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Arcadeum: North Edinburgh Arts' long-term artist residency, with community at its heart

Arcadeum is a long-term residency project, run by Hans K Clausen and Lindsay Perth. Within the framework of the project, the two artists work closely with a local community to explore the physical changes happening as a result of a new health centre.

This is a joint project between NHS Lothian and North Edinburgh Arts, and the residencies were funded by Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation (ELHF), NHS Lothian and Creative Scotland.

We caught up with North Edinburgh Arts' Director, Kate Wimpress, as well as artists Hans K Clausen and Lindsay Perth, to find out more about Arcadeum, and the way that it aims to capture the spirit of a community.

What are the benefits of a long-term residency like Arcadeum?

Artists can genuinely get to know people, develop relationships and gain a more authentic understanding of the community. This gives artists confidence to be reactive to events and ideas as they unfold, and respects the process.

It also gives residents and participants a chance to know and understand the artists, their interests and approaches. Trust needs to be built up between all the parties involved and that takes time. NEA’s ambition is for artists to be working with us long term as problem solvers and community catalysts, operating in ways described by embedded ertist and academic Frances Whitehead, and harking back to the town artist work of David Harding.

Realistic timescales also importantly allow the artists to be 'fed' in terms of their creativity, and allows for genuinely collaborative permanent artworks to be developed, which is central to the commissioning vision of ELHF.

Some unique projects have come out of Arcadeum. How are they commissioned and realised?

The projects taking place under the Arcadeum banner have been devised and developed by the artists, and realised in partnership with community members, and increasingly so towards the end of the residencies.

The brief, written by Kate Wimpress of NEA and Susan Grant of ELHF, was kept deliberately open, to allow the artists as much plasticity as possible: stating that we wanted to bring increased flexibility to working methods and a more central role in developing the projects.

Rather than having a pre-determined community group and building location in place, we will have a planning period that offers artists the opportunity to be an equal partner in the shaping of the project, identifying the most appropriate people to work with, and where.

In Arcadeum’s experience, this ‘blank canvas’ approach allowed scope for the emerging projects to connect and engage with people who had had no previous contact or experience with NEA or the arts in general.

What are the challenges of running a long-term collaborative project like this?

The challenges are that at the outset everything is possible, and with such an open brief, progress can feel slow in the beginning. However, once the artists have established themselves as ‘in with the bricks’, this is when the exciting work can and does happen.

For NEA and ELHF as organisations, it is the commissioning of the artists that is the key to getting this right. We work with artists whose practice is all about engaging with others and who have a desire to ‘join the daily work of the city’, as Frances Whitehead has put it.

As well as focusing on and driving their own projects, the long-term approach allowed the Arcadeum artists to link-in with other activities across the area, sharing skills ,and working in partnership with other agencies - such as developing a local art walk in partnership with Pilton Community Health Project.

Where do you see Arcadeum in the future?

For project partners NEA and ELHF, it is about using the Arcadeum experience to argue for the benefits of long term, open brief residencies for the future, and a move away from project based work.

The Heart of Glass programme in St. Helens has discussed residencies of up to 14 years duration, and while we may not quite be at that stage yet, anything under two years doesn’t bring the depth of engagement we strive for.

From its beginnings, Arcadeum has ambitions to build on what has been achieved. We are looking at the ongoing creative engagement at the All Care Centre alongside such Arcadeum legacy projects as Make Your Mark - an evolving art installation currently exhibited in NEA’s gallery. Initiated last year as series of workshops by Arcadeum, it has grown into a joyful organic artwork, with ambitions to develop further to become a creative tool for connecting communities. 

As Clausen and Perth say: "We established Arcadeum as a way to focus any project crossovers and make it easier for the community to access us. It has worked well, and with our residencies now over, we're excited to see where we take it next. Its success so far has really been down to the openness and long-term format of our residencies and a trust from our residency hosts to let us get on with it."

This article was published on 02 May 2018