The Walking Reading Group (Part I)
I was invited by Joss Allan - Project Manager (maternity) to a Friday Lunch by Deveron Arts to meet The Walking Reading Group who were visiting Huntly on a grand and very quick tour of Scotland. They had received 'Go See' funding from a-n to carry out research and meet other organisations as part of developing their practice and networking for future projects.
As is usual for a Deveron Arts Friday lunch, it was a very informal affair. In attendence were Claudia Zeiske (Director of Deveron Arts), Joss Allan (Project Manager - maternity cover), Caitrin Jeans (Cultural Health Worker), Ron Brander (local historian and walker), myself and two of the three artists from The Walking Reading Group; Ania Bas and Lydia Ashman. Ania previously worked with Deveron Arts in 2014 on an Edinburgh Arts Festival project called Urbanscape + Ruralsprawl lead by Tim Knowles.
The context for the 'event' was the greenhouse in the Brander Building Garden, a (private) public space. Although I have attended many lunches over the years, I was trying to attend with 'new eyes' as if it was the first time I had attended so as to observe the process, context, discusson points and participants (I guess this approach may be similar to the role of Shadow Curator).
The meal is scheduled for 1pm (although usually doesn't start until at least 1.30pm) and you contribute £1.50 to the cost of the ingredience. The meal contributes to the context and atmosphere in so much as it is made by the Deveron Arts team and seasonal products from the library garden are incorporated into the menu; ruby chard, mint, chives, rowan jam from the referendum and home made chutney. There were elements of hospitality which added to the convivial atmosphere as opposed to the ambience of a meeting in an office with shrunk wrapped biscuits and over stewed coffee.
The attendees included three employees of Deveron Arts (they are currently between interns and the shadow curator was away preparing for her MFA Show in Edinbugh). The two guests, Ania and Lydia, were travelling up from London for a whirlwind tour around Scotland to visit as many people as they could on their Go-see adventure and the other two attendees were myself and Ron. Ron is one of the steering group members of the Walking Institute and I was serendipitously passing through the office earlier in the week and invited along by Joss as he was aware of my walking interests and the MFA.
During the introductions it was announced, to the group, that usually they had a few teachers/friends from the School that attended on a Friday as the lunches were better than school dinners and it got them out of the school for an hour or so. From previous experience the lunches were really buzzing, where I've met some interesting people and contacts as well initiated conversations that have lead to new projects and collaborations. It was voiced that the Friday meals had got too large and the team had not been able to cope with the uncertain amount of attendees and varying dietry requirements. I felt for the guests that if Ron and I had not been there, their presentation and experiences would have only been presented to the internal employees. The Project Manager and the Cultural Health Visitor were both constrained by other commitments and left during and soon after the meal leaving myself and Ron in conversation with The Walking Reading Group. Although I would have liked to have stayed longer I had to leave Ron and it was almost 4 when I left.
The event was not 'documented' in that there were no 'minutes' or even a photograph of the attendees (which I'd seen evidence of on their website and facebook). Without a record did it actually happen? Does it's non recording deminish the value of this particular meal? was it not good enough to record? were the right people not there? were enough people invited? why do people not come along? What is Deveron Arts wanting to achieve with their Friday Lunches? Who is supposed to curate them? cater for them? Are the lunches valued enough to have the correct resouces/time attached to them?
How is Deveron Arts evaluated? on quantity or quality and impact? The exchange came from the guests - we received a copy of their latest edition of walking around London, we payed money/donated money to Deveron Arts in return for food and a situation. I guess most people don't think about it too much, but in times of austeriy and organisations having to justify their existence and use of funds, is this the best use of their time? or is it a 'free' lunch for the employees? Even though there were not that many guests and those that were there are often described as DA groupies, their standards should remain high and consious of their remit. Even though the events are informal, it may help to have some formality in their process to ensure that they are able to facilitate and evaluate the lunches.
A number of questions and thoughts arose out of reflecting on this event - Was this a participatory event? Was it curated? Perceptions of the event within the context of the Walking Institute's and Deveron Arts portfolio - outside looking in - inside looking out. How was it documented? What was the exchange? The issues of paying for art? the participant as the curated object? Who was invited? why didn't they attend? were participants of the local writers group and the library invited?
I could probably write a 500 word reflection on each of these questions and possibly identify some missed opportunities, and for more depth write further reflections from the point of view of the participant, organisation and the outside world. However, I have other things to do at the moment, so what can I learn from this? It is not as simple as just organising a dinner, or meal, the thought process regarding the participants, location, discussion points, format are all equally as important and require curation. Thoughts I will take on board for my events in August.