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Cultural Birdge - Make Works Scotland reflections on Bespoke

Earlier this year,  Make Works Scotland and Kulturzentrum LUISE’s Bespoke project was one of 15 projects selected in the Cultural Bridge 2023-24 programme celebrating bilateral artistic partnerships between the UK and Germany

Following Make Works Scotland’s reciprocal visit to Munich at the end of June 2023, we’ve drawn together our initial reflections and learning from our exchange visits which included a mapping workshop.

Thanks to the Make Works network, Kaye and I in Scotland were able to forge partnerships in Germany to develop the Bespoke project, which naturally emerged from a shared interest in engaging and developing communities of purpose-driven creative producers, artists and communities in our respective countries. Through international exchange, we hoped to uncover the potential for communities rooted in local craftsmanship, arts, making, sustainability and grassroots networks to make a difference locally and globally.
The structure of our exploratory project was simply to exchange, observe, discuss and learn. This has been enriched by our shared thirst for knowledge, desire to engage, curiosity and generosity of all involved. The Cultural Bridge funding, importantly, has also provided time to digest, to reflect and engage deeper.

Visiting Rumpus Room, photographer Helen Voce

Alongside the fantastic Clara at LUISE, in Munich we have the invaluable support of Dr Thomas Smith, a Postdoctoral Fellow at LMU’s Department of Geography (and Make Works enthusiast!), artist Doro Seror and anthropologist Ana Sofía González Sandoval. In Scotland, we have the experienced insight of Dan Brown, Curator of Research at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (ESW) and Director / Curator Janine Matheson at Sierra Metro, formerly Director of Creative Edinburgh and GCAN.
Make Works Scotland hosted our German partners in Glasgow and Edinburgh (with a little bit of Fife!) at the end of April 2023. Our packed itinerary included manufacturers and facilities listed on Make Works Scotland (Flux Laser & CNC Studio, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, Edinburgh Tool Library, Kalopsia Collective), independent studios (Christopher McEvoy and Vevar, Still Life Workshop, Deirdre Nelson also a Director of Repair Café Glasgow), creative hubs (Agile City at Civic House, Sierra Metro, Tinderbox Lab, Custom Lane, Local Heroes, The Skinny), and community arts organisations (Rumpus Room, Kinning Park Complex, WHALE Arts).

Kalopsia Collective, photographer Janine Matheson
Our reciprocal visit to Munich drew parallels in terms of the values and passion of the people we met and how they were motivated to work in and for their communities, optimising their resources, utilising and sharing their skills and providing spaces for creativity to flourish. Morning visits were to the Münchner Werkzeugbibliothek, Bellevue Couture and the Künstlerhaus lithography studio. Over lunch at Import Export we valued honest conversation with members of the City of Munich Department of Arts & Culture and Rat & Tat Kulturbüro, followed by an in depth exploration of the Kreativquartier, expertly led by studio tenant Doro; visiting Treibgut and Treibstoff, Atelierhaus, Werkbox3, Zona Libre and the studios of Wunderkammaa and Raquel Ro.
In our cities and urban environs, we see and experience (directly and indirectly) the impact creativity and creatives can have on homogenous neighbourhoods as they inhabit often forgotten or overlooked spaces – whether wall, path, building or green space – and engage communities in arts and culture. Munich’s Kreativquartier is a great example of this at scale (five hectares). Creatives, in the broadest sense of the word, have realised the potential of disused municipal buildings (former ammunition stores, barracks and municipality services) for studios to create artwork at scale, spaces to produce and show performance / dance / music and gather, as well as green spaces to grow produce. Their production of arts and engagement of audiences is on top of making limited resources stretch further, of making the case for creativity and navigating the constant rumbling threat of displacement by their municipal landlord from the creative homes many have established over decades. This narrative is common to partners from both countries, indeed familiar and expected, but nonetheless frustrating!

Müncher Werkzeugbibliothek, photographer Dr Thomas Smith
On our visit to Munich, our German partners’ observation of Scotland from their visit of ‘Everything is so shiny and resolved’ rang in our ears. Janine and I, who’d led the Scotland visit, don’t experience the arts and creativity in Scotland like that, rather a state of fluidity in which individuals and organisations have to be agile, responsive, informed and resilient. Having questioned whether we were biased to mature or well-funded individuals, organisations and projects, with more time, our Munich itinerary to hand and Dan Brown’s research into the evolution of arts production in Scotland, Janine and I’s introspection was abated. And, it was further lessened during our visit to Munich, when we met people such as Irene Fastner at Atelierhaus (who had very kindly displayed paintings done on her residency at Hospitalfield, Arbroath) and Raquel Ro, whose passion, drive and belief echoed our contemporaries in Scotland including Rachel Walker at Rumpus Room and weaver Christopher McEvoy at Vevar. Dan eloquently reflects:

‘Reflecting on the visit to Munich, what came through strongly was the shared domains of interest between the communities of practice in both Scotland and Munich. The trip itself was a vital mechanism that connected these communities and opened up pathways for sharing knowledge through joint activities and discussions. It sets up the potential to build on these relationships, to enable the participants to support and learn from each other, to develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools and ways of addressing recurring problems. The position of makers and artists in both communities are, perhaps unsurprisingly, defined by a shared set of aims and desires, whether it be to establish an artistic practice, develop a social enterprise or build a business from their particular areas of operation. Each group or individual faces many of the same challenges, whether it be in Scotland or Munich. What was perhaps most evident is the precarious nature of their position in both countries as they operate within the margins of a Neo Liberal economy, driven by an economic set of values rather than a set of cultural ones. This was particularly apparent in the Kreativquartier where the tensions between the cycles of work and the objectives of the creatives / artists we met and the vast municipal, infrastructural developments that accelerate the cultural agenda of the city are incompatible. This is also a problem faced by artistic communities in Scotland where culture is driven by tourism and economics (at least in the eyes of the Council) rather than by the organisations and practitioners that inhabit the city.’