Reflections – Andy Brooke

Reflections – Andy Brooke

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As What We Do Now transitions towards an exciting new phase, those involved reflect on their experience.

Andy is a visual artist and writer who enjoys all creative forms of expression and likes to observe the art of others and think seriously about it. As the emerging artist in North West Dumfries, he looks back at some of the highlights of this time.

What has been your highlight of Phase 1 WWDN?

The tent pop-ups we did as a team of artists in Lochside were the highlights for me. These events were all different but had crucial things in common:

A gathering of local folk of all ages into a safe and creative space

A chance to share hot wholesome food

An opportunity for conversation and creative activities with children and parents

These events brought us together as a team of artists as well as the wider team of LIFT and connected us fully with the local community. We were able to show that we meant what we said about offering something new but accessible to the community. We were able to make friendships and contacts with folk which we hope to still build on in Phases two and three of the project.

Mostly these events showed us bringing our energy and goodwill right into the heart of the Dunlop Road community. There was a certain vulnerability about doing this which was crucial at this stage of the project. Angie and Jade of LIFT gave us massive support and we forged deeper connections with them too.

What has been the biggest challenge during Phase 1 of WWDN?

The greatest challenge to our project for me has been in learning what partnership means and how to work with other key partners. Relationships that we thought had been established to move the project forwards became strained and even redundant and we had to learn that not everyone views the overall outcome in the way we do. We also learned that it is important to stick to your guns about the core aims of what you are doing as a socially engaged artist and not be deflected from them

However, it is also important to maintain good working relationships and stay focused on what the real purpose of the project is – to bring creative energy and hope to the people of Lochside, both now and for the future. Flexibility can be crucial for this, for instance making use of the tent for pop-up events before the portacabin was on site. So, the big challenge for me was to maintain enthusiasm consistently throughout the project, despite the ups and downs of questionable decision-making and reliance on other partners’ input. The project itself was bigger than that and I had to keep this constantly in mind.

Pop up events in Lochside

What impact has WWDN had on your location?

The most visible impact has been the pop-ups and the school pupil art workshops carried out at the YMCA. But ironically the one trip we arranged outwith Lochside to Taliesin was a pivotal moment in bringing us all closer together as fellow travelers through the world of creative self-discovery. Being away from the familiar location of Lochsisde enabled us all to bond on a more equal level and just enjoy each other’s company. Games were played and workshops were done – notably a cyanotype workshop using natural objects foraged from the location and a mutual portrait drawing session across the campfire. We all found that being drawn by someone at the same time as drawing them was a dynamic and intense two-way communication which was carried back to Lochside in future events there.

For a large part of the WWDN phase 1 we were looking towards having the Art cabin brought to Dunlop Road. So folk had that in their minds through many of the pop-up activities. In this way the ground was being prepared for the arrival of the portacabin right at the end of Phase 1 on 3 August 2022. This made a bigger impact because of all that had gone before and was a natural point of resolution for that stage.

The Art Cabin arriving in Dumfries

What have you learned during Phase 1 of WWDN?

So much it’s hard to sum it up! Mainly that the people of Lochside are great folk to work with and very receptive of creative ideas and outcomes. The transition from a career as an art teacher to socially engaged artist was in the end a logical and smooth one. Many of the reasons I had for teaching were similar to the aims of SEA. Notably the desire for working with others to help facilitate personal growth through creative actions, as well as the sharing of skills and knowledge with the aim of allowing the recipient to take this out into their own spheres.

The idea of a ripple effect moving outwards as well as inwards is a good metaphor for what I hoped to achieve with the project. For me personally as well as hopefully for the folk we work with. In education there remain the shackles of assessment and poor funding which is always a struggle for earnest teachers. With SEA these shackles are lifted (at least for the duration of specific funded projects) and there is freedom to share one’s energy in less structured ways.

What does creative placemaking mean to you?

I think there are two main elements of creative placemaking: within and without.

“Within” is the space made inside a person’s heart and soul where they can freely explore themselves through creative actions and thoughts.

“Without” is the physical spaces we can create which will draw people in and connect them to others through creative and human warmth.

With our pop-ups we were able to create a personal hub of warmth and food and art and conversation in a way specific to that place. People were touched by all these elements together, but they each had a part to play by just being there. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts, and this part remained in folks’ minds and hearts after the tent was cleared away. We all felt the need to build on this with the relative permanence of the Art Cabin.

What else have you been working on or have planned?

I have been doing my own stained-glass work alongside the WWDN project. In many ways the project has inspired me to push my own creative methods in new directions as a kind of prep for some of the future projects we hope to do in Phases 2 and 3. I have been perfecting the process of screen-printing images onto glass to be fired and then made into stained glass panels/windows. I am currently working on a large glass panel on the theme of bees and nuclear power and human survival. This has been a long time in the making but will be finished very soon and unveiled at The Stove café.

I have also done some photographic work on the theme of demolition of buildings and the loss of human memories as well as the grotesque amount of carbon loss with each destroyed building.

To counterbalance these somewhat unhappy themes(!) I also work with other artists for St John’s church, Dumfries to create art for Christian worship.

I am keen to continue involvement with socially engaged art both in Dumfries and perhaps wider afield.

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