Looking Back on #ArtUnlocks

Our director Moira Jeffrey looks back on a summer of campaigning and reflects on the challenges now facing Scotland’s creative communities:

On November 1 a group of SCAN members, along with our friends and funders, will be in the Scottish Parliament to share with MSPs the amazing work that artists and arts organisations undertake in communities across the country. 

We’ll hear from artist Alberta Whittle, who is representing Scotland at the Venice Biennale this year, about why artists’ voices are important, and we’ll see first-hand how art activities have been supporting communities with imagination and expression: from zine-making at Edinburgh’s Out of the Blueprint to Platform Glasgow’s pandemic programmes with artist Alice Dansey-Wright. Scotland’s policy makers will have the chance to get their hands dirty modelling clay heads with the Fruitmarket Gallery, and see how Sculpture Placement Group support artists’ careers while sharing the joy of sculpture by subscription. 

SCAN’s #ArtUnlocks campaign started last spring, when galleries unlocked their doors safely during the pandemic. One year on, our hashtag has reached ten million people on social media. But this summer our focus has been  one-on-one reach and communication with policy makers across Scotland. We help MSPs grasp what SCAN members do and why it matters. 

Amongst our adventures, we’ve found ourselves up a glorious hillside in rural Fife with MSP Claire Baker, learning about the work of Fife Contemporary Art and Craft. We’ve braced ourselves in the clamour of machines and moulds with Foysol Choudhry MSP in Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop’s production facilities. Kaukab Stewart MSP attended a car boot sale of the very best kind, with Glasgow’s leading artists sharing their wares thanks to the city’s energetic Patricia Fleming. Kevin Stewart MSP learned about how Peacock in Aberdeen helped banish boredom during lockdown. 

When we began this campaign, we didn’t know that our country and cultural community would be suffering from the deep crisis of exponential energy bill rises and the Costs Crisis, nor the political turbulence that would consume the nation. Behind the scenes we’ve been working hard to ensure that funders, government officials, and ministers are kept informed. But we believe this makes the messages of #ArtUnlocks all the more important. Art and artists are worth supporting because of the small but vital ways that art can transform everyday life. We’re here to share how art can enhance lives, enrich communities, as well as give us new tools for thinking and doing, from tiny changes to big challenges. 

That’s the message we’ll take to Holyrood next week. Thank you for supporting us.

Moira Jeffrey, Director of the Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN), marks the launch of SCAN’s #ArtUnlocks campaign at the exhibition Human Threads, at Tramway, Glasgow. June 2022. Photograph: Julie Howden.