One of the exciting things about being on the first Art & Social Practice course was that there was funding for students to go to a Learning Lab in Shetland at the end of the course. The weekend turned out to be very snowy so some of us were delayed getting to Shetland and some couldn’t travel between the islands, but we made the best of it and most of us got to meet each other. Frances and I arrived about 24 hours late so this was a welcome sight on the Friday evening, it’s in Shetland airport.


Because of the travel delays we didn’t have much time to sight-see but we had a flying visit to the Shetland Museum for lunch where there was knitting displayed in the tabletop …


… and I managed to get a copy of this lovely book.

Academically there was so much to absorb during the weekend. As well as learning from Roxane Permar, our tutor, and each other (we did our presentations over the weekend), we were lucky enough to have Loraine Leeson with us. She gave a presentation about her work, and feedback on some of our presentations, as well as a mini-tutorial each.

It’s hard to pick a few things out of such a stimulating weekend but these are some of the things Loraine said about working in participatory, community-based arts that especially caught my attention:

  • Nearly every project worth doing has a sticky moment in the middle where you just don’t know how to do it. Stay with the process. Trust the process.
  • Use your knowledge and then participants can be more certain of their knowledge.
  • All the arts can do is to draw attention to issues, but with a purpose of something happening.
  • Learn from conflict resolution practices.
  • Artists bring passion, long term vision, “fire” to a project.
  • You’re an artist and not an anthropologist.
  • Try to find out what’s motivating people.
  • Learning objectives and artistic objectives can co-exist.
  • It’s OK to be strategic about things.
  • Art is about the creation of meaning, resonance that others will engage with.
  • An artist brings a framework to contain the imagination of participants, to create something together that may have constituent parts but is also a whole. Aesthetics are essential, the end product isn’t just everything stuck together, you can be directive about that, the thing produced will be really powerful.
  • Don’t shy away from leadership. Leadership isn’t the same as power.
  • For the next project you need a sense of what mattered to you in the last one.
  • Don’t think of your work as an extension of you but as something outside you (like any art object).

And I think it  was Roxane who said:

  • Participants want to be part of something that has aesthetic power, and developing your design and visual skills will feed into that.

On the  Sunday we had a trip to visit Andrew Ross at GlobalYell, which was so exciting for me, and I think is maybe a blog post in itself.

This  image is Shetland lace knitting projected by light onto the floor at  Mareel, the Arts Centre in Lerwick. It’s part of  MirrieDancers, by Shetland lace knitters working with Nayan Kulkarni and Roxane Permar.

light projection

Shetland Learning Lab

One thought on “Shetland Learning Lab

  • December 13, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    It was a pleasure to meet you, Frances and the rest of the course. What an amazing few days we had. I will definately go back to Shetland, such an interesting place. Good luck with all your creative ideas and plans and I hope to catch up with you on Tiree someday.

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