Aberdeen City of Culture 2013!

Originally I wrote this piece after reading some of the feedback the Aberdeen 2017 bid had received, some of it valid, some of it bullshit but either way Aberdeen was out of the race. I tried to point out some of the problems with the bid and how it was handled but I don't really think that matters. People were paid to do something, they did the best they could and it didn't work.

However as part of my post I started to list some of the organisations and people who to me, make Aberdeen a city of culture. The title would have been nice, setting foundations for other artists to emerge would have been nice but in reality we don't need it. The scheme is aimed at helping to promote a city and I'm sure the people who have been working hard for many years to organise cultural events have felt quite overlooked by the bid and the city as a whole so why worry about it now. Keep on doing what your doing and don't worry about the false hype and council politics.

Sometimes its hard to write about these things and not go ranty! But that's it, instead I'd rather look at some of the positives about Aberdeen and some of the people who make Aberdeen A City Of Culture every year, not just when some corporate agency decrees it. So what's under this big lump of Granite that's kept me writing, sharing and promoting culture in Aberdeen for the last 5 years?

Grays School of Art

First up Grays School of Art (above). A whole building full of budding artists working in a massive range of disciplines. Painting, sculpture, photography, film making, 3D design, graphic design, jewellery making, fashion and tag on the Architecture School and you have a massive pool of creativity. The only problem is the art school provides them with a pretty cosy bubble which they don't wanna pop and who can blame them. On a weekly basis I was being invited to pop up events hosted in Grays by the students not to mention the tutor led Offset57 pop up shop and gallery in the Academy Shopping Centre. 

OFFEST 57 Felt Mistress Workshop

They managed to organise guest lectures and work shops by the Uk's biggest designers and makers yet the media seemed to just wave it past? The art school is bringing in fresh talent from across the country and its right on your doorstep, for the sake of £2 and a 30 minute bus trip you can be exposed to all the culture and creativity you could need!

Gallery wise you have quite a bit of choice depending on your own tastes and interests.

John Walters & Me at Smart Gallery

Smart Gallery have been bringing fresh work to Aberdeen from across the country not to mention the platform they provide for Aberdeen based artists and new graduates from Grays. Sally and Claire have put a lot of effort into their space and have curated some amazing shows including the annual Tea Cosy Craft Fairs, to my knowledge the first of its kind in Aberdeen or a least on a big scale, numerous shows at the now defunct Foyer space and they organise the Fabric of the Land exhibition. These events have become a regular highlight of my year and are incredibly well attended. What's their winning formula other than the fact they work hard to pr and promote their events? 

Thomas Hicks work at Peacock Visual

Peacock Visual Arts, a mainstay of the Aberdeen art scene. Despite a pretty bitter battle over UTG and the squashing of their Art Centre plan PVA out did themselves with a year of amazing shows from international and local artists. Their next big show focuses on the collaborative prints produced at PVA by master printer Michael Waight who's worked with some incredible artists including Toby Paterson and Ralph Steadman, you know, the guy who did all Hunter S. Thompson's artwork? I'm always amazed by that fact. 

Baby by Ron Mueck which went on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery

Aberdeen Art Gallery houses a pretty fine selection of important artworks from Monet to Francis Bacon and has played host to some breath taking shows including a rare chance to see the Photographs of Diane Arbus and the creepily amazing sculptures of Ron Mueck. Once a year Aberdeen Artists Society take over some rooms and show a selection of works they find representative of the local art scene, this years show was rather good but I didn't manage to get a second visit, a month just disappears! Also when you bring the Maritime Museum into the fold you have a nice link to Aberdeen's strong industrial heritage both in fishing and oil. The Maritime plays host to regular exhibitions, one of the best being the photographs of Captain's Scott's Arctic Expeditions, a stunning exhibition of large scale reproductions of Ernest Shackleton's famous snaps. Internationally famous works and artists on your doorstep for FREE!

Oor Monsters at Junction Arts
he Nicole Porter Gallery offers up traditional paintings of an incredible standard along with classes for all abilities so you can learn some skills. Junction Arts have been highlighting the wealth of talent in the North East for 5 years and host regular exhibitions showcasing a massive range of work from painting and prints to jewellery and ceramics, one of the few regular outlets for Aberdeen's makers! Also local purveyors of good coffee Kilau played a big part in providing space for artist to show work and had a great run of shows and gigs at their old Belmont Street HQ. Even the Belmont Cinema has a revolving roster of artworks on display, currently curated by Peacocks and well worth a look.

Project Slogan in its hayday

Its a shame that Limousine Bull had to close its doors and has yet to re materialise into something new and Project Slogan was another great space where fun events took place almost on a weekly basis. The Slogan cafe was perfect for escaping the drudgery of work, you could enjoy a fresh sandwich, chat to Sarah, look at some cool zines and support her project all at the same time. Lim Bull & Slogan were both strong supporters of the cities art students along with Peacocks, providing a space and a platform for them to show work both before and after graduation, something that's been taken up by Smart, Oil & Glass and continues at Peacocks.  

Jackmaster after party at 26 Collective

26 Collective are the first group to try and make a dent into the impenetrable force field stopping artists from finding affordable studio space in Aberdeen. And even with limited space I managed to organise and curate the Mural Project in the tiny corridor which brought 26 artists together over a 3 month period last year, one of the coolest projects I've worked on and such a great experience. The space even hosted some late night parties with international DJs taking over the turntables and hopefully led to some memorable nights. 26 was a space for doing whatever we wanted but with all spaces bills need to be paid and space becomes less important but who knows what the next phase will be or when the next artist run studios will appear!

Wishing Mountain in Union Terrace Gardens

Stray Dog have done a lot of great work in putting together engaging and fun public art works including their out door mural and the awesome Wishing Mountain project as well as organising shows for local artist and international makers like Ehren Tool. The guys are currently doing their own things but its that group perspective which led to 26 Collective forming and has hopefully inspired a few others to be pro active in their approach to things.


Other collectives and groups that keep things fresh include local design collectives like WLD WLVS who recently launched some new tees produced for Brew Dog. Neil & Stu have built a pretty solid foundation around working with local artists and designers and have created a pretty cool brand in the process. Also Bato who disbanded earlier this year and have remorphed into two seperate entities in Watch Clothing and The Coiner Shop, good guys who are motivated to do stuff. All General Made are another duo who are crafting high quality leather goods and should be on your radar. 

TRY DJs at Wonderwax

TRY Industries again producing a fresh range of cool t shirts with some cool ideas are working hard to create something different. Head honchos Grill Cosby & Graffic Traffic have also branched out further with a collaborative 12" vinyl release on Tuff Wax Records for New York's Jaw Jam which features some pretty amazing geometric eye boggling design. Tuff Wax also boasts a roster of artist's who have all made waves across the big music blogs and continue to play across the UK and Europe, no mean feat for a bunch of geeks from Aberdeen! Fine Grains Records again hails from Aberdeen but isn't confined to the city instead branching out and working with a pretty wide range of artists from across the Uk and Norway. 2 record labels in one city, and that's ignoring Fat Hippy Records & Bitter North Records!

Gravitys Rainbow by Mark Bremner

On an artist level we have an incredible wealth of talent in the city ranging from fine artists right up to your out on a limb weirdos! I've already featured some of my favourite artists on the blog but Steve Murrison is a beast, Stuart Allan is producing some amazing work, Mark Bremners work looked amazing when I saw it, Sarah J Stanley tapped into something fresh, Brian Ross has produced some cool work, Stu Awesome (one half of WLD WLVS) is always on top form as well. I could add another 30 names to the list, all producing fresh work which goes beyond the norm. We have so many talented artists working across a range of mediums and fields from oil painters to graffiti writers, all working away mostly on their own.

The Little Kicks new album out soon!

If you add to this all the musical stuff that's happening with bands like The Little Kicks touring extensively, Indian Red Lopez trying to blend music and visual art and the plethora of club nights and promoters you can see we have a pretty healthy music scene as well. Maybe not well supported but certainly a lot of folks are trying to be proactive and put on the events they want. Music blogs like Home Alone, The Kiosque and 57 Degrees North are all playing their part in sharing and supporting this network. 

Devron Arts, the town is the venue!

When you see it all, total it all up it certainly looks like a city of culture even if it doesn't always feel like it. And why stop at the city limits, why not check out whats going on further afield, Devron Arts in Huntly are always trying to push their community and the Scottish Sculpture Workshop looks like a dream location. Also with the annual NEOS (North East Open Studios) you will have a chance to see just how many creatives are working away in their own remote studios, I just hope Stuart Simpson will be taking over his mums house out beside Bennachie again, that was a great experience last year!

The thing to remember is no man is an island and neither is his home. Aberdeen might be lacking in enthusiasm and diversity sometimes but its home, its my capital and there's a hell of a lot o culture hiding under these granite blocks. Go find it!

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