Atlas Arts




A day of stimulating conversation in the Isle of Bute

The group gathering in the Drawing Room.

By Shona Cameron, Producer

At the end of March I attended what was billed as ‘a day of stimulating conversation for Scotland’s cultural leaders’ at Mount Stuart in the Isle of Bute. The event, organised by the highly respected Clore Leadership Programme, in partnership with Rothesay Pavilion and supported by Creative Scotland, did not disappoint. In fact – I wish it went on for longer.

Clouds descending over mountains.

It was a dreich drive from the Isle of Skye

The five-hour drive and five-minute ferry crossing to the setting of Mount Stuart was worth it in itself – and despite the building’s grandness, it offered a unique comfort that allowed conversation to flow. It was a stark contrast to Rothesay itself, which appeared to evoke the reason for the theme of the event – Culture, Identity and Community, as a seaside town searching to find a new identity nearly 100 years on from its pre-war heyday, and the current renovations happening to the once iconic Rothesay Pavilion.

The day started with us getting to know each other through the good old fashioned, chat to someone you don’t know, and then introduce them to the room. I was sat next to Shona Masson, Arts and Culture Development Officer from An Lòchran. Originally from Portree, Shona is the Glasgow Gaelic arts organisation’s only staff member and so was keen to use it as an opportunity to build possible partnerships. We were in good company with a wide range of professionals from Glasgow’s Common Guild to Body Surf Scotland in Moray, An Lanntair in the Isle of Lewis, and Upland in Dumfries & Galloway.

The group on tour in the marble chapel.We then broke off into smaller groups to discuss personal values and how we see ourselves as cultural leaders. This proved interesting as we shared similar stories and ideals as to how organisations can provide leadership in places and communities, the importance of authenticity, and the different forms leadership can take.

Following coffee and pastries in the Purple Sitting Room, Glasgow-based artist, Nathan Coley, gave a presentation about his project in London with Haworth Tompkins Architects and The Peabody Trust, which saw him create a public artwork and housewarming gifts for each of the housing complex’s new residents, based on a Bramley Apple Tree.

Nathan Coley in the Drawing Room giving a talk about his practice.

Nathan Coley introducing his work.

It was particularly interesting to hear Coley’s explanation of his now iconic work There Will Be No Miracles Here, which was originally commissioned and installed in the grounds of Mount Stuart. Coley explains how pivotal this was for his career and how this work in grounds on a small island off the west coast of Scotland from an artist who at that time was based in Dundee was the starting point of his career.

This idea about the significance of place was continued in the panel discussion with Lucy Conway, Founder of Eigg Box, Julia Twomlow CEO/Artistic Director of Rothesay Pavilion, Alison Diamond, Archivist, Argyll Estates, and chaired by Sue Hoyle, Director of Clore Leadership Programme. The panel, backed by a wealth of experience, emphasised the concept of ‘leading by intent’, how to contribute to the cultural identity of a place and how to work with the community to satisfy their expectations.

The final task of the day was to work collaboratively in groups on a real-life situation faced by Julia Twomlow in a previous job – what would we have done in that situation; how would we show cultural leadership to solve what was appeared to be an insurmountable challenge?

The lingering message that echoes, from this, and the day as a whole, was that whilst leadership comes in all shapes and sizes, allowing ourselves to not be consistently brilliant or correct and to accept support and help is key – the first thing Julia did when faced with her challenge was select someone she knew to mentor her through the situation. It was also poignant to hear that the 3rd Marquess who commissioned the building of Mount Stuart died before it was completed, and on hearing of his death his wife moved all the stonemasons to work on the carrarra marble chapel so it would be a lasting memorial to her husband – being a leader can mean difficult decisions but the results are often worth it.

The alter in the marble chapel in Mount Stuart.

Published on 24 April 2017