ATLAS Arts

Contemporary art is maybe not the first thing you would associate with remote geographies. Joseph Peach talks to ATLAS Arts about how they create and deliver arts education in the beautiful location of the Isle of Skye.

Based in Portree in the Isle of Skye, ATLAS Arts is an organisation that makes visual arts and education projects happen across the Skye and Lochalsh area, and beyond. Many works they commission use the surrounding landscape as a canvas, creating works which aren’t fixed to a permanent gallery space, engaging with the rich culture and history of the area. Through a number of different programs they also support and provide a range of opportunities for local emerging creative practitioners.

In the organisation’s most recent commission, artist Hanna Tuulikki created a performance for High Pasture Cave, excavated in 1972, in Glen Suardal in the Isle of Skye. It’s one of the island’s many important archeological sites, which among other things contained a fragment of one of the first stringed instruments in Europe. Her performance, which explored the lifecycles and symbolic significance of High Pasture Cave, used the place both as inspiration and as a canvas.

Artists and creative people living in an area like Skye and Lochalsh are spoiled in terms of their surroundings and abundance of sources of inspiration. But young and emerging practitioners in particular face their own set of challenges in terms of accessing career development opportunities, making connections with other creative people and generating audiences for their work – given that gallery spaces are few and far between. ATLAS has overcome and found creative ways of working round these problems.

Events such as Gather | Connect | Inspire, run by ATLAS, aim to inspire creativity, create connections and exchange of skills among these very people. Individuals and organisations such as: Colin McPherson, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Hot Tap Media, LUX Scotland, Highland Print Studio and Future Positive Studio came together to offer expert guidance to artists and creative businesses from the area: from distributing work, generating interest from galleries and editorial clients, crowdfunding, critical artistic feedback, and digital content creation to printmaking and photography.

ATLAS regularly host a range of placements for graduates, with recent posts including: Graduate Business Development Officer, Graduate Curator and Digital Researcher. These have created valuable opportunities for graduates with a range of skills to find meaningful and relevant employment in the area.

ATLAS has supported local talent over the last two years through the Skye and Lochalsh Talent Development Initiative, lines between art forms are crossed to provide opportunities for artists, performers and producers to develop their practice. Musician Leighton Jones, a Dunvegan-based pianist, composer and songwriter travelled to Romania where he studied conducting with Christian Orosanu. About his time he said: “Being able to study in Romania gave me the personal confidence to lead an ensemble, no matter what shape or size. It has been a very important personal development for me as an artist and is one which I will continue to build upon in future projects”.

As well as accessing professional development opportunities, recipients of the fund have created new work. Kate Macmorrine and Hector MacInnes, created ‘The Replica Hearth’, an installation sited in a shipping container in the Aros car park in Portree and then in Armadale, as part of Fèis an Eilein. ‘The Replica Hearth’ was a reconstruction of the living room of Skye man Eoghann “The Yeti” who went missing from his home in Skye in the spring of 1984. The fictional Eoghann was later thought to have become the yeti living in a nearby forest and the displays in the Aros foyer presented further memorabilia such as a yeti footprint found in the forest.

ATLAS is definitely an organisation to keep an eye on: they produce and support some brilliant projects, as well as creating a range of accessible opportunities, which make working and living as a visual artist in the Skye and Lochalsh area a feasible and exciting prospect.

To find out more about ATLAS Arts, visit their website: www.atlasarts.org.uk