Thinking and doing, SCAN Director Moira Jeffrey on our #ArtUnlocks campaign

Earlier this year I felt I might be reaching the Covid crunch. Locked down and locked out of the things I loved to do, and prevented from seeing the people I loved. As our members have unlocked their doors, and artists projects wrestled over in long and isolated days of  restrictions have finally come into the light, I’ve felt my own mood and capabilities brighten. I’ve had fun, a bit of a cry, I’ve felt my anger roused by inequality, and thrilled to the invention and talent that art reveals.  When I became SCAN director in January 2021, I decided I would avoid outrageous claims about what art was or what art can do. But I genuinely feel that in recent weeks, that art might just have saved me. It’s a big claim. But this summer I’m no longer embarrassed to make it.

At Scottish Contemporary Art Network we want to share the amazing work that our members and the wider art community do. To share the skills and commitment of artists, the strengths and sensitivities of organisations with the public and the policymakers who shape much of our lives. So this summer our #ArtUnlocks campaign, developed in the spring to share the news that Scotland’s art is opening up despite the challenges of the pandemic, is reaching out to politicians and policymakers to tell them what contemporary art contributes.

Our message is that given the right support and investment art organisations and artists can be at the heart of the national recovery and our wellbeing economy, and bring new thinking and perspectives to what will be a complex and difficult path to recovery.

How does art do this? Well at SCAN we don’t believe that art is social work, construction work, or the new NHS. But we know that it can work with many public agencies to enrich lives, support wellbeing, give people confidence and skills and it provides a place for leadership, experimentation and ideas.

The art community is a place where thinking and doing happens, where creative solutions and problem solving are developed. Our very first meeting this summer took place in Springburn where artists including Harriet Rose Morley and Tara Marshall Tierney  were part of a project looking at women’s labour and women’s voices. Curator Thomas Abercromby worked with to present the “Springburn Maidens” a group of much-loved, century-old public sculptures that had been languishing in a yard since the builiding that housed them was demolished. The project brought questions about the future of the statues back into the public domain . Our #ArtUnlocks meeting was with constituency MSP Bob Doris he told a reporter from the Daily Record, “it has taken the creative sector to identify how important the statues are to the history of the local community”.

Across the summer SCAN will share the ways that art makes a difference. There’s the work that Lyth Arts Centre in Caithness and Timespan in Helmsdale are undertaking to make people aware of the value of the peatlands of the Flow Country in the climate crisis. Projects such as Fruitmarket re-opening in Edinburgh’s city Centre demonstrates investment in our built heritage and, just up the hill, the work that Collective is doing to refurbish and repurpose the historic building Observatory House. We’ll also share how artists and arts organisations are international collaborators, talent incubators and place-makers.

SCAN members can get involved with our #ArtUnlocks summer campaign here.