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The Luxury of Austerity Friday 16 March 2012, The Gallery, Education Pavilion, Burns Cottage, Alloway

Presentations: Malcolm Fraser, Malcolm Fraser Architects + Peter McCaughey, WAVE Chair: Chris Fremantle, Ayr Gaiety Partnership / Public Art Scotland


The Luxury of Austerity

message from Winifred Sloan, Provost:

“I am sorry I cannot be with you as I thoroughly enjoyed the first evening.”

Up to the great crash of 2008 the default model of “regeneration” was to bulldoze all and build new and shiny. Old buildings were problems and could be happily sent to landfill – “it was going to cost thousands to mend the roof (so we spent millions on a new building)”.

That world has gone – for good, and I really do mean good! When we come to our senses we will see the long-term value in buildings that are built to last, and in the tight-knit, integrative old towns, cities and villages that contain them.

running order from 6pm start:

welcome by Nat Edwards, Director, Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

What has somewhere like Ayr to offer; and how can the existing buildings and culture of the place fuel a more lasting, rooted form of regeneration?

introduction to Malcolm Fraser by Chris Fremantle, Ayr Gaiety Partnership / Public Art in Scotland

presentation by Malcolm Fraser on the work of his practice, Malcolm Fraser Architects on the theme of “The Luxury of Austerity”.

To a visitor Ayr has a lot going for it: beautiful old streets and buildings, Burns, golf and the racecourse, the businesses around Prestwick and – clearly – a fair bit of money around. It sometimes feels, though, that its cultural offer doesn’t meet this potential – a missing contemporary arts offer, a trendy hotel in town – the Berkeley Hotel excepted.

Malcolm referenced the work of Ayr Renaissance and illustrated how the town could benefit from a new river boardwalk to connect the university+ college and town, harbour + beach. He spoke also about the issues around saving Seafield House from demolition and returned to the detail of plans for the former Bobby Jones Ballroom in Burns Statue Square and the garage in Dalblair Road.

Is there a useful analysis of this potential, which can be allied to an audit of the potential of the town’s vacant (or soon-to-be) historic buildings? Arts and dance potential, film societies, tea dances, youth theatre etc…

In my first talk, I showed a wide sweep of the work of his practice but will now look in more detail at useful case studies which might relate to Ayr: surprising new uses for old buildings and historic structures, how to turn a dowdy old School into a cutting-edge one and how to uncover the glamour of heritage – all with suggestions for Ayr solutions.

The following are his background notes:


The Luxury of Austerity

presentation by Peter McCaughey on public participation and engagement in communities from Raploch to Johnstone. He spoke of how artists can challenge and ultimately engage people to contribute to the place where they live through the medium of film, installation and collaborative artist/community actions. Peter’s approach to community engagement is positively opposite to post-it/tick-box consultations, the invariable end result of which he calls “Brown Sludge”. His advocacy to the room was for people in Ayr to spend time talking to each other to explore ways of creating lasting solutions to the challenges that the town faces.

conversation between those present over a glass of wine from Whighams of Ayr/soft drinks and canapés by Su Casa, Ayr.

wrap up with Malcolm Fraser (MF), Peter McCaughey (PMcC), Nat Edwards (NE) + Chris Fremantle (CF) in the chair. Ron Warbrick (RW) of the Frame Shop & Ayr Independent Shops & Businesses kicked off with a question for PMcC on how to engage young people. PMcC spoke of cultural hijack & honey traps. That surprise element was key. He said that he goes to where people are; he sees his work as akin to being an anthropologist of the now. He agreed that the 18-25 age group is hard to crack. Language is important as is being daring in the approaches that you employ.

Judith Bowers (JB) of Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow agreed, saying that it was important to give people something in which they could invest.

For 10 years, CF said he had been dying to speak out about groups that have fixed ideas of how to do things. He said that they should instead programme their activities in one way for one group of people and in another way for another group. He cited as a good example the Ayrshire Decorative and Fine Arts Group which understands the need for different offerings for different age ranges.

Chris Taylor (CT) of Hipshot Theatre agreed. He said he had started up Hipshot because he thought the Gaiety offering was for an older audience, although he qualified that by saying he thought older people can be young inside.

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NE talked about consultation and said that conversation is not always the answer; power and control are important elements. People with the power and control are often reluctant to give it up. He said that opening up power is a way of engaging young people. One frustration in Ayr is the sense of the same people doing the same things. He said that Hipshot’s success is that Chris does his own thing

David Stovell (DS), teacher & Fort Residents Association spoke of Ayr’s rich history. He said that the Covenanter story, for example, needed to be told. He thought that how RBBM could draw that more into its work. He liked Malcolm’s idea of the riverside boardwalk as it would open up access to Ayr Auld Kirk and its significant graveyard.

DS suggested an event that would pull people together. PMcC said that bringing together people needed a gentle approach – a lightness of touch. People do not necessarily want to be one big happy family. There can be cliques that people defend, even quite aggressively. He cited band culture in Glasgow as an example, but said that common ground can be found by bringing people into contact with one another.

MF suggested talking to estate agents/commercial property specialists, saying that they can be perceived as ‘the enemy’, but that perception needs to change. In going into communities, MF said that he sets out to talk to the widest number of people and that estate agents are an important part of that. He talked of hustling on behalf of a building/community and said that estate agents can be key to bringing together clubs/societies that need a space and buildings that can accommodate them. The luxury of austerity is relevant to that argument, he said: no longer is estate agency/commercial property about selling luxury flats/properties in volume; it is about reaching out to find new uses for properties.


The Luxury of Austerity

PMcC spoke of the conversation he had had earlier with Bobby Borland (BB), Supervisory Engineer (Lighting) for South Ayrshire Council about the difficulties in using anything other than standard fitments in lighting schemes. PMcC suggested putting together lighting engineers and lighting artists with BB acting as gatekeeper to see what might happen. If the local authority as gatekeeper is persuaded, new ways of working can result. MF agreed.

PMcC referred to youth theatre about which CT had spoken earlier. He said that theatre groups could make convincing arguments to estate agents to let them use empty properties. CT said that when he last spoke to MF in October, he had no premises but that, as a result of speaking with lots of people, Johnny Popplewell offered him use of the upper floor of his costume business. CT said that the combined effort of people in the room could make things happen.

Dr John Bowbeer (JB), GP, referred to the satellite photograph of Ayr that MF had used in his presentation that showed the river dividing the town, which it does. He said that he liked MF’s idea of stitching the town back together by walking (the riverside boardwalk) and cycling routes. He said that he felt that once momentum was underway there would be no stopping it.

CF spoke of people’s excitement in hearing Burns’ poetry for the first time “To a Mouse”, for example, which talks of interrelationships. He had seen the impact of that poem on eco artists. He said that the issue in telling the stories of Ayr’s early history is how they relate to the here and now. The 1315 meeting of the Scottish parliament was a radical act; what are the radical acts now? In the debate on independence, for example, the important issue is not the mechanism for voting but how Scotland as a nation looks after its people.

CF agreed with JB that the river is a divider, but said that Ayr is here because of the river. From living beside it, we have turned our backs on it. That needs to change. He cited the Auld Brig, which is not just a means of crossing the river but a physical attribute of the town.

PMcC asked who in the room knew the Scottish artist John Latham – few agreed that they had [CF has written on Latham]. PMcC recommended Latham’s work, which raises important questions about the here & now.

Leah Black (LB) Manager of the Spring Fling, the art and craft open studios event in Dumfries & Galloway, spoke of this year’s event from 2-5 June and said that she was keen to build links in Ayr & Ayrshire.

CT referred to DS’s suggestion of an event to pull people together. He said that there are groups in the town that can do this. He said that he would be happy to spearhead such an event.

CF said that the evening had been stimulating & suggested that an event be built collectively. PMcC agreed, saying that he loves action more than anything.

NE said of Ayr: we own the stories. He cited Ayr’s important history including the 1315 meeting of the Scottish Parliament, the Covenanter history & Wallace and the Barns of Ayr, saying that it is in stories that we engage with each other. He said that he sensed an emerging agreement in the room to tell those commonly held stories.

Michael Hitchon (MH) spoke about the work of the Kyle & Carrick Civic Society and said that the Society could contribute funding to such an event.


The Luxury of Austerity

CF thanked Malcolm Fraser & Peter McCaughey for their presentations. He gave thanks to Nat Edwards for hosting the evening. He thanked Jeff Whittle of Minuteman Press Ayr for providing the print and Lucas Barraud of Su Casa & Whighams of Ayr for providing at cost the refreshments. He thanked Lianne Hackett for her help in organising the evening. Lianne would produce and circulate a note of the wrap up, further contributions to the “Ayr is/Ayr could be” response slips and the guest list for the evening.

presentation/conversation closed at 8.30pm

Collection report: •

Money raised:

• • • • •

Expenditure: Canapés Wine Soft Drinks £3.00 Room Hire £50.00

Total Expenditure

£127.55

Shortfall

£42.55 (absorbed by CF & LH)

£85.00

£30.00 £44.55

notes: lianne hackett, 20 March 2012


The Luxury of Austerity