Case Study: Scottish Sculpture Workshop

The Scottish Sculpture Workshop Radical Care project was The Caregivers Residency, co-created with artist-caregivers to offer funding, flexibility, respite and space for self-care, to focus on their own needs and support continued learning and development.


Scottish Sculpture Workshop (SSW) is a unique site of collective learning and inquiry set up to support artists in the research and realisation of their ideas. Its activity includes group residencies and open access use. It is set in a rural location in Lumsden, Aberdeenshire. SSW has a range of facilities for artists, makers and individuals to use, including a foundry, wood workshop, metal workshop, ceramics studio, studio with library and a community making space. Use of these facilities is supported by technicians and arts workers, who are skilled in supporting visitors of all levels and abilities to learn new skills, make work, develop projects and experiment with making in all forms.

Scottish Sculpture Workshop is a site of possibility, where artists and communities have the tools, skills, opportunity, and networks to collectively imagine, make and live in ways that are resistant and multiple.

Group residency is a typical model at SSW with up to 6 artists living and working alongside each other for four weeks at a time. It offers artists dedicated time and support for the development of their practice. The scope of residency activity is wide-ranging and category defying, but often includes; making, researching, experimenting, learning, drawing, resting, scheming, collaborating, walking, writing, facilitating, reflecting, listening, imagining, questioning and caring, among many other possibilities. The group residency includes optional group activity to build connection and conversations between the group. The cost to the participant is £480. SSW also offers funded partnership residencies which the SSW x Counterflows Caregivers Residency is one of.

The Radical Care project

Images courtesy of Scottish Sculpture Workshop

The motivation for the Radical Care project, which was delivered with Counterflows Festival, was the recognition that caring can ‘form and create artistic practices as well as disrupt them. Resulting in artists with caring responsibilities having difficulty in grasping the time, energy, resources and focus for their practice.’

The Radical Care project followed a pilot in 2021 also delivered with Counterflows Festival. The Caregivers Residency was co-created with artist-caregivers to offer funding, flexibility, respite and space for self-care, to focus on their own needs and support continued learning and development. The residency was grounded in the principle that the support for the artist and those they care for needs to be flexible, bespoke and carefully co-designed with the artist in order to meet their needs.

Each residency included:

  • £1500 artist fee
  • £300 travel budget
  • £300 materials budget
  • Use of studio, workshops and technical support.
  • Accommodation at SSW
  • A budget of £1000 to support access and care costs.

The Radical Care project – Caregivers Residency

The SSW Radical Care project aimed to build organisational knowledge and invest in resources and practices of care across SSW and the wider community in Lumsden. Other intended aspects of the residency were:

  • Systems lab to build networks of care and build a holistic, multi skilled approach to meeting care needs in Lumsden
  • Bespoke training to strengthen knowledge in paying artists who are in receipt of disability benefits to improve support
  • Developing accessible AV resources to communicate what it is like to visit SSW and what adjustments can be made.

It was identified in the application briefing that caregiving can be self-defined by the artist. It could include (but was not limited to), artists with children, artists who support someone with a disability, artists who care for relatives, friends or chosen family on a regular basis, artists who offer care within a professional capacity such as medical, mental health or spiritual care, artists who are caregivers to a wider community such as movement organisers, or artists who care for other kin, among many other definitions of caregiving.

Applicants were asked to have experience making experimental sound or performance-based work, be resident in Scotland and able to travel to SSW and participate in the residency with the support and timeline outlined. Collaborative applications (up to 2 people) were welcomed.

There were 20 applications and two residencies were provided. This is lower than the typical level of applicants for a group residency (70). However, the number of applications per available residency was higher for the Caregivers Residency (10 applications per place compared to 5 applications per place for a typical group residency).

One residency was a sole artist who visited with her husband who she provides care for. This residency was split over 10 weeks attending SSW for shorter periods of 2-3 days each week. The other was a collaborative residency for two artists who are mutual caregivers this was undertaken as a four-week residency and a pre-residency visit.

Changes were made to the wider project; it had been intended to have a systems lab to consider SSW’s role in meeting care needs in Lumsden. As the project developed, this aspect intersected with wider consultation about the community making space and was incorporated into this wider process. Instead, SSW commissioned Claire Sawyers, also a caregiver, to write about the residency programme as well as reflect on her own caregiving work.

What has been the impact of caregiving prior to Radical Care?

Participants talked about how their practice had been limited by their circumstances in terms of caring responsibilities and access/healthcare challenges. This was described as being too difficult to practice and being on the verge of giving up or shutting down practice to what was possible in the ‘moments between’. One of the impacts of this was not having access to a consistent period of work which impacts on deep research and continued train of thought which itself negatively influences practice.

“I thought I was coping well until I was given an opportunity and then suddenly realised how much confidence I had lost in my own abilities and in just being able to be able to physically attend. Until you are in the situation of having to support another person with complex needs it is difficult to understand just how much it impacts on your own working life, social life and emotional and mental health.

“Having care work to do as well as all the other types of work we need to do as creative professionals and responsible adults can be quite strenuous, which can be affecting to mental health and feelings of isolation from your peers.

Participants described being excluded from residencies. The normal model was based on:

“Someone who can travel freely, put their life on hold for a month and who does not have many responsibilities - it makes my heart sink because I can’t do those things.

Not being able to fit this model means turning down residencies, losing opportunities to network and not being able to evidence the career ladder expected of a developing practice. There are additional barriers for disabled artists with access plans and access budgets not always being clearly communicated in residency advertising.

What was the impact of the residency for participants?

One participant described the outcome of the residency as being ‘a big material outburst!’. Having previously had a material practice, access barriers and disability had curtailed that practice. They described:

“It was shocking to find that my body was capable of doing it – I just needed things to be in place that were lacking in other spaces. The residency had an ignition back into working practice – it is not that I can’t make work – I am operating in a world that is not designed for me

The long-term impacts of this change in practice were harder to identify at this point:

“My practice has changed a lot, I feel at a delicate point because the change was so monumental and the parameters of that change are no longer with me, there are tiny shoots of growth and not necessarily a way to sustain it or help it grow from this point.

Another participant equally enjoyed working in the ceramics studio and working with new materials:

“It was lovely to get lost in get lost and to find myself and just think about creating – to start something and getting all excited – and all these different processes, having no expectation, no pressure. This was not a project where there was an end result – that was hugely positive.

The focus for another participant was on research and the development of ‘a pool of ideas’ to take forward. This was in the context of their principal challenge being time to ‘develop deep reserves of research that you can draw upon when you are doing exhibitions/performances’.

“I feel more confident, I had lost confidence which I had not noticed – I have that deeper research behind me

Both residencies involved sharing moments at the end of the residency. This was an aspect of the residency that had not been anticipated by the artists in their initial proposals but emerged as an important aspect of the residency: “I would not have seen myself doing that at the beginning of the residency – I would have said that was not possible and there I was – I got such a boost from getting such good feedback”

The concept of care and the intersection of a care relationship and work practice was central to both residencies.

“It provided an ignition point for both of us and allowed us to develop a new framework for working and caring in a more integrated way which has become a necessity for us to move forward as creative practitioners

“It has given me more freedom – it has given me my life back in a big way – I realised that help was available and have taken advantage of the support I can have to restart my practice.

There were longer term benefits for all participants:

“The impact of applying and getting the residency sustained me for a whole year - to have the team excited for us to come

“I feel more balanced, less overwhelmed and have more clarity and commitment to my practice. My confidence has increased as a result of the residency

“I have moved to be independent as an artist – to be confident to work on my own and see the way to do it from my own home. It has been very much the ignition to restart the fire of my practice. I am delighted with the transformation – I will always be hugely grateful for the opportunity

“I have the strength restored to take on both roles [artist and carer] – and acknowledging when I need help and support and to go and get that which I would never have admitted before. That’s been a huge learning. An acknowledgement that I am important too –if you are broken you can’t care and to be whole I need to be working.

One participant has taken up a year long part time residency which they identify as a direct impact of Radical Care: I attribute my ability to do this work as a direct result of the Care givers residency.

What was the impact for SSW?

SSW has an ongoing resource as a result of Radical Care which communicates what it is like to visit SSW as a disabled artist including what adjustments can be made. The resources were made by previous caregivers residents and therefore are imbued with their experience. This is identified as an important resource because there is a perception that prospective residents do not know what adjustments are possible and what to ask for.

Another ongoing impact is the training SSW received (delivered by Laura Luilika) which provided SSW with greater knowledge about the intersection of artistic practice, care-giving and disability in terms of the hosting and supporting artists.

What made a positive difference to success?

The fact that the residency was explicitly named as a Caregivers residency was important to participants. It enabled them to see that it was specifically for them and gave an indication that their needs could be accommodated:

“Having access at the forefront of the residency was so appealing to me – at the time I was thinking – this is the only thing I can do that I have seen

“Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the fact that it was for carers and flexibility was built in

“I think when I applied for the Caregiver’s residency it was because I identified as a carer not as an artist. I wondered could I still be an artist, could I even remember how to make work?

Each participant had different requirements in terms of care and attending as/with a disabled person.

One participant identified that their care situation could change daily which made it more challenging to set and follow a schedule. They also highlighted a significant risk factor from joint activity in infection risk. The participant wondered if SSW ‘realised what they had taken on’. They highlighted how the residency was built around their specific requirements with flexibility built in and understanding when a schedule needed to be changed including with late notice.

The collaborative participants described how the conversation about requirements began early on and was ‘actively taken up by SSW as an exciting negotiation’. They identified how SSW took the time to consider their requests and ‘make them a reality’ despite some initial reservations.

In terms about the responsibility for designing the requirements the feedback was that:

“SSW didn’t put too much pressure on us to have a certain conversation or do admin...there was a willingness and desire to engage with our access needs but not push us to do things we did not have the capacity for

“All of the staff went out of their way to consider what my needs would be and never failed to meet them, spreading out my residency time, breaking it into manageable chunks of heavily supported time.

All participants talked positively about how their needs were met with the care and services described as being ‘red carpet’ and ‘luxurious’. The needs for the residencies were not the same and likewise the specific things that made a positive difference would not be the same. For one person this was a warm space, comfortable sofa and clearing the paths in snowy weather. For another participant it was quiet working space and having sole use of the accommodation. Being able to attend with a cat was also an aspect that made a positive difference. What is common is that needs were anticipated and met wherever possible.

For all participants it was important that their care relationship was integral to the residency. This was not only about provision of facilities and services but considering the impact on the residency itself. This included factoring time away from making whether it was about resting on site during the residency or using time away from SSW productively in order to continue to progress. All participants highlighted the difference that this made in making them feel that their practice was possible. In addition, the ability to access making space independently and work flexibly was also important.

“Having an organisation willing to work with all that – with our complex care relationship and partnership way we navigate our practices – it was a real boost of maybe this is possible – we can both sustain a practice and still do all the things we need to do and be ourselves.

Being paid for the residency and the provision of an additional access budget was also important and meant that money did not need to be reallocated from the fee or other budgets to meet care costs. The fact that the access budget could be spent to meet need rather than be agreed and accounted for was also important as it meant that informal care could be utilised.

Another factor that made a positive difference particularly for one participant was the level of knowledge SSW had of their previous work and practice. It was a supportive environment and SSW was perceived to have proactively reconnected the artist with their practice.

“As a socially engaged artist I was well used to working with groups of people when I first began the residency I couldn’t think of facing people and just wanted to make for myself. However, I finished the residency by facilitating a workshop sharing my work. Something I doubted I would ever do again

“That level of – making the effort to know about my practice – that gentle coaxing towards something that was going to be very beneficial to my practice [the workshop] I don’t think it was co-incidence for a minute. That was skilfully supported – I was impressed with that.

For one participant there was a benefit in having conversations with other artists in residence. This demonstrated that they were still relevant and had something to contribute which was lacking after a period of limited practice. This was achieved through sharing experiences and engaging with peers in a mutually beneficial way.

All participants mentioned the dynamic check ins that the SSW team conducted on a regular basis.

“The atmosphere was very relaxed, considerate and gently paced. Regular check ins with me to see if I had everything I needed whilst at the workshops ensured that gradually I felt I could be an artist again.

What learnings are there for SSW and others considering this model?

One participant had applied to the Hospitalfield Radical Care residency before SSW. This was the stepping stone for them to the SSW residency both in the process of devising the application and more importantly also the boost to confidence which enabled the application to SSW. This demonstrates the importance of having multiple opportunities for care-givers.

“The process of developing that application inspired me to plod on and try to revive my career.

The lack of other similar residencies was an issue for SSW in the selection process. There was no other residency for SSW to signpost unsuccessful applicants to which heightened the importance of the selection process. The impact of caregiving on the applicant’s practice was an important aspect of the selection process with SSW wanting to prioritise applicants who would not be able to access a more traditionally formatted residency or whose needs could not be met in other ways. The selection process had an ‘emotional toll’ as the selectors understood the positive impact that the residency could provide (and the negative impact for those they did not select). While the 2021 Caregivers Residents were involved in the selection process, the final selection was made by SSW owing to the emotional impact of the decision making.

SSW reported lots of questions being asked during the application process. There was a strong intersection between care-giving and disability with a higher level of disabled applicants than for a typical residency. The project therefore explored wider contexts of fees and disability benefits and access for disabled artists.

The collaborative nature of the residency design was informed by training undertaken by SSW as part of Radical Care. The Director reported:

“What I took from it was that caregivers/disabled artists just want to be included in the decision-making process – a lot of people with caring responsibilities or who are disabled are often just told what is going to happen – previously I would try and work out all the eventualities and then propose say 3 options, but these residencies were far more negotiated together. That is part of the learning that we are working through it together rather than the institution replicating a model – that we work it out together.

There were changes in staffing which impacted on delivery of the Radical Care project. The programme manager who had previously supported many aspects of the Caregivers residency left the organisation. Thereafter, the Director managed the residencies directly, the benefit of this was that they had both the holistic knowledge for the organisation and the ability to make decisions quickly. An example of this managing changes to the residency schedule.

“It meant that I could make the bigger calls directly – I could just say yes/or no – you can take the call on what can be moved and the impacts.

The disbenefit was that the Director has a very busy role particularly in this period with a reduced staff team. Despite the in-depth planning, some participants remained anxious in advance of their residency which speaks to the higher level of support and communication required:

“We knew it was physically possible and we would probably be fine, but we did have conversations about what if we have to leave and that would be okay – and we had an exit plan.

SSW was undergoing a period of capital development there were changes in the staff team. As such freelance staff were brought in to cover the residencies. There was some feedback from participants about the facilitation of practice for disabled artists and caregivers within the workshop with this having a negative impact on the residency. This relates to expectations about timings which is more complex in a caregiving context when you cannot anticipate whether you will be able to access the studio to a specified timescale. It also relates to mainstreaming accessible working practice. These concerns were not raised to SSW during the residency which relates to the vulnerability of the participants in this context.

“It would have been nice to not feel a wee bit rushed which had added stress when can’t be sure when you can be back in the studio

“There was an expectation of a particular rhythm for ceramics – this is when you have to turn it and you can’t afford to take a day off

“I thought this can’t be fixed in this moment – this is people coming from two different worlds; an able-bodied approach was in baked into the ceramics technical support, there was no experience of those working practices.

SSW recognises the challenges of staffing at the specific time; training in working with disabled artists and caregivers has since been undertaken and will take place with new staff members. There is a wider context of the culture of workshops here.

It was noted by SSW that the Caregivers residency had a greater impact on the organisation than a typical residency model. It was identified that a maximum of 2 Caregivers Residencies could be offered at any time (rather than the typical 6 residents) owing to the requirement for more accommodation, 1:1 technical support and private workspaces. The learning relates to both the capacity of the organisation as well as the impact on the residents.

“If you are working with artists with caregivers needs you can’t programme 100% we need to programme at 60% if you actually want to be able to support the people otherwise you will be painting yourself into a corner – institutions are so pressed for money, resources, time , staffing – we take on these things in a good willed way – if you are supporting a caregiver/disabled artist things will change and if you aren’t flexible and change you will be adding to their stresses.

The context of the residency led staff to put in extra work to ensure that the residency was a success for the artists knowing the importance of it for them. One of the residencies took place over a much longer period than a typical residency leading to a longer period of support and a different relationship to the typical one.

It was felt that the support required within the Caregivers Residency in general questioned normal role descriptions and working hours. This leads to considerations about ways of working with SSW identifying the benefits of this approach. SSW was quieter during this period because of the capital programme and this allowed the team ‘to give the residencies the time and energy they needed’.

Flexibility was at the core of the residencies. This creates a challenge in terms of operation. The nature of the care requirement for one of the residencies meant that it was subject to last minute changes to the schedule. This required SSW to think creatively about the residency and wider options to find solutions.

Given that the residency model at SSW is about process and exploration not outputs this meant the artist spending some of their residency time at home. The benefit to the resident was that it allowed them to set up a working environment at home which they would be able to sustain after the residency.

SSW had made changes following the Caregivers residency pilot which made a positive difference such as having a comfortable sofa in the studio as well as developing a new wellbeing area. SSW has recently put in an application to improve access to the Bothy and develop an accessible bedroom and kitchen. This would meet suggestions identified by participants.

SSW identifies that it is not a specialist in care-giving and stresses the importance of connecting with local services to provide expert input and support.

The sustainability of the model is linked to the fact that the Caregivers residency cannot be delivered in the same way as a typical residency. It requires more time from the organisation and therefore the number of residencies would be lower.

“You can’t do as an add on to everything else. We can’t do this model of 100% capacity and then add on. If were on back-to-back residency and project delivery the check-ins and conversations would not have happened in the same way. It is like programming 3 residencies in one. You can’t be expected to do this and everything else – that is caregiving.

The Radical Care residency has contributed to bigger questions being asked at SSW in terms of recognising the privilege associated with working with materials and the question of who gets to make. This calls into question what the model for a residency should be like and what the measures of success are:

“I would like to take forward the model – I want to adapt the whole model! How it will work financially is the question – we need to speak to funders about what the models of success are – is it about 100 people doing a workshop or a residency or having 10 people doing a residency who would never have access having a transformational moment? We have to change the measure.