....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Monday, 13 December 2010

a new chapter in the Highlands


Wonderful news that last week the Highland Council voted to award core funding[i] to IOTA for 3 years. IOTA is an artist-led public art organisation….support for an experimental contemporary arts programme in the current climate of cuts in public expenditure appears an incredibly brave political decision. Indeed it is (and huge respect to the Council!) but, this decision comes in the context of 5 years of activity convincing Councillors that IOTA was not a ‘luxury’ but an essential part of the machinery that is building Inverness as a unique regional capital ‘on its own terms and from within’.
The team who have worked with Highland Council on this funding bid were IOTA Creative Director – Susan Christie and public art expert Sorcha Carey. Great job both!
On a personal level it is great to have 5 years of work recognised in this way and feel that there is a solid foundation for others to build upon, as my time in Inverness comes to an end.

IOTA is an independent public art organisation created by Susan Christie and myself – it grew, as a natural evolution, from public art projects delivered in Inverness from Jan 2006 when I began as Lead Artist for the Old Town district (with creative assistance from the much missed Evi Westmore – Public Art Officer).
Some brief notes on the story of IOTA
1. an invitation
Abseilers lower the banner that declared the start of the 'One Day Revolution' 11am 09.09.06
As a first response (2006) to the planned improvements to the traditional centre of the city I wanted to make an opportunity for the creative community and a more general public to take a part in the way the Old Town district was being re-invented.
Evi and I gathered a diverse group of creative practitioners from the Highlands (inc playwright, graffiti artists, musicians, aural historian, video artists, sculptors, painters etc) we placed them in partnerships and commissioned each partnership to create a temporary installation on Church St at some point between 11am and 11pm on Saturday 9th September 2006.
This project was called Imagining the Centre. Susan Christie joined us for the first time as project manager for the event. Marie Mackintosh was the client for Imagining the Centre and given the context at that time – hers was a contribution of very genuine bravery.
'Cape Reality' Jeep Solid and Graeme Roger. Old High Churchyard 9pm 09.09.06

Imagining the Centre was a success beyond anyone’s expectation and seemed to confirm an appetite for, and confidence in, continuing in the same vein.

 2. going deeper
Philosophers Salon - a discussion about Virtue. 'Three Virtues' project 2007
We followed through with 2 projects stitched into the newly laid streets of the Old Town – my own Three Virtues (see IOTA and my websiteurban menu).......
View of 'Three Virtues' installation - a new public space
.....and Streettexts by DUFI. DUFI comprises Fin Macrae and Alister MacInnes – two young Street Artists who made such an impact in Imagining the Centre and were subsequently able to incubate a career with IOTA. DUFI are now working in public art nationally.
One of 25 'Streettexts' by DUFI - under each stone is a subtext that forms an additional narrative to the project
3. a bigger picture
Susan and I recognised the need and desire for the momentum to continue and approached the Scottish Arts Council with an idea for a mixture of temporary and permanent public projects that had support from a bewildering array of partners in the city. We were successful in attracting funding and created the organisation IOTA as a means of delivering projects and (hopefully) a recognisable figurehead for this type of work in Inverness
The latin 'Jus Satis' translates as 'Right enough' something you will often hear in conversation in Inverness...
4. new partnerships
Two of the ongoing IOTA projects for permanent artwork interventions in the city are working with major buildings and businesses.

-The Victorian Market is an indoor market with a variety of independent retailers. IOTA has been working with the market for 3 years on different ways of ‘making visible' the character of the market in the wider cityscape. Currently 'on site' are 3 new artist designed entranceways for the Victorian Market
Tea Party in the Victorian Market staged by artists BWCart
The original Caledonian Hotel was replaced in the 1960s- this hard geometric facade creates an uncompromising block at the end of the vista of Union Street (the River Ness and Highland landscape are visible behind the building)
- The ‘Caley’ hotel is currently part of the Ramada Jarvis chain – we identified the building at a very early stage as having a crucial role in the way the Old Town is perceived. The Ramada group is working with IOTA and artists Haque Design on a radical proposal to clothe the façade in an interactive artwork that engages people in a dialogue about energy consumption.
early design images for the Ramada hotel artwork - Haque
5. inviting in the outside 
Live projection installation by Ablab - Re-Imagining the Centre 2009
In 2009 Susan and I co-curated Re-Imagining the Centre – this was a re-working of the original Imagining the Centre concept (a series of linked temporary interventions). This time we invited half of the commissioned artists from outside the Highlands – we wanted to establish the streets of Inverness as a new venue ‘on the art map’ and give both locally based and outside artists the chance to share practice and experience. 
'In Honour of September' DUFI, Mike Inglis, Kirsty Whiten, Martin McGuiness, Richy Cumming (painting Kirsty Whiten)
'Yarnbomb' by Sundogs
 
Part of Re-Imagining was the Invernessian Clanjamfrey an interactive discussion event held over two days – this was curated by Matthew Hearn and held in association with PAR-RS and Intersections..

'Invernessian Clanjamfrey' - 10th + 11th September 2009


6. the next chapter..
IOTA is now ‘known’ locally and is now being approached by organisations as diverse as Inverness Caledonian Thistle football Club, the Culloden Battlefield, a multi-storey carpark and the University of the Highlands and Islands. People seem to understand the approach we take and value IOTA’s ability to carry people with them through a project. Hopefully this new funding award will allow Susan and her team to continue to be ambitious and push the boundaries!
IOTA - new work in progress

Working in Inverness has been a wonderful experience that I believe will prove very important in the development of my working practice – big thanks to in excess of 60 artists that I have had the privilege of working with over the last 5 years and also the team of people in the background who revolve around IOTA projects but do not often get seen…Cathy Shankland, Marie Mackintosh, Annie Marrs, Niall Ferguson, Milla McIntosh, Georgia Macleod, Sarah Grant, Lindsay Dunbar, Libby Daye and the IOTA Steering Group.

Members of IOTA steering group in action




[i] The Inverness City Committee of Highland Council has control over the Common Good Fund (a trust that benefits the city) – this is the source of the award to IOTA.

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