Arts.

1.2.3        Given this context, it is appropriate to propose two further objectives in relation to the provision of facilities, including appropriate venues:

h)                 to design and develop new and existing facilities through multi-agency co-operation and with low running costs, which are both flexible in meeting needs and cost-effective in use, to minimise any available subsidy for the operation of the buildings and maximise any available subsidy for the programme and for local participation;

i)                    to deliver facilities that meet the comprehensive needs of local people and are provided at an affordable cost for use by local groups, so that all members of the community can access them and engage in all kinds of activity, creatively and technically.

1.3              Specific recommendations


1.3.1        That all arts development and provision in Caithness recognise that the ‘arts’ extend far beyond the range of arts actually financially supported by funding bodies or recognised by their policy documents. (para 3.1.8)

1.3.2        That any comprehensive arts policy or strategy take account of independent arts activity within the context of arts provision in any given community. (para 3.1.8)

1.3.3        That the local arts community develop positive co-operation and seek to establish a shared vocabulary with the local authority. (para 3.4.11)

1.3.4        That it be recognised that any development of arts provision in Inverness implies a need to consider the appropriate level of concomitant upgrading required in Caithness provision. (para 3.5.6)

1.3.5        That a multi-agency approach be adopted for future arts developments in Caithness, including fund-raising aspects of such projects. (para 6.2.1.c)

1.3.6        That it be recognised that there is a need to break down barriers between education, arts and sport and to seek solutions of wider community benefit on a co-ordinated and creative basis. (para 6.2.1.c)

1.3.7        That groups of arts providers recognise that focusing on their own area of interest, sometimes appearing quite unaware of the other valuable and dynamic initiatives under way, is damaging to the future of arts provision in Caithness. (para 6.2.4.b)

1.3.8        That this damage is greater when ‘the arts’ are defined in such an exclusive way as to exclude popular creative activities. (para 6.2.4.b)

1.3.9        That, given the current decommissioning of Dounreay and the crisis of Caithness Glass, it is now a matter of urgency that the real cultural and tourism assets of Caithness are exploited properly. (para 6.2.9.d)

1.3.10    That, given the quality of Wick’s buildings and the compactness of its townscape, Wick be developed through arts and education-led urban regeneration as a model post-industrial Highland tourist destination. (para 6.2.2.d)

1.3.11      That agencies and providers join together under the leadership of the Caithness Partnership, take pride in the great achievements and potential of Caithness, particularly in its arts, and develop a co-ordinated strategy to promote the Vision of Caithness. (para 6.2.9.e)

1.3.12    That community based proposals for development for and events in Year of Highland Culture: 2007 be implemented. (para 6.2.10)


1.3.13    That Caithness Arts and Lyth Arts Centre seek support for the development of their current roles as an information dissemination group and arts agency to provide a wide-ranging What’s On publication with an authoritative professional role. (para. 4.3.3)

1.3.14    That, in tandem with the previous recommendation, Lyth Arts Centre develop its role as an arts agency for Caithness. (para 4.3.3)

1.3.15    That arts organisations ensure that Caithness Arts receives timely information of forthcoming events from local organisers in order to disseminate that information. (para 4.3.3)

1.3.16    That as Caithness Arts develops further, its Board considers welcoming access to one of the various board member development schemes now in place. (para 4.3.3)

1.3.17    That a clash diary be established. (para 4.4.1)

1.3.18    That, to complement the work of the Caithness and Sutherland Visitor Attraction Group, co-ordinated publicity material on the theme, Discover Caithness, be prepared for the wide range of interesting museums, arts and crafts and heritage sites to be found in Caithness. (para 4.4.4)

Development of case study events

1.3.19    That the Wick Traditional Music Workshop event be repeated and developed with a view to its having a long-term future. (para 5.4.3.e)

1.3.20    That, given the clear interest in developing Gaelic input in future Music Workshop events, possible links with the larger Fčisean movement be developed. (para 5.4.3.e)

1.3.21    That it is recognised that there is a limit on the size and scale of what voluntary organisers and limited paid help can achieve with regard to A Light in the North without running grave risks. (para 5.4.4.d)

1.3.22    That, given recommendation 1.3.21, consideration be given to the point of development at which voluntary organisation will have to be complemented by one or more employees to raise funds, assemble logistics, contract artists, organise events and ensure effective marketing. (para 5.4.4.d)

1.3.23    That such consideration take account of social and economic, as well as cultural, benefit to the community and any investment to extend the resource, deliver it and finance the quality of the programme be geared to the level of benefit expected to be derived. (para 5.4.4.d)

Galleries and Museums

1.3.24    That consideration be given within normal maintenance schedules to the upgrading of lighting within the St Fergus and Swanson Galleries. (para 6.1.7)

1.3.25    That the issue of access for those with disabilities to the St Fergus Gallery be reviewed in the context of the possibility of a new development within the Lower Pulteneytown Project. (para 6.1.7/6.2.2.b.ii)

1.3.26    That the development of Thurso Town Hall be considered as part of a broader strategic plan with complementary arts projects both for the benefit of the community at large and of heritage, arts and tourism in particular, in order to achieve a critical mass able to retain tourists longer in the area in a co-ordinated manner. (para 6.2.1.a)

1.3.27    That, given the planned redevelopment of Thurso Town Hall, the Society of Caithness Artists either identify an alternative, and sufficiently large, exhibition venue for its annual major two-week exhibition or re-examine its presenting policy and consider alternative year-round patterns of exhibition. (para 6.2.1.b.i)

1.3.28    That the Wick Heritage Centre be recognised and promoted within the context of the co-ordinated plan proposed in recommendation 1.3.25 as a ‘hidden gem’ on the national scene and potentially a heritage tourism destination of the highest attractiveness. (para 6.2.2.b.i)

1.3.29    That consideration be given to complementing current heritage provision in Wick with new heritage-based developments in the Wick Harbour area. (para 6.2.2 b.ii)

Community development

1.3.30    That the Lower Pulteneytown Project be promoted as an internationally important example of arts-led urban regeneration and a tourist destination of high quality. (para 6.2.2 b.ii)

1.3.31    That Pulteneytown People's Project engage in arts and community work of the kind so successfully developed in Ormlie. (para 6.2.2.b.iii)

1.3.32    That the Barrogill Hall project be developed synergistically with the community not only of Pulteneytown, but also of Wick and Caithness in general. (para 6.2.2 b.iv)

Performance and rehearsal spaces

1.3.33    That the North Highland College Barrogill Hall project be given every support by partner bodies. (para 6.2.2 b iv)

1.3.34    That the future development of the physical resources of the Assembly Rooms be reviewed with regard to the feasibility of achieving a substantial development of current provision within likely foreseeable resources. (para 6.2.2.b.v)

1.3.35    That should such development be found feasible, a development plan for the Assembly Rooms be put in place. (para 6.2.2.b.v)

1.3.36    That should it be decided that such a development plan is not feasible, present levels of provision at the Assembly Rooms should, nevertheless, be reviewed in the context of the developments identified elsewhere in the Pulteneytown area and attention be given to the present condition of the buildings. (para 6.2.2.b.v)

1.3.37    That such attention should recognise that the present buildings would benefit from appropriate maintenance and at least some modest upgrading (including adequate dressing rooms separate from the stage and more up-to-date lighting and sound equipment) as part of the programme of planned maintenance of an existing capital asset. (para 6.2.2.b.v)

1.3.38    That in order to prepare for a viable future of provision in Thurso, it be recognised that the opportunity that existed in the nineties for a major new build performance space in Thurso, funded primarily by Arts Lottery funds, is now gone, at least for the foreseeable future. (para 6.2.3.i)

1.3.39    That, given the fact, notwithstanding recommendation 1.3.38, that a case for better provision for professional and community performance in Thurso remains, the Thurso venue issue be carefully reformulated. (para 6.2.3.i)

1.3.40    That as part of this reformulation, the synergetic Pulteneytown initiatives already under consideration for Wick as a result of community activity and educational initiatives be recognised as offering potential for parallel models of provision in Thurso. (para 6.2.3)

1.3.41    That discussions under way within a consortium including voluntary and arts groups regarding the establishment of a community centre in Thurso that might provide the specific needs of crafts-based groups and performance focused groups requiring small-scale rehearsal facilities and storage for specialist equipment be encouraged toward a fruitful conclusion. (para 6.2.4.e)

1.3.42    That consideration be given to the refurbishment, development and extension of Thurso High School Hall within the framework of Highland Council’s policies for the development of performance spaces within community schools. (para 6.2.4.g)

1.3.43    That, within this consideration, attention be paid to the need for a large-scale exhibition space, if the Thurso Town Hall conversion comes about, and to the, perhaps stronger, possibility that community use of the Hall might be supported by some dedicated spaces around it for support and rehearsal usage. (para 6.2.4.h)

1.3.44    That in any new development of an arts venue in Thurso, whether through a new build or, more probably, a refurbishment, the opportunity be embraced for a clearer overall artistic co-ordination and more co-ordinated programming of activity within the space. (para 6.2.4.h)

1.3.45    That, given any such provision must be more than simply 'more of the same' and should carry the potential for jobs spin-off, an integrated development under the auspices of the Department of Education, Culture and Sport, focused on the specific needs and context of Thurso and Caithness in general, be considered. (para 6.2.4.h)

Arts, social inclusion and well being

1.3.46    That arts initiatives with such agencies as Thor House should continue to be actively pursued. (para 6.2.5.d)

1.3.47    That, while collaboration with such bodies as Live Music Now! should continue, other possibilities for similar projects should be investigated with attention being paid to considering how to mainstream individuals into the arts in the wider community. (para 6.2.5.d)

1.3.48    That the General Manager of Caithness General Hospital be supported in her desire to develop a wider range of artwork on the walls of the hospital, so contributing to the well being of patients, without compromising the pioneering relationship with Hillhead Primary School. (para 6.2.5.e)

1.3.49    That, as part of this process, consideration be given to extending this work by having the ceiling in the anaesthetic rooms painted with appropriate murals. (para 6.2.5.e)

1.3.50    That the potential for the role of the arts in Caithness, in whatever form, to address the needs of those in nursing homes, under long-term medical care or with disabilities of all kinds be investigated further. (para 6.2.5.g)

Discover Caithness

1.3.51    That a co-ordinated ‘Discover Caithness’ promotion, drawing attention to the wide range and rich potential of heritage materials, heritage interpretation centres, arts and crafts and museums found in the region, be established to develop the area as a visitor attraction. (para 6.2.6.d)

1.3.52    That, within the ‘Discover Caithness’ framework, the nexus of arts and crafts, as well as the heritage, activity at Lybster be developed as a destination for visitors. (para 6.2.6.b/f)

1.3.53    That, rather than risking the perception of several relatively small museums in danger of falling into rivalry, Caithness museum provision should be promoted as a larger virtual museum. (para 6.2.6.e)

1.3.54    That, out of recommendation 1.3.53, a cultural tourism package be developed, promoting the possibility of a more extended stay in the area while experiencing its wide range of arts and heritage locations. (para 6.2.6.e)

1.3.55    That these developments be co-ordinated with the complementary benefits anticipated in the proposed development of Thurso Town Hall. (para 6.2.6.e)

1.3.56    That, given its location south of the main towns of Caithness, and on the routes towards them, Lybster be developed as a centre with a particular role in promoting the work of Caithness artists. (para 6.2.6.f)

Festivals and celebrations

1.3.57    That the development of festivals based on local arts initiatives (in turn based firmly on local interest and community input), and both serving the community and attracting incoming tourists, become a key element in the arts development of Caithness. (para 6.2.7.e)

1.3.58    That the question as to whether a local organisation is needed to manage and promote these festivals into an all year round programme of activities and events be kept in view and the position assessed at the end of 2004. (para 6.2.7.e)

1.3.59    That the results of this year's Country and Western Festival should be considered and lessons learned from it with a view to its developing as an annual event. (para 6.2.7.e)

1.3.60    That A Light in the North should be developed with a view to follow-up festivals. (para 6.2.7.e)

1.3.61    That, as part of that development, the organisers’ proposals to include Lybster and to extend into a more general literature festival with the potential for links across the Pentland Firth and celebration of the work of such Orkney writers as George Mackay Brown should be encouraged and supported. (para 6.2.7.e)

1.3.62    That the title of the festival might become The Light in the North or simply Light in the North. (para 6.2.7.e)

1.3.63    That, given that visitors will travel some distance to participate in a festival that catches their interest and enthusiasm, the relatively small scale of Caithness venues and the need for effective year-round tourist provision, a number of smaller festivals be developed through the year, rather than one big festival. (para 6.2.7.f)

1.3.64    That, if a spread of festivals or celebrations is coming into place, Caithness  should consider identifying itself by some such term as the 'Festival County' or 'A Place to Celebrate'. (para 6.2.7.g)

1.3.65    That, given the evidence of saturation and, so, unmet demand in Orkney, a carefully developed strategy to complement Orkney festival provision be established as part of a carefully planned and negotiated co-operation across the Pentland Firth on festival provision. (para 6.2.9. b/c)

Grey Coast Theatre Company

1.3.66    That the nature of Grey Coast Theatre Company, its provision and appropriate sources of funding, be agreed by the Board, funders and the company's directorate. (para 6.2.8)

1.3.67    That, once this agreement has been reached, Grey Coast Theatre Company be sustained on that basis. (para 6.2.8)

Social inclusion and marketing

1.3.68    That the possibility of more daytime concerts and theatre performances be considered to meet the access needs of older people and families, satisfying disability requirements and those of shift workers. (para 7.1.5)

1.3.69    That a holistic approach to arts provision and delivery be developed that takes account of the positive role of the arts in the quality of life that people experience, in building confidence and self esteem, in education through social experience, in creating opportunities for self expression, understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, in economic impact and tourism, and in image and profile benefits for Caithness. (para 7.1.6)

1.3.70    That, given a conflict of 'ownership' or style of operation can put off groups, while the great interest in continuing education and life-long learning -- the young seeking 'out of school/college' opportunities, the elderly more willing to accept provision in schools and colleges -- provision in Caithness should be made on an inclusive basis, with facilities that can be used by different groups at different times. (para 7.2.2)

1.3.71    That, given recommendation 1.3.70, any development for Wick and Thurso must be balanced by complementary provision of support for arts activity throughout Caithness. (para 7.3.2)

1.3.72    That, given that licensing, fire regulations and the Disability Discrimination Act place an increased burden on local halls to ensure equality of access and to provide a safe environment for performers, participants and attenders, Highland Council support a development programme led by local partners to ensure a scheme to improve facilities in the communities by setting up an equipment bank and a fund for improvements to community halls, subject to a Lottery application, if the criteria of the Arts Council permit this in 2004 or in the future. (para 7.3.3)

1.3.73    That, given the importance of one-to-one marketing, three specific approaches be developed as essential ingredients of making the arts accessible in Caithness and, so, of arts development in the area: Arts Ambassador Schemes; Test Drive Schemes; Group Sales. (para 7.4.6)