By Lucie Treacher
What’s it like to make projects for ‘rural’ audiences and what might some challenges be? At the moment I’m devising a series of public arts events in the Highlands as part of Sound and Music’s Composer-Curator scheme. The project is called ‘Bones + Stars’ and is all about celebrating the work of women scientists using interactive, educational installations. These installations will use sound, animation and theatre- one in a lighthouse, one in a nature reserve and the other in a primary school. These are cool venues for sure, but the irony here is that my projects often feature unconventional venues as there aren’t enough arts venues to host these kinds of events in the North East Highlands. There is the occasional art gallery and village hall.
And yet there are plenty of movers and shakers and there is plenty of enthusiasm for arts in the Highlands (which I think defies preconceptions that many people and organisations have about rural audiences). I think a big thing that people find scary about taking their work to rural areas is people wonder ‘how will we get people to come?’. These are some things that I’ve found interesting or even eye-opening about running events in rural areas:
The power of word of mouth. I’m always surprised to see when my events are full of people and people I don’t know. Why can’t I do this in London I ask myself! And this I think is partly because of the power of word of mouth. People outside of cities talk to each other (take note city-dwellers!). That’s a form of publicity you don’t even have to pay for! It’s in the Coop where you’ll find out about the next event. I think teaming up with other local organisations is also a really great way of getting people spreading the word about your project. We are ‘telling’ people about our project by asking to borrow fossils from the local museums, by showing the project to children at school so they will go home and tell their parents etc.
Transportation Let’s face it, public transport in the Highlands is crap! This was the bane of my life as a teenager. What’s great (although it shouldn’t have to be like this) is that most people have a car, and are committed to driving at least an hour to come and see your event. ‘Local’ is a different thing I feel in the Highlands and it takes more time to get places. But there are also many people who don’t have cars and isolation is a very big problem in rural areas that needs more attention. For my own project we have put aside some funding to help address this and we will be teaming up with a local mini-bus company to pick up people who wouldn’t be able to get there otherwise.
Art isn’t ‘trendy’- it’s for everyone! It sounds cringey to say it. But I feel that people in London and other large UK cities consume art in a different way. There is so much of it and I think people become a bit blasé. In the Highlands I feel like what I do and other artists is important and that because of the lack of ‘happenings’, an event needs to be extra inclusive- so making it accessible for all ages and communities becomes extra important. People will make an effort to come, they’ll probably share your event two or three times on social media and may even bring some home-made cakes. It’s this support, from both friends and people you’ve never met which is overwhelming and slightly addictive, and much needed by artists everywhere.
Lucie’s events will be presented in 2020 as part of the 2019-20 Composer-Curator Scheme, find out more here.