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Bringing voices together to celebrate the best of Caithness


By Gordon Calder

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A poet taking part in a six-month residency in Caithness tells Gordon Calder how he hopes to share people's views of the county and promote the area

George Gunn wants to hear from the people of Caithness.
George Gunn wants to hear from the people of Caithness.

A Caithness artist is hoping to turn people's love of the county into something that will help promote the area as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

George Gunn is one of five local artists involved in a six-month project which will work with different communities from a range of age groups across Caithness to explore local themes and issues and generate creative responses.

The initiative is being led by Lyth Arts Centre and is called Caithness Artists in Residence (CAIR).

Gunn, a poet, playwright and novelist, will take on the title of Caithness Makar – a poem maker. He will be working across the county with several community partners, delivering writing workshops and developing a community poem called Words on the Wind which will explore what it means to live in Caithness today.

He said: "One way to start, because of the lockdown restrictions, is that I want people to send me videos taken on their phone, or pictures of their favourite place in Caithness and what it means to them and to send me a poem about it if they have one.

"My idea is to produce a 30-minute film and have an exhibition at Lyth come the summer. The greater idea is to present a lyrical and visual portrait of Caithness which can send out a positive image of the county to the rest of the world through the poetry and places beloved of the people themselves.

The relationship between the people and the landscapes and seascapes of Caithness are important to the makar. Picture: Alan Hendry
The relationship between the people and the landscapes and seascapes of Caithness are important to the makar. Picture: Alan Hendry

"I hope that Words on the Wind will be something that promotes Caithness in a creative and imaginative light and as a result attract people, when it is safe to do so, to spend some time here and find out more about the beauty and culture of Caithness for themselves."

Gunn, a former artistic director of the Grey Coast Theatre Company, added: "The relationship between the land and the people is a perennial theme in Caithness.

"Ownership, management, land use, renewable and human energy, as well as the landscape and seascape itself, would be my main themes.

"As Caithness makes the transition, economically, from the nuclear industry to the continued development of wind power, the effect on human culture, presented by the people themselves in the communities they live in, would be my primary aim. Because it would be a one to one relationship – participant and poet – it would be within the coronavirus protocols."

Gunn believes this is one of the most important periods in the history of Caithness since the 19th century.

Caithness's role as an energy powerhouse will continue to be central to keeping people in the area.
Caithness's role as an energy powerhouse will continue to be central to keeping people in the area.

"The county is facing a concerning drop in population due to under investment since the 1950s, but is energy rich with wind and tidal power having unlimited possibilities and yet the price of living in the county is rising every year, with the result that the young – and energetic – are leaving.

"By getting individual people to record a poem on a smartphone, the resulting work can be circulated around the world and will present a portrait of Caithness which so far has not been drawn.

"I want to sell Caithness as a dynamic, beautiful and futuristic place to live and work to Caithnessians as well as the rest of the world," he said.

Gunn, who has been a writer in residence in Banff and Orkney in the past, said that people can post their films, video, pictures or poems on a dedicated Google Drive page at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1nvOuh56HRcq_WyQOaqwcKijO4eeqZHTU.

The other local artists involved in the project include Donna Swanson, an experienced actor and drama facilitator, who will be collaborating with young people in and around Thurso, using theatre and film techniques to explore mental health and other issues.

George Gunn wants Caithness to be seen as a forward looking place to live and work.
George Gunn wants Caithness to be seen as a forward looking place to live and work.

Jeweller and painter Kelly Munro will be the Wick artist. She will be working with young people in the town to explore their maritime heritage and identity, while Karlyn Sutherland will based in the Lybster area and will be working with Caithness Community Connections. She is an artist and designer working mainly in glass.

Like Gunn, Joanne B Kaar from Dunnet will be operating county-wide. The visual artist, who often uses traditional craft techniques, will be working with older people and those who care for the elderly, including professional care providers, volunteers and relatives, to develop a project that reconnects the elderly and isolated with the wider community.

Related article

Five are chosen for Caithness artists-in-residence initiative


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