An ambitious project from the team at Jupiter Artland is bringing contemporary art into empty shops in high streets across Scotland. Here, the sculpture park's founder and director Nicky Wilson discusses the project Jupiter+, and explains how it is meaningfully engaging young people in the arts.
'Creative Futures Start Here' is a huge statement for an art project – especially one that pops up on a high street – but these are the words you will see for the next few months filling a shopfront in Ayr, at the heart of the town in the southwest of Scotland.
At first glance the phrase may appear trite – over-promising, too complex. But the project these words are referring to has provenance. It is the first iteration of our project Jupiter+, for which we have embedded all the learning outcomes from our pilot in Perth last year, and combined them with our long background of school engagement. The framework of Jupiter+ is grounded in a significant history of education in the arts.
When we first began the process of commissioning the artist Rachel Maclean to create a new piece of work for Jupiter Artland, our sculpture park outside Edinburgh, we envisaged that the work would eventually also be installed on a Scottish high street.
Upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop, Maclean's permanent commission at Jupiter, has all the magic of a Hansel and Gretel cottage – albeit in the form of a shop – to be discovered in the woods. There are even pink hearts to follow through the trees, rather like crumbs of bread.
The work is powerful and uncompromising, shocking even, but its message is clear. Taking this work to the high street was the obvious next step – enabling young people around Scotland to get the chance to experience it.
The result – Don't buy Mi, Maclean's immersive installation in Ayr – takes the form of a surreal toy shop where nothing is for sale.
Our mission for Jupiter+ is that it will have a profound effect on young people and students who live in or around Ayr and the other towns that will take part in the programme. This, in turn, will create an impact on their families and communities, and, even further down the line, on Scotland's creative future.
Jupiter+ is an off-site programme for Jupiter Artland, where our commissioning process has been a central aspect of our success so far. Artists stay in our home (which is next to the sculpture park), discuss their practice, meet our children and leave covered in our dogs' hair. This is essential so that artists are enabled to push the boundaries of their practice, and feel well-supported while being properly funded.
Our exceptional collection is world-class, and includes work by artists including Tracey Emin, Phyllida Barlow, Cornelia Parker, Antony Gormley and Anya Gallaccio. Every year it opens its doors to many thousands of visitors. What I am most proud of is that this includes thousands of school children and students who visit free of charge, take part in workshops and tours, get to spend time in nature, and have rare close physical access to an artwork.
A problem that I have struggled with over the 15 years I have been director of Jupiter Artland is the fact that a visit to a sculpture park, however magical, will still feel like visiting a gallery, albeit one without walls. Granted, we spend much time challenging that (usually successfully), but the chance for an unfettered moment of discovery is limited if you have to travel there on a school bus, and can visit only around a fixed timetable.
Instead, I have long wanted us to situate ourselves right on the high street, to create a space that is accessible to every single person, to tear down the notion of art being pompous, exclusive or hard to understand, and to provide access to art to every young person in Scotland – on their own doorsteps and in an environment where they feel empowered.
The high streets of Scottish towns have taken a hit over the pandemic, many small businesses have left and the nature of the businesses on the high street has changed. There are many landlords who are happy to keep properties empty for a variety of reasons – another blow to the beating heart of the high street.
Below, behind Malcolm Robertson's 1995 sculpture Reminiscence, you can see the shop venue in Ayr before the Jupiter+ project, when the location was photographed for the Art UK sculpture project.
Jupiter+ is a rolling programme of commissions that begin at Jupiter Artland and end in the transformation of a derelict site on the high street. The locations have been chosen by a youth council made up of young people from all over Scotland, who nominated their towns to host the commissions. The involvement of the youth council in the choice of location has resulted in some interesting venues, and the agenda is now set for us to visit some of Scotland's more struggling high streets.
The programme introduces young people to contemporary art practice and activism through workshops and skills packages that relate to the accompanying artwork. In Rachel Maclean's case, this includes green-screen skills and digital workshops, but the scope of the project is infinite. The project is set to cross Scotland, but this will happen only with close work and support from each education authority. Supporting schools and teachers with a world-class work on their doorsteps and a learning space devoted to inspiring the next generation is vital.
The education programme for Jupiter+ works on two levels. There is a macro level, through which schools will visit and take part in projects that support and develop their attainment goals, as well as inspire young people to think about a career in creative industries. Discussions focus on broaching the subject of pursuing a creative career with your teacher or family, developing a strong voice to articulate your ambitions, and creating a pathway to follow opportunities.
A second tier of the project focuses on a group of young people who have been nominated and supported by their teacher, family or carer. They will each receive two years of mentorship and will take part in an intense programme of workshops to develop personal and creative skills. This group is called Orbit. Previous cohorts have shown that these groups create strong peer bonds, relish the support from Jupiter, and go on to be active in their creative studies.
This is important to me because broad, richly balanced education creates a climate of possibilities – for development and achievement, and for restless creativity. Eventually, these young voices will be the ones that are heard, and we should ignore nurturing them at our peril. I see Jupiter+ as the first step in redressing the imbalance. Come along and see. Your creative future starts here.
Nicky Wilson is the founder and director of Jupiter Artland
Jupiter+ continues in Ayr until December 24, 2023. It was made possible through a creative partnership between Jupiter Artland, South Ayrshire Council, Ayr Gaiety Theatre, University of West of Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University, SCAN and Engage with the support from The National Lottery through Creative Scotland and the Barcapel Foundation, and Jupiter Artland's network of schools and colleges across the region.