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Stories of Art in Action - Gaada: reaching diverse communities in Shetland

by Anita Bhadani
Image: Public Workshop at Gaada

Based in Burra Isle, Shetland, Gaada are a visual arts organisation who champion art for all, and accessibility to the visual arts for the diverse communities that exist in Shetland.

Collaborating with a wide array of people and organisations such as artists, peer and support groups, schools, libraries, councils, universities and social enterprises, their work is strongly rooted in the principles of community engagement.

Working with these communities, Gaada put together meaningful and critical art activities, with an eclectic catalogue of workshops, exhibitions, events, publishing and research on offer.


“Like everyone else across the world, Covid had a dramatic and immediate impact on Gaada. Our initial anxieties were particularly focused around being a new organisation and having to halt time-sensitive projects which are crucial for our growth towards stability”, says Daniel Clark, co-director of Gaada.

“One project Weemin’s Wark was an ambitious programme of activities supporting the visibility of women in the isle through face-to-face workshops and events, whilst another project related to the future of our leased building, and whose pause may put us in some jeopardy down the line.

This also combined with having to close the workshop doors put a serious question mark over our ability to cover core running costs.”

However, thanks to receiving a Small Business Grant from their local authority, Gaada were enabled to continue to develop and deliver community-centred, creative projects during lockdown.

“We felt incredibly lucky to have fallen within the scope of the Governments early support packages. I cannot really emphasise how this immediate support enabled the organisation to take stock and plan a way forward.

As a micro-organisation we’ve been able to adapt our activities in response to the changing situation.”


Over lockdown, Gaada have continued to deliver adapted versions of their programme – delivering online activities and arts materials in person to artists on the island.

“We created an online ‘workshop space’ for each artist we work with, where each week we upload images they have sent us and a new series of tasks, we also speak on phone, Zoom, Discord, WhatsApp (whatever the artist wants) each week to speak about how they got on and ways forward.

“Artists’ feedback really made clear to us how important the regular contact of Gaada’s weekly artist one-to-one workshops is, and that it had to continue in some new remote form.”

So far, this has been a relative success, though we miss not having them in the studio, and the artists are really missing all the equipment at the studio. The value of one to one is as relevant now as it was before the lockdown.”

The challenges posed by the global pandemic have brought vital conversations around accessibility, disability and societal inequalities to the fore. As an organisation that places accessibility at the core of their work, these are conversations that Gaada are readily engaged in.

“Prior to the enforced lockdown, we had already began conversations with our community of artists living with disabilities, many of whom have immune-comprising conditions which we knew would mean they would have to self-isolate for a much longer period than the wider population.

“Gaada have been the rock in the storm of Covid.”

Their feedback really made clear to us how important the regular contact of Gaada’s weekly artist one-to-one workshops is, and that it had to continue in some new remote form.”

Indeed, it is clear that their programme provides a vital point of connection, and community for all artists. One parent, whose 21-year-old son Struan had been attending regular workshops, said, “Gaada have been the rock in the storm of Covid. My son’s world was turned upside down.

Gaada were caring and intuitive, they could anticipate the distress and the need to continue contact and how important art and his creativity is to him. Art is the core.”


A particularly exciting new project envisioned under lockdown by Gaada is Quarantzine. “Quarantzine is a place to share creative output during the global lockdown. This project proved to be an important show of solidarity for a global community of makers, all facing similar thoughts and worries”, says X.

Currently based online, Quarantzine is both local and global in scope – acting as a means to maintain contact with both Gaada’s core group of users, and to engage with people in isolation all over the world. Anyone is welcome to submit a work made during their period of self-isolation.

It’s an exciting visual document, with submissions on topics ranging from musings on life in lockdown, to timely laments to the digital landscape of online dating – all captured in a range of vibrant visual mediums – illustration, photography, collage and even cross-stitching to name but a few.

Gaada has just published the final issue of Quarantzine, which means in total the project has showcased the creative work of over 500 people in self-isolation across the world. The organisation is now refocusing its efforts on continuing to support communities in its immediate island surroundings.


This project was due to start the week lockdown began. Four months on it has been reconfigured into 6 artist commissions made in collaboration with a community of Shetland Cultural Equality Activists. There will be Five visual art exhibitions taking place in Shetland, and one collective exhibition at Glasgow Women’s Library before the release of a new publication.