An Lanntair gives a platform of support to island-based artists and musicians

  • Published on: 27th September 2021
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An Lanntair was delighted recently to host a public exhibition opening for the first time in eighteen months. But the real joy of the evening was the exhibition itself – Mìr air Mhìr – a collaborative show composed and created by 11 art school graduates from the Western Isles.

With their university and college Degree Shows cancelled due to the global pandemic, these young island creatives decided to put on their very own. And with supporting local artists a cornerstone of An Lanntair’s work, the arts centre offered not only a public space, but also a deserved sense of prestige for the artists proudly showing the results of four years hard work.

With its mission ‘to connect and inspire people in producing extraordinary, creative programmes’, An Lanntair has, throughout all aspects of its operation, offered support to island artists of all disciplines, as Sandra Kennedy, Artist Support Coordinator at An Lanntair, said: “An Lanntair’s Artists Support can play a vital part by introducing people, or arranging a mentoring project, or just through simple encouragement.”

Informally, An Lanntair’s Artist Residencies such as An Suileachan and Muir is Tir/Land & Sea offer artists a chance to explore our islands on land and sea, developing their practice through new experiences with other creatives.

An Lanntair’s award-winning Ballantyne Gaelic Psalm project saw Hollywood composer Craig Armstrong work with Lewis and Harris Gaelic Psalm singers to create something uniquely special; while projects like Between Islands and Hebridean Women connect artists, musicians and writers from across Scotland’s islands, allowing the opportunity to collaborate with peers. Lewis musician and Between Islands stalwart Willie Campbell commented: “Between Islands is all about collaboration, and I think the music project is an excellent example of how that can work.”

More formally, An Lanntair’s established Mentoring scheme has proved hugely beneficial, to both Mentees and Mentors. Sandra Kennedy explained: “I find a suitable Mentor and work out with them and the Mentee a plan for their project. Then the work can begin, it’s very exciting!

“It’s brilliant to see the artists are supporting each other in very concrete and life changing ways, leading to employment opportunities, exhibitions and new businesses.”

Mentor Pete Fletcher, of Black Bay Studio, who has worked with a number of island music-makers through An Lanntair’s scheme, said: “It’s been great fun and amazing to see the progress being made.

“Felix Saunders was beginning to write some solo tracks having previously been in bands and over the course of a few months we worked on his compositions, lyric writing, vocal style and production direction, culminating in the production of a four-track EP I Guess This Is Progress. It’s been really well received and has led to Felix working with a management company.”

Pete also Mentored “really unique Gaelic singer-songwriter” Euan Macleod, as well as Lewis musician Scott C. Park. “Scott self produces incredible music currently and so we started work on just extending the scope of the productions a little,” said Pete, adding: “Definitely an artist to watch out for!”

From the Mentee point of view, An Lanntair’s Mentoring scheme is certainly fulfilling a need, as upcoming Lewis photographer Danielle Macleod, who worked with Mentor Mhairi Law from Island Darkroom, explained: “I enjoyed being at art school, it was really great for getting in with a community of creative people, that was really nice. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do the Mentee-ship when I got home, since all my creative pals were scattered in different places after graduating.

“Art school was really good for me; I developed as a person and it equipped me with a tool-kit of skills and experience for photography – but I did not find my voice as an artist, or my visual language. I definitely had the expectation that it would and should happen for me there, but it was actually leaving, coming home, and doing this Mentee-ship that I actually found my direction.”

An Lanntair also provides a number of more relaxed Artist Support opportunities and pre-Covid ran regular Artist Gatherings and Monday Night Music sessions in support of emerging and well-established artists and musicians. Sandra Kennedy expanded: “The Artist Gatherings served as introductions to artist work and gave an overview of the work being done on the islands by artists of all artforms and stages of their career; as well as enabling friendship and mutual support.

“Our Monday Night Music Sessions were a way for emerging and established local musicians to get together for a short session in the Café. It was very informal and low-key, so perfect for first time performers. These were supported by our lead technician Mike Adkins and were adapted into our summer Forecourt Gigs, which were hugely welcomed after so long without live music.”

When the global pandemic hit, understanding the need to keep creatives connected, An Lanntair’s team created a dedicated artist blog HA! Hebridean Artists and introduced online Peer Reviews as a new avenue for artist support.

Sandra continued: “The HA! Hebridean Artist blog was started at the beginning of lockdown to serve as a means of communication opportunities, sharing projects and ideas through artists blogs and videos, and it has been a good way for us to stay in touch with each other. We hope to keep the blog going and highlight the work done through Mentoring projects.

“We’ve done around a dozen Peer Reviews so far. Anyone can request a review and I gather a small group to meet and respond thoughtfully to a piece of art, so the artist receives in-depth feedback.

“All the artists so far have really enjoyed the process and have learned a lot and felt encouragement and new enthusiasm for their work. It’s beneficial for the artists responding as well as for the artist presenting work, and it’s also been fun and kept artists connected during lockdown. Many have kept the dialogue going by meeting up and offering support going forward.”

And for those just starting out and perhaps hoping to follow in the Mìr air Mhìr graduates’ footsteps, An Lanntair can help as Sandra added: “Young people who are looking to a career in the arts or design can also seek support, even if they are still a student or are in school.

“We can assist with portfolio preparation and applications. And as we have a large network of Mentors across Scotland and in other parts of the world, we have a lot of experience and expertise we can draw on for advice.”

To find out more about An Lanntair’s Artist Support opportunities, visit the Artist Support section of our website, or contact Sandra Kennedy on: