CAIR: Caithness Artists in Residence, Lyth Arts Centre

people wearing embroidered aprons and holding other garments with emboidered text

Lyth Arts Centre (LAC) is the UK’s most northerly mainland arts centre, presenting an annual programme of live performance across Caithness alongside contemporary visual art and an extensive participatory programme of educational and socially-engaged arts projects led by local creatives in our community. LAC strives to be a nationally and internationally recognised, industry leading small arts centre that practices radical localism and challenges conceptions about what it means to be ‘rural’. Our Caithness community is at the heart of everything we do and we work across the county acting as a cultural hub for the North of Scotland.

Since the pandemic, LAC has been developing new arts and wellbeing programmes. Central to this has been CAIR: Caithness Artists in Residence – a new community arts initiative that connects artists and creative practitioners with distinct Caithness communities.
Led by LAC and local community organisations, the project explores how we could work with artists and facilitate creative responses to local problems, encouraging creative cultural activism and prioritising an artist and community centric approach to recovery after Coronavirus.

A steep decline in our communities mental wellbeing since Covid-19 is regularly reported by many of our partners and their participants. In response to this, several of the CAIR projects have focussed on arts-based wellbeing activities to reduce isolation, improve confidence and explore tools and ideas for healthy wellbeing in Caithness.

Five local artists worked with local communities in Caithness, responding to Locality Plans within the area. Kelly Munro worked with local young people to explore their maritime heritage and identity through metalwork and design. Karlyn Sutherland worked specifically with Caithness Community Connections in Lybster using her vast skill base. George Gunn worked across the county delivering writing workshops and developing ‘Words on the Wind’ a community poem/film project which explores and captures what it means to live in Caithness today. Donna Swanson collaborated with young people and communities in and around Thurso using theatre and film techniques to explore mental health and other local issues. And Joanne B Karr collaborated with Befriending Caithness – a voluntary service that aims to reduce isolation and loneliness in the county by matching volunteers to older isolated adults in the county.

During Joanne’s project she collaborated with Befriending Caithness to develop a textile reminiscent pack through weekly sessions. The themes were varied and included “School Days” and “Fishing Folk”. The group decided to collaboratively create a “reminiscence pack library” at the Befriending Caithness office where befrienders can go and pick up a pack and take it along to their meetings with befriendees to encourage conversation and memory. These will also be available to local care homes. As a culmination of the project the group decided to host a touring exhibition, taking some of the work to more rural and remote befriendees gardens.

Feedback from befrienders described the project as being like a breath of fresh air and a true inspiration, reporting that the best part of the project were the conversations that people had in preparation before sewing. Key worker Angie House from Befriending Caithness said,

‘The whole experience has encouraged conversation at a very difficult time, it brought laughter, socialising and exchanging our past individual stories within the community.’

Watch videos and find out more about the CAIR: Caithness Artists in Residence here.

Charlotte Mountford, Co-Director Lyth Arts Centre


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