Microcluster Networks // Eco Creative Clusters
Place Makers is part of Microcluster Networks, a research project created and delivered in collaboration with Dr Michael Pierre Johnson from The Innovation School at Glasgow School of Art to investigate the impacts of creative collaborations in Argyll and the Isles.
The Place Makers aspect of this wider research into network development was funded by a grant to CHARTS from Creative Scotland's Create: Networks fund. This enabled CHARTS to open applications for three creative collaborations that focused on place making in Argyll and the Isles from January to July 2021. Each selected group looked specifically at working with local arts, heritage or industry and how they would engage with communities and regional organisations in ways that enabled places to thrive. Over the course of the Place Makers project, CHARTS supported each group by continuing to develop membership networks through access to expertise, videography and co-evaluation sessions that aimed to cultivate a microcluster culture. Microclusters in this context are a group of businesses, organisations or people in a specific local region who can organise and collaborate around their shared social, cultural or economic interests. This encourages resource and knowledge sharing that led to benefits for those involved and their local economies by creating sustainable and resilient social, creative and business networks.
Eco Creative Clusters | Building community around creating a civic dye garden
Eco Creative Cluster worked with pre-existing local networks, by creating a community dye garden on the grounds of The Rockfield Centre, thus helping to bring traditional dye methods back into Oban’s public consciousness. Eco Creative Cluster focused on creating a sense of place through building a network of volunteers and practitioners, and worked in collaboration with both groups to plan and grow a dye garden. Along with building this microcluster network, Eco Creative Cluster also created a programme of activities to share their knowledge of natural dyes and techniques with the wider community. This led to the expansion of their network as they were able to connect with other dyers in the local region, and internationally, helping to build a web of knowledge by sharing processes and projects on how to grow and cultivate local plants in order to sustain a practice and make relevant heritage skills.
We used Michael’s Creative Growth Model to capture their development.
Eco Creative Cluster developed learning resources in horticulture, natural dyeing, eco printing, natural pigments and researched the local history of plants and their uses. This documentation is actively helping to keep alive traditional methods of working with plants in Oban. Eco Creative Cluster also addressed issues around land use, generational engagement with the land and how to rediscover and connect with natural dye skills that are neglected. From this grew a knowledge network that helped to share eco dying with new people situated in the region through workshops and online webinars. Eco Creative Cluster also placed into context how natural dyes work within our current time and how they are relevant to the idea of place. By investigating how to be environmentally friendly, Eco Creative Cluster connected with experts like Lucille Junkere to ensure this practice of natural dying could continue to survive and thrive in Oban.
Eco Creative Cluster’s network growth extended across Oban establishing heritage connections with practitioners who knew of local plants and their history. A core team of textile artists, Rockfield’s arts officer and six key volunteers began planning the dye garden online due to Covid-19. Although working online had its setbacks, it also allowed for local and international knowledge exchange, resulting in a series of artist collaborations and conversations set across Japan, Brazil and Mali. Once Covid-19 restrictions were eased, physical work could begin on the dye garden. Through the conversations with locals and international connections created the dye garden built up a reputation, as Eco Creative Cluster had built up a strong sense of place and trust in their local area leading to residents of Oban engaging with the garden and the dye archive.
By setting up an active community dye garden, Eco Creative Culture has been able to add value to the local area by establishing a new green space for the community that is a visual amenity, along with a wellbeing space. During the project, Eco Creative Cluster wanted to make their work inclusive and created a space that helped to create a sense of community for their volunteers. This wellbeing and social space created by the garden was particularly important after the isolation of Covid-19. Eco Creative Cluster also hosted workshops on natural dyeing and demonstrations again helping to deepen community relations and their sense of place.
Eco Creative Cluster helped provide opportunities to local residents to feel a sense of belonging and gain knowledge on something that is unusual and not often accessible to the public. By working with The Rockfield Centre, the local community was able to connect and work with organisations on a national and international level. This also allowed for extra activities to take place within the Rockfield Centre, which helped to bring attention to how the town could support and sustain local organisations, businesses and creative networks.
Place-Making with Eco Creative Clusters
How do we keep traditional heritage skills alive and bring them into the 21st Century?
The Eco Creative Cluster were able to include and engage locals with The Rockfield Centre through the creation of a new community dye garden. This allowed The Rockfield Centre another way to engage the people of Oban and build lasting relationships with the community. Through the creation of the garden, those involved, such as local textile artists or heritage organisations, were able to collaborate with international groups working in a similar field expanding their knowledge networks. By working internationally to develop their microcluster, Eco Creative Cluster learnt how to collaborate with residents and local enterprises to keep traditional heritage skills present in the local community. By collaborating with international makers like Groupe Bogolan Kasobané (Bogolan Kasobané Group), who work to preserve the traditional textile-making of Bogolan, Eco Creative Cluster were able to see how other social models functioned. From building these international connections, Eco Creative Cluster were better able to preserve and highlight heritage skills unique to Argyll and the Isles.
More about Eco Creative Clusters can be discovered in Michaels report and viewed at our Place Makers: Microcluster Networks - Webinar Showcase.
Eco Creative Cluster:
Deborah Gray, Textile Artist; Natural Dyer/Eco printer with Horticultural expertise
Naoko Moban, Curator
Anna Twigg, College tutor in Art Therapy and Community Artist
Fee Shaw, Arts Officer at The Rockfield Centre
Elisabeth Von Hagel Stevenson, Heritage Officer at The Rockfield Centre
Eleanor MacKinnon, Director at The Rockfield Centre