The Great Tapestry of ScotlandYou say it is because of participation that the project has attracted so much interest – do you believe the participatory arts are the way forward for creative projects trying to engage larger audiences?

I prefer to call it Community Art. What I believe is that if Community Arts ethos is used and understood can attract a large audience. By its nature it involves people and their friends, families, communities. The participation of one person therefore can bring their community to come and see and hopefully get involved too. As I was brought up in Craigmillar and experienced The Craigmillar Festival Society, they would say your aim is always to “tap the well of human creativity”.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland shows that community arts can create a huge wave of creativity and skill that can attract thousands and make a huge impact

The Great Tapestry of Scotland shows that community arts can create a huge wave of creativity and skill that can attract thousands and make a huge impact. The response to its first three weeks in the Scottish Parliament has been overwhelming. If fact that is one word that many describe this tapestry. I have heard of people crying, the thought that so many have created this one artwork and every one of its millions of stitches has been done by hand. Large scale Community Arts Projects – and tapping and celebrating this creativity – have great potential.

Tapestry - Andrew Crummy sketching

The project has been ignited – and enlisted the support of – many high profile and talented people including Alexander McCall Smith and James Naughtie. What was the shared vision between the group?

It was Alexander McCall Smiths idea after seeing the Prestonpans Tapestry at the Edinburgh Dovecot. The project could not have happened without the trustees and the tapestry team. It is by its nature a shared experience. The shared vision was to create a tapestry that told the history of Scotland. Everyone was always very focused on this simple target. The next aim was to create an artwork that told the story clearly and had lots of great creative stitching.

Scottish Landscapes

How and where did you start the tapestry? How did you keep the momentum of the project going?

The process started well before spring 2012. The construction of a narrative, written by Alistair Moffat, then creating a visual narrative took about a year.

The momentum of the project, as with most Community Arts projects, was organic. It just kept attracting people to get involved. But what got the stitchers involved was the art of embroidery and their excitement, ideas, creativity and love of this most ancient of crafts. It was the team of stitchers around Dorie Wilkie and Gillian Hart that really gave the project momentum.

Great Tapestry of ScotlandTo create such an amazing piece of work must have required the help and creativity of many participants – how did the project engage people and where did you source the stitchers?

The stitchers came by word of mouth, the Prestonpans Tapestry and the interest that had gained. But also press coverage and the public support of Alexander McCall Smith and Jim Naughtie. And events like the Festival of Politics and Borders Book Festival.

An amazing 30,000+ visitors visited Scottish parliament to view the tapestry – a fantastic success. As an artist and designer what do you believe are the other achievements behind this project?

It is part of the joy of a Community Arts projects to see what will out the other end

Friendships were made, so were lots of cups of tea and cake. There was also a shared interest in being part of a huge project. It was a celebration of their skills and being recognised. As will all good Community Art projects the artwork is a catalyst. It will spark of lots of things from friendships to new possibilities, collaborations, new artworks, etc. It is part of the joy of a Community Arts projects to see what will out the other end. As I work in Prestonpans, the baron of Prestoungrange says: “Let a thousand flowers bloom”. On a more pragmatic level, it is too early to see what the outcomes will be.

Borders Book Festival 2012

The tapestry is not only an incredible piece of art but it is also to become a teaching tool – could you expand on this?

It is hoped it will be used in schools. The Tapestry is a fine backdrop for sorts of storytelling, re-enactments, concerts, drama, readings, etc. So again there’s lots of potential. One of the most common statements after seeing the tapestry is how much they have learned about Scottish History.

The tapestry depicts Scotland’s history. Why do you personally believe it is so important to capture and retell this story, especially through such creative means?

It’s important because there are many great stories. There is a huge interest in history and our roots.

Great Tapestry of ScotlandMany believe Community Art projects are small scale happenings; however this project beautifully demonstrates the power and potential of artistic activities in the community. Do you feel Community Art might now be perceived differently by the participants/visitors/media that have become a part of this project? Do you feel this project might be inspiration for other community arts projects to embark on bigger feats?

Of course Community Arts is all about personal discoveries of talent – of quiet moments of change. Of growth and change within communities. That is its essence. But Community Arts on a much grander scale can produce a buzz, an excitement. If ever I learned anything from my childhood in Craigmillar, or from Prestonpans, or from Alexander McCall Smith it is think big, be ambitious, take on mad ideas. When I was first asked to do this project I would lie in my bed and think “What have I done!”, “Who in their right mind would say yes to this mad idea?” But then I thought “You know this ain’t so mad”. Why not? I knew this was quite achievable. I have seen projects that have involved thousands of people, I was brought up in Craigmillar, they were doing this in the sixties. I have seen it happen in Prestonpans. I have met great Community artists and projects like Judy Bacca, Neil Cameron, Mural Towns of the world, Bromley by Bow Healthy Living Centre, Welfare state, Reg Bolton, the list goes on and on. Community Arts has a fantastic history and tradition and I am only a torchbearer, before I hand it on.

Community Arts has a fantastic history and tradition and I am only a torchbearer, before I hand it on

Finally, what is your favourite part of the tapestry?

Only to be part of it and to meet so many wonderful people.

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