An outdoor art project that helped Dundee kids escape lockdown boredom to decorate their neighbourhood is the subject of a documentary film set for its online premiere later this month.
During April and May this year, the Menzieshill Outdoor Art Project laid on a variety of activities that took place across the city’s western district.
Tutors were brought in to provide a photography workshop, street-art class and craft lessons, all culminating in an outdoor exhibition.
Photographs on show at Slessor Gardens
The scheme is already the subject of a photography display unveiled last month across building-site hoardings that face the east side of Dundee’s waterfront Slessor Gardens.
This shows children exploring their surrounding streets with digital cameras, others experimenting with stencils and spray cans, while mixed generations try weaving and stitching.
Taken by Glasgow-based photographer Eoin Carey, this alfresco show whets our appetite for a short film by Dundee’s Nathan Brake, whose previous work on his home city has focused on the challenges facing children in care and, in the award-winning Hidden, the lives of Dundee’s sex workers.
His latest commission promises to make for easier viewing, not least because it reminds us of spring sunshine – plus there are shots of bashful participants talking about how keen they were to get out and learn new skills.
Yet this film does contain serious messages: notably the point made by one onlooker that communities such as Menzieshill can feel ignored, alongside the importance of creativity in inspiring confidence in young people and broadening their horizons.
The art project was part of the Creative Expressions initiative devised by Edinburgh-based Bethany Christian Trust (BCT), a nationwide charity that works to prevent homelessness through building stronger communities.
In Menzieshill, BCT was already involved in a drop-in cafe and food bank, with the inclusion of art-based activities a recent development.
Elsewhere, the organisation has helped set up community choirs and also ran The Bugle creative writing magazine in Edinburgh.
For BCT’s Creative Expressions Coordinator Sam Rowe, the aim was to give participants renewed self-confidence.
“Creativity has long been part of Bethany’s purpose, but we really wanted to show people what they could achieve by expressing themselves and acquiring new skills.”
As Rowe believed this should be a grassroots effort, he first asked members of the community, including its young people’s group Connect Youth Menzieshill, what opportunities they were interested in and discovered an appetite to get outdoors.
New ways of seeing
“They talked about Menzieshill having a lot of green space, which they felt was undervalued or underused. People felt they should be taking a greater sense of ownership.”
Rowe put out a call for local artists to get involved, selecting street artist C. Gul – known for his round cartoon seagulls found across Dundee – textile artist Rhona Jack and photographer Ciara Menzies.
Local resident Rachel Mallinson, Connect Youth Coordinator at Menzieshill Parish Church, relished the opportunity to take part in the photography workshop with her son David.
“I thought it was a great idea, with us coming out of the second lockdown it was something to look forward to. Some young people have been desperate for face to face activities instead of online interaction.
“The exhibition was really fun; it’s nice to see your pictures put on display and everyone at the workshop took pictures of a whole variety of things in the community.”
Collaborating with younger people enabled Rachel to see her neighbourhood anew, thanks especially to one 11-year-old lad.
“He thought the community was crap, because of all the rubbish lying around and it wasn’t good for the environment.
“I live in Menzieshill and you don’t realise how used you are to seeing rubbish on the streets that you start to not notice it anymore. I guess from the experience I have seen Menzieshill through fresh eyes again – the bad and the good.”
“It was nice seeing everyone’s work”
Fifteen-year-old David adds: “It made me take pictures of things I wouldn’t normally take photos of, it was a challenge. And it was nice seeing everyone’s work up around Menzieshill.”
BCT aims to continue offering creative opportunities and Rowe hopes the film will inspire others to get involved in similar projects in their own areas.
“I hope viewers see the value of these projects and take the opportunity to support them, whether financially, with a little bit of time or through their skills.”
You can join the premiere of the project on YouTube on August 26 via this link: