Seminar 4: Introductions

Moira Jeffrey, writer, journalist & panel chair
Nicol Stephen, MSP, Aberdeen South
Professor Stuart Macdonald, Head of Gray’s School of Art




Moira Jeffrey, Chair:  To start the evening, I would like to introduce Nicol Stephen, MSP, who is the Parliamentary sponsor of this event.  Nicol Stephen is the Member for Aberdeen South.  He is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  He was a minister from 1999 to 2007 and served as Deputy First Minster.

Nicol Stephen:  Welcome.  Welcome, everybody, to the Scottish Parliament.  It is a very great pleasure to welcome you all this evening and to welcome so many people who are deeply interested in this issue.  I hope that some of you have been to the Scottish Parliament before, but for those of you have not, and who are here for the first time – a particular welcome, and a special welcome – the biggest welcome of all, to people from outside Scotland who are here.
We are here to speak about and discuss art and I hope that you enjoy the art that is this building, that is all around you in this building.  There are some people who have different views about the outside of the building, I think many aspects of the building from the outside are fantastic too, but I do not know anybody who is other than enthusiastic about the building inside.  Practically speaking, it takes a bit of getting used to.  There are many twists and turns before you can work it out in three dimensions.  Often, I feel, it is a bit of a Harry Potter kind of building.  Maybe in Scotland that is appropriate too: there are twists and turns and idiosyncrasies to it.  I hope you enjoy the building this evening, but I hope you enjoy the discussion even more.  I hope it is productive, useful and worthwhile.

I’d also like to introduce you to some of my MSP colleagues who have joined us.  So, We have got Nanette Milne, Richard Baker and Margaret Smith.  So we have a good cross-party representation here this evening, and I am sure we would all want to make you feel very welcome.

I notice that there are artists in the room by the fact that, of the gentlemen here, only three of us have ties – so, that knocks me out as an artist.  I hope the other two have got solid credentials to fight back with – but it is great to see the mix of people and the vibrancy of interest in this issue.

The event is being attended by artists (I won’t ask you all to put your hands up in the air – you can think about how many of these categories you fulfil): artists, arts administrators and academics – all involved in public art developments as well as other sectors: education, community development, local government who initiate and develop projects with artists.

This public conversation is the culmination of four seminars, Working in Public, funded by the Scottish Arts Council through a new initiative, Public Art Resources and Research, Scotland.  This initiative is to promote excellence and innovation within public art and Public Art Resource and Research, Scotland (PAR+RS) and On the Edge Research at Gray’s School of Art have formed a partnership to develop a new dynamic learning space in which mature artists (actually, I should ask you to put your hands in the air for that one!) – mature artists, theorists, curators and arts administrators have worked together to explore the changing nature of the public sphere and practice – art, social, political and academic – within it.

At the heart of the seminars has been the work of Suzanne Lacy.  I think we should all give Suzanne a very warm welcome this evening.

We are about to hear from Suzanne, currently.  Suzanne, as you know, is involved in a formal process of reflection into the Oakland Projects in California.  In this period from roundabout 1990 to the millennium Suzanne worked with young people in policy sectors including health, education, justice and community relations – so all very relevant to us here in Scotland.

Over the past six months Working in Public has travelled to four different sites in Scotland.  The best and most important part of Scotland it went to first: Aberdeen.  You would agree with that, wouldn’t you?  Other small cities in Scotland included Glasgow, Inverness (now a city) and here, last – but not least – the capital city, Edinburgh.  The final seminar has taken place today at the Scottish Story Telling Centre.

The purpose of this evening is two-fold: to present some of the work and the thinking and learning of the core group to a wider group of individuals and constituencies (not in the political sense) and to open up the space to a larger group of contributors to further explore the changing nature of the public sphere: how our various practices are adapting to that change and, specifically, the role of art in prompting new ways of thinking about Public.

I think the most important thing is to have an exciting and enjoyable evening.  You won’t achieve that if politicians continue to talk at you, so let’s get on with the presentation, with the panel discussion, with the break-out groups.  I hope you have a great time.  It now gives me great pleasure to hand over to an individual who has been key to all of this, to Professor Stuart MacDonald from Gray’s School of Art.  Stuart.

Professor Stuart MacDonald:  Thanks very much, Nicol [Stephen], for your very warm welcome and, indeed, your support for this evening’s event.  
So, what is the big idea – you may be asking – behind the event tonight.  Why should the Robert Gordon University and Gray’s School of Art wish that the culmination of an academic research project take the form of this very public outing?

One of the reasons, in our digitised and globalised world (and we like to think globally in Aberdeen), is that the relationship between culture and creativity has become much more complex and in many ways more fruitful economically, as well as culturally.  Greater numbers of people are engaging with the content and with the spaces of publicly funded culture while the working lives of greater numbers of people are taking on characteristics and processes of cultural practitioners.  Many people are now working in ways that have been long common in the arts, encompassing not just flexible, freelance and part-time work, but also working as part of ad hoc teams and temporary collaborations to achieve particular aims or projects.

It is very important that we understand that new dynamic, and also that we understand what the notion of ‘public’ has come to mean, especially given the currency of ideas such as ‘public value’ and ‘cultural value’ and all the “think-tankery” that goes with them.  Put quite simply, ‘public’ is where politics and arts practice intersect.  It is where the interests of artists and those involved in the arts, and the interests of politicians and policy-makers come together.  For Gray’s School of Art, interrogating the link between arts practice and policy seems to be right at the heart of what a professional twenty first century art school and its research programme should be engaged in.

Hence the need for a public conversation that is not so much the climax of a research project, but the opening up of a debate.  This evening, as you have heard Nicol [Stephen] say, you will have the chance to meet the Core Group participating in the Working in Public Seminars.  You will hear them present their own work and the issues that participating in Working in Public has raised for them.  Then will also be able to take part in the debate chaired by Moira Jeffrey.

Of course, first of all, you will hear from Suzanne Lacy, renowned artist and art educator, who is a Visiting Professor at Gray’s School of Art, and around whose work in Oakland in the States much of the inspiration and activity of Working in Public has been based.

Before I hand over to Suzanne, can I add the thanks from the University and Gray’s in advance, in case I do not have the chance to do this, to a few people for making this evening possible: Nicol  [Stephen], for his support; the Scottish Arts Council and Public Art Research and Resource, Scotland; the Core Group who are here (or not, as the case may be) this evening; and especially, thanks to Anne Douglas who developed the programme and leads the Working in Public team.

So, without further ado, I am going to hand over to Suzanne and who needs absolutely no introduction, and who is going to tell us about an aspect of her work in Oakland.

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