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Doors open at Toogs Artists Workshop in Shetland

Published: 04/09/2023

An artist-led social enterprise in Shetland that works with local communities to develop art activities held an open day (2-3 Sept) to mark the relaunch of its refreshed workshop.

l-r Jono Sandilands, Amy Gear, Shannon Leslie, Daniel Clark.

Burra-based Gaada, was founded by artists Amy Gear and Daniel Clark in 2018. Its work centres on a visual art workshop in a former Methodist Kirk where it delivers a programme that includes exhibitions, publishing and the development of local resources for artists.

The community interest company was awarded £48,017 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) towards the cost of transforming the building. So far, this has enabled them to alter the interior and double their capacity for weekly one-to-one workshops as well as purchasing new equipment for screen printing and risograph, improving useability and overall efficiency.

The project will help increase revenue from local, national and international markets through their online shop and has supported the creation of a new co-ordinator role. The investment is expected to increase the social enterprise’s turnover by £120,252 over the next three years.

The organisation has also put ‘fair work’ at the heart of its approach in the rural community of Burra. Gaada now offers three pathways to accessing the workshop on a regular basis.  This includes group workshops, open access and regular supported workshops to neurodivergent artists.

One of the workshop regulars, Brian Sinclair, recently had his work selected out of hundreds of entries for an open exhibition at Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire. Brian has attended weekly workshops at Gaada over the last three years and is a prolific artist who works across sound, printmaking, painting and drawing.

As well as the capital investment, HIE has also supported Gaada Projects CIC with salary costs through HIE’s graduate support programme. Recent graduate, Shannon Leslie has been in position since January 2023 and has provided an enormous amount of support for Gaada’s digital development plans in relation to their Island Zine Library. The role will also further support the development of Gaada’s online shop where original artist editions produced in the workshop are available for sale. 

Mhari McLeman, head of strengthening communities at HIE in Shetland, said: “Gaada is an incredible social enterprise and fair work employer, which has delivered an immense amount of impact in the five years since their creation. Our investment encourages it to grow further, which, in turn enables it to increase their social impact by removing the barriers for a growing number of individuals including underrepresented groups. It’s a privilege to watch this organisation go from strength to strength and we are delighted to help them increase their capacity for workshops and the quantity and quality of the artist editions they produce to sell.”

Daniel Clark from Gaada said: “This latest investment has enabled Gaada to create more capacity and improve the facilities at the Toogs Artist Workshop – a making space which is accessed on a weekly basis by a community that intersects gender, class, race, physical ability, and sexuality. By providing developmental and practical resources, we want to encourage and support artists to thrive in Shetland - particularly young people who are so often taught they must relocate to a large city to function as an artist.

“It’s also vital that we create paid work and commissions for local people. As an organisation that employs artists, we feel a sense of duty to ensure folk are paid fairly and we also have a duty to help educate and boost the confidence of artists who do undervalue themselves. It’s great to have officially opened the doors of Toogs Artist Workshop again and we are grateful of the support HIE has given us over the last year.

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