Moira Jeffrey from SCAN on #ArtUnlocks

Moira Jeffrey, Director of SCANAhead of Scotland's galleries and studio spaces beginning to reopen from Monday 26 April, we spoke to Moira Jeffrey, Director of Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN) about the organisation, their #ArtUnlocks campaign, and why visiting a gallery is so special.

What are your earliest memories of visiting galleries and studio spaces?

I was a quiet kid who loved drawing. When I was seven, I won a Blue Peter drawing competition, and my picture was sent to Expo ’75 in Okinawa, but didn’t tell anyone at school. I remember somehow the local paper found out and ran a story. I was pictured, paint brush in hand, with the corny headine: “Dear Teacher Moira has Made her Mark”, it must have made an impact because I’m 53 now and I can remember it word for word.

I didn’t feel fully at home in galleries till I was an older teenager, when I was considerably louder and wilder, and then they blew my mind. They were these amazing places where artists could say and do outrageous or important things, as well as places of great beauty and peace.

When did you take up your current position with SCAN and why?

I know I’m lucky because I’m that rare person in the arts who has found a new job in the pandemic. I’ve had a varied career, I was a journalist and art critic and before that a lawyer. I’d been working on SCAN’s exciting programmes in a part time role and the timing just seemed right for me this year. It’s such a challenging time for everyone in the cultural community but Scotland’s artists are so amazing and the expertise, knowledge and international ambition of our organisations deserves our support.

How did galleries and studio spaces engage with audiences over lockdown?

Scotland’s galleries, and contemporary art organisations have been amazing over lockdown. Since March 2020, they’ve been engaging online with young people, holding online events from their living rooms on domestic broadband and stepping up for social responsibilities. Collective in Edinburgh worked with young carers, Platform in Easterhouse provided meals for local families during the school holidays and Lyth Arts Centre in Caithness stepped in to support young people in local authority care. Their artistic programmes have been inspiring, when I go for my daily walk it’s often accompanied on my headphones by In The Open, a series of artists’ sound works commissioned by The Common Guild in Glasgow.

Why was it important they did this?

The arts provide a sense of confidence, freedom and belonging in communities. We know that art can improve health and wellbeing. Our galleries anchor neighbourhoods. Our world class workshops and production facilities are places where artists make, learn and benefit form expertise and specialist skills. We know that 9/10 Scots have engaged with the arts during lockdown and 8/10 are keen to get back into venues as restrictions ease.

Visitors to the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness enjoy their re-opening displays, including works from their collection

Visitors to the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. Courtesy of the Pier Arts Centre.

What is #ArtUnlocks?

We want to remind the public that Scotland’s art is opening up and is waiting to welcome them. All over the country, this spring and summer, there will be a chance to step away from your screen and experience real art works in indoor and outdoor settings in your own neighbourhood. From Shetland to the Scottish Borders there will be chances to re-engage with real objects and in real life.

How do you personally feel now galleries and studio spaces are re-opening?

I’m so excited that my calendar is now filling up with long awaited exhibitions and events. In May I’ll visit the new garden café at Hospitalfield in Arbroath and I can’t wait for the Glasgow International Festival in June and for the Edinburgh Art Festival in July.

How are galleries and studio spaces making their premises safe to visit?

Our valuable army of expert cleaners and operations managers have been hard at work. All Scotland’s galleries and production facilities must be risk assessed and meet government safety guidance. There are distancing and cleaning regimes, reduced visitor numbers, as well as booking systems and contact tracing where appropriate.

Emma Talbot Ghost Calls at Dundee Contemporary Arts photos by Ruth Clark

Emma Talbot Ghost Calls at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Photo by Ruth Clark.

What makes a visit to a gallery so special?

Art changes the way we see and engage with the world. That's why a visit to gallery or studio is so much better than your lockdown visit to the DIY store or click and collect at Marks and Spencer. They provide stimulating ideas, space to think. Some galleries can provide safe and bookable space for visitors to take part in art activities, such as Dundee Contemporary Arts Create space. As Scotland unlocks over the summer we’re optimistic about the longer return of workshops, events and hand on opportunities to learn. The safe open and airy welcome provided by galleries is the opposite of the confined indoor spaces we have been used to this past year. Particularly for those who have not met many people this past year, the care and space provided by gallery staff in these venues will be invaluable as we ease ourselves back into the company of others.

What do the network of galleries and studio spaces contribute to life in Scotland?

Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN) connects and champions Scotland’s contemporary art community. Our 297 organisational and individual members work at the heart of communities from Shetland to the Scottish Borders and from East Lothian to the Western Isles. They include Scotland’s leading galleries, artists’ studios, workshops and production facilities and a highly skilled workforce of artists, art workers and creative thinkers. They sustain a network of free at the point of access galleries and venues, responsive and flexible institutions that anchor local communities and open their doors to their neighbours and visitors alike. Given the right support and investment art organisations and artists can be at the heart of the national recovery and our wellbeing economy and bring new thinking and perspectives to what will be a complex and difficult path to recovery.

Cells of Life at Jupiter Artland

Cells of life, Charles Jencks. Photo by Allan Pollok Morris. Courtesy of Jupiter Artland

Where can we find out more about what we can go and see at galleries and studio spaces across Scotland?

To find out what’s happening in your neighbourhood, check SCAN’s social media accounts and our website:

Follow SCAN

Twitter @sca_net

Facebook @ScottishContemportArtNetwork

Instagram @scottishcontemporaryart

Photo of Moira by Alan Dimmock.

This article was published on 23 Apr 2021