Agenda: Time to remove the bias against rural artists


Featured in the Herald on 16th August 2023

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Jack Ky Tan
Jack Ky Tan

This is an article which was published in the Herald on 16th August 2023. The text below is taken from the online article which can be found here.

Rural Scotland should not be a place where contemporary artists disappear - it should be somewhere to build vibrant national and international practices.

I fell in love with Scotland’s countryside after a residency in Ullapool and eventually seized the chance to swap the London megapolis for deepest West Galloway.

I soon discovered that despite being a huge region with a small population of just 150,000, Dumfries and Galloway is rich with artistic potential.

But many of its artists - especially those whose work explores ideas and issues not primarily commercial - face a disproportionate struggle compared to those living in cities to find opportunities or outlets.

One example: the metrics used to award funding levels often include audience numbers or reach. It’s as if you are not a proper artist unless you can achieve certain arbitrary thresholds.

Yet city artwork with a huge numerical audience may, actually, only engage a tiny percentage of the population. By contrast, a rural one with an audience of thousands may be deeply engaging a large proportion of the community

Change is needed. Scotland recognises that the arts are immensely important to culture, wellbeing and the provision of fulfilling careers.

They are understood to be vital to a healthy society, promoting social and political discourse, ensuring we are constantly challenged, questioning and curious. But in rural Scotland they lack sufficient support to thrive on a par with the urban.

Backed by Upland CIC art development organisation, I’ve been working with six other artists on ROAM West, a project exploring the barriers to contemporary art practice in Galloway.

Underfunding, of course, is highly significant.

But it’s just part of the wider need for contemporary rural art to be taken truly seriously. Taken seriously by local authorities, government and funders.

That demands commitment and vision. Authorities and artists need to unite to generate a joined-up plan and create the infrastructure needed for rural artists to bloom in their own areas and get their work seen nationally and internationally.

As a benchmark, there should be no greater barrier to a rural artist winning major prizes and featuring in prestigious exhibitions than for one who’s urban.

That means equity in terms of paid opportunities, but it also means there need to be rural educators, producers, curators, technicians and places to show work.

There is reason for optimism. ROAM West is Creative Scotland-funded, showing positive intent.

Also, our group is collaborating with the Kilsture Forest Community Group to stage the Kilsture Roaming Exhibition on August 19-20 to demonstrate the value and potential of contemporary art in rural areas.

The rural location, in Wigtownshire, is key. It is specifically about responses to and relationships with wild spaces and the environment.

Context can be a profound aspect of, and influence on, art and artists. This should be nurtured.

If that happens other benefits follow. The arts should be embraced for their own value, but there is also the attraction that they are a powerful force for social cohesion and economic regeneration.


Jack Ky Tan is an artist/curator