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ATLAS Arts - bringing art and audiences together in Skye and Lochalsh

Are you LOCATIONALIZED, Taigh Chearsabhagh (photo: Ruth Clark)

With the organisation set to celebrate its 5th anniversary in 2015, Emma Nicolson, founding director of Skye based ATLAS Arts, gives us an insight into their work, the different ways local artists can access support through the organisation and their plans for a new pan-island programme of work that aims to bring art and archeology together.

Tell us a bit about the history of ATLAS Arts?

ATLAS was founded back in 2010 following the closure of An Tuireann, the former arts centre here on Skye. The Scottish Arts Council, as it was then known, and Hi~Arts conducted a Highland wide research exercise which found that Skye and Lochalsh had the largest gap in visual arts provision in the northwest of Scotland. From this ATLAS was formed, working from home and without a venue, we were hosted for two years by Hi~Arts, and set afloat in 2012 to become an independent organisation with charitable status.

As the founding director, I'm responsible for the creative programme as well as the organisation's direction and development. It’s been a challenging and rewarding journey allowing me to combine my experience in museums, education and work with artists and social practice.

What are your aspirations?

We are very fortunate to have just received Regular Funding from Creative Scotland. This is a real boost and gives us the springboard from which to develop our artistic programme over the next three years. In particular I am keen to develop our work in creative learning and our digital presence. Many of our projects to date have been event-based and collaborating with different groups in the community. I want to take this further and see how we can get artists involved right across a range of sectors from crofting to healthcare. I’m also interested to see how we can bring contemporary artists into contact with children more – how do we do that in place like Skye where you are miles away from your nearest gallery.

I believe that developing creativity is essential, it is about how we think about the world, how we problem solve and the more work we can do to put people in touch with art and artists the better! Ideally I’d like to develop a project that works with all the schools in the area. In the next few months we are hoping to develop our website which I see as an online venue, it will provide access to a range of digital resources created through our programmes.

  • Temporary Edible Spaces, Keg De Souza  
  • Are you LOCATIONALIZED, Joanne Tatham & Tom O'Sullivan, GENERATION (photo: Ruth Clark)  
  • Promotional poster for The Replica Hearth  
  • Spincycle visit to Skye Weavers  
  • Frances Priest studio, Patterns of Flora mapping seven Raasay habitats  
  • Biomass Sophie Morrish Broad Reach  
  • Are you LOCATIONALIZED, Taigh Chearsabhagh (photo: Ruth Clark)  

    Why do you do what you do?

    One of the things that excites me most is bringing art and audiences together and contributing to the richness of Scotland’s cultural map. Here we are often able to offer artists the opportunity to think ambitiously, sometimes to take a step outside their comfort zones and most of all to speak to a wider audience. 

    I have familial ties here, so I'm also driven by a passionate attachment to the island and this region. My role with ATLAS gives me the opportunity to demonstrate that amazing artistic work can be generated, presented and appreciated here.

    How does being located in such a beautiful part of the world influence your work?

    We live in a phenomenal place — it’s spectacular and I think from a personal point of view the mountains and the environment here have always attracted me. Yet, the diversity of the island and the richness of the culture also play an important role too; the opportunities are endless, there are so many amazing stories to be told about the land, the people and the history.

    What kinds of support do you offer to local artists?

    Currently a key element of our work is talent development and networking for local artists and we have just completed our second round of talent development awards. We partner with the other arts organisations on Skye to offer these awards, and were fortunate to receive funding from Creative Scotland to help enable these opportunities.

    The Talent Development Initiative gives artists, locally, the opportunity to formulate their ideas and present them to us. And even if they don’t go on to be funded, it still means we can start a dialogue with them about their project. In some cases it has led to us acting as mentors to help develop their ideas and certainly our door is open to anyone who wants advice.

    Broad Reach, a project with Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre in North Uist, also ties in with this. We are curating their arts programme for two years and as part of this we are thrilled to be exhibiting work by Uist-based artist Sophie Morrish. Additionally we introduced an ongoing professional development plan called Focal for local artists.

    What does 2015 have in store for ATLAS Arts?

    The last few months have been really busy but we still have lots of interesting work coming up and the majority of programme will be looking to bring ideas around art and archeology together, to celebrate with the Year of Archeology. This includes a pan-island project that will see us commissioning a number of new works by artists that will explore four significant sites of archeological interest across Skye and North Uist.

    Alongside this, we are about to launch a project that focuses on the island of Raasay with artist Frances Priest, who has been working with a local botanist. It’s going to be a beautiful, multifaceted project and will make a huge contribution to the island’s cultural tourism offer.

    This year marks ATLAS’ five-year anniversary and I’m proud when I consider the variety of projects we have worked on and the people we have worked with.

    More info 

    For more information on ATLAS Arts and their work visit atlasarts.org.uk. Follow them on Twitter @skyeatlas and find them on Facebook here.

    ALTAS Arts is one of 119 organisations receiving Regular Funding from Creative Scotland across 2015-18.

    This article was published on 13 Mar 2015