Scotland Creates

Fiona YoungBy Fiona Young, Community Engagement Project Officer, Scotland Creates

Groups of 16 – 24-year-olds have been meeting regularly in five museums across Scotland to select, research and interpret the nation’s collections and tell us about their sense of place. It’s all part of Scotland Creates – A Sense of Place, a partnership project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Creative Scotland.

‘How do I sum up the exhibition? It was an amazing sight, seeing all the ideas that we started with come together to create something awesome. It was hard work but it paid off seeing the people who came along to see the animations.’ – Sam Fairbairn, Edinburgh participant.

Participants at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock curated a beautiful exhibition Legacy of Lace about the local industry, with a spectacular mix of contemporary and traditional lace. A trip to Molton Young and Boreland  inspired short films documenting the lace making process and a one-off lace piece designed by the group was produced there. To add extra flair, Scottish Ballet worked with a group of young participants from the area to produce a lace industry inspired dance! Dancers wore their own lace fascinators and Scottish Ballet kindly loaned a lace costume for the exhibition. Designed by Anthony MacDonald and made by Morag McKerrell, the costume was one of seven worn by the corps de ballet on stage, each in a different colour, in Carmen.

Legacy of Lace exhibition at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock

Legacy of Lace exhibition at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock.

Museum nan Eilean participants curated A Reir na h-Aimsir – Without Rain there would not be Magic, an exhibition reflecting the changeable and magical weather of the Western Isles. This was enhanced by stunning photographs of island weather taken by local young photographers and a weather inspired dance performed by local pupils. Through a partnership with Live Music Now Scotland, young musicians wrote and performed a song with the band Skerryvore explaining their love of their home:

‘We wake up every day
In this beautiful place
It’s where I want to stay
It’s where I want to stay.’

The McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock were inspired by the rich collection of Clyde pottery and put their design and photography skills to good use by curating Colour, Design and Creativity. They even added an entrepreneurial edge by selling their own designed coasters! Our partners Scottish Ballet again worked with us to produce a pottery industry inspired movement piece with the Greenock Wanderers under 16s rugby team, an exciting and successful collaboration.

Coasters designed by the volunteers at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery

Coasters designed by the volunteers at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery.

National Museums Scotland participants scripted, storyboarded and produced three exciting animated films about Edinburgh’s scientific innovations with animator Cameron Duguid, whom they interviewed and selected to work with them. The group chose and researched the featured objects and their research was enhanced by visits to the Roslin InstituteTouch Bionics and James Clerk Maxwell’s house. Their opening event was part of the first Scottish Museum Takeover day and was enhanced by a variety of events for their peers including a song writing workshop with young pop-rock group Miniature Dinosaurs.

Miniature Dinosaurs and participants in the song writing workshop perform their composition

Miniature Dinosaurs and participants in the Museum Takeover Day song writing workshop perform their composition.

You can see a video all about Museum Takeover Day here:

[vimeo 85355151 w=500&h=280]

The Youth Action Group (#YAGsop) at the McManus drew many inspirations from Dundee’s past, putting a new digital twist on journalism and combining the city’s cinematic and lens based industries with new technology and today’s Dundee. Their exhibition Sense of Place featured their very own electric cinema and was accompanied by a beautiful magazine. The group commissioned local dance company Small Petit Klein to choreograph a piece influenced by their explorations and this was performed at their opening night.

Poster advertising the exhibition at the McManus, Dundee

Poster advertising the Sense of Place exhibition at the McManus, Dundee.

As you can see there’s been lots happening across all venues! What has triumphed across all partner museums is the commitment and quality of work produced by the participants. Each individual has given their time and enthusiasm to the project and in return have grown in confidence and ability.

But it’s not over yet! You can see highlights of all these wonderful objects and creativity in Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place from 9 May – 31 August, in the Grand Gallery at National Museum of Scotland. Look out for events around the exhibition and join the conversation on twitter #scotlandcreates.

By Elaine Macintyre, Digital Media Content Manager

What did you think of that? Did it make you smile? Did it perhaps make you feel that museums aren’t boring and old, but places where it’s actually possible to have fun?

If so, then the digital component of the Scotland Creates project has already started to achieve its aims – and we’re only half way through.

Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Creative Scotland, Scotland Creates – A Sense of Place is a partnership project between National Museums Scotland and four other museums: the Dick Institute, Museum nan Eilean, the McLean Museum and Art Gallery and the McManus Art Gallery and Museum.

The project gives young people aged 16-24 years old the chance to work with the museums and other creative partners to curate their own exhibition, culminating in a joint collaborative exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, which opens on 9 May 2014.

As part of the project, I was tasked with coming up with a way of increasing the use of digital media as a tool for engagement and dialogue with young people. With more young adults watching YouTube than TV (in the US, at any rate), using film seemed like a no-brainer. Creating viral videos that would not only celebrate and promote the five museums involved but also help young people see museums in a new, more exciting light seemed like the way to go.

We partnered up with digital agency Sound Delivery and documentary film maker Suzanne Cohen to make it happen. The aim was to equip young volunteers from each museum with the skills to storyboard a 30 second promotional film and to produce all the assets required, from animation and artwork to filmed footage and photographs. These would then be put together by Suzanne, to create the final films in collaboration with the volunteers.

And so began two intensive but exhilarating days of training led by Suzanne, as young people from Edinburgh, the Western Isles, Kilmarnock, Greenock and Dundee converged on the National Museum of Scotland for a comprehensive crash course in film-making.

Film-making workshop

Suzanne helps young volunteers from Edinburgh edit a short film.

The participants began by investigating how short films can change people’s perceptions, viewing examples such as this film from the Time to Change campaign, which tackles stereotypes surrounding mental health issues. Next, they interviewed each other on camera to find out what might put young people off visiting museums. The words ‘boring’, ‘old fashioned’ and ‘not for me’ emerged frequently. Their brief for the rest of the two days? To work out how a short film could turn these opinions around.

Over the two days, the volunteers were introduced to a range of film-making techniques that could help them do just that, including vox pops, silent film, stop frame animation and (my personal favourite) bringing a museum object alive using the Morfo app.

The following short films were made in just a couple of hours. The brief was to prove that visiting a museum can be fun and they all succeeded admirably, if in very different ways:

Some of our young volunteers have been involved in film-making before, either as part of the Scotland Creates project, at college or as a personal interest, but others had no experience at all. Some were outgoing, others really quite shy, and none of the volunteers from the different museums had met before. Yet by the end of the first day all had emerged from their shells to share ideas and support each other collaboratively, inspired and enthused by the activities they’d taken part in.

The next step of the project sees our volunteers return to their museums and start building their storyboards and creating their assets. I can’t wait to see what they come up with – but even without that final outcome, I can’t help thinking that already the project has been a success, offering young people from across Scotland an opportunity to build confidence and skills, and to see museums and learning in a new light.

We may not replicate the viral success of Gangnam Style or Miley Cyrus, but we’re hoping our volunteers will make films they’ll feel proud to share across their social networks. We’re encouraging them to tweet about their experiences so far – here’s what @NoOneCallsMeSam had to say: “Working with @sounddelivery these past two days has been awesome! Looking forward to creating our museum promo in up and coming weeks.”  

Still don’t believe museums are fun? I’ll leave you with these stop frame animation films, made using replica objects. If you don’t think they’re fun, there’s no pleasing you…

Karyn McGheeBy Karyn McGhee, Partnerships and Access Intern

As part of Kids in Museums Takeover Day on 28 November, the National Museum of Scotland was taken over by around one hundred young people to celebrate the launch of the Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place animated films.  Young people from various secondary schools and youth organisations around Edinburgh performed a science show in the Grand Gallery, replaced the reference books in the Info Zone and surprised visitors with a flash mob! You can read more about the day and the animated films in volunteer Sam Fairbairn’s blog post.

The final activity of the day was a song writing workshop with the band Miniature Dinosaurs, who became involved in the project through Live Music Now Scotland. In the space of four hours, the band and nine participants created a song from scratch based on our Science and Technology collections and performed it live in the Grand Gallery, a great achievement!

The first task saw the participants explore the galleries in search of inspiration for a chorus line. Many suggestions were given but the group decided on: ‘designed to land in the desert instead of the ocean’, from the interpretation of the Gemini Space Capsule in the Connect gallery.

Brainstorming lyric ideas in the song writing workshop

Brainstorming lyric ideas in the song writing workshop.

The next task brought some healthy competition into the song writing process, a game Miniature Dinosaurs like to call ‘Line of Best Fit’. The participants were separated into two teams, which then had to race against the clock (or crowing cuckoo) to come up with the next line of the song. The band were then responsible for picking their favourite line from the two teams. This process was then repeated until two verses and a chorus were created.

Song writing workshop

Working on the song, which was inspired by the Gemini Space Capsule in the Connect gallery.

The final song lyrics looked like this:

Verse 1

We’re back now on solid ground,
Faster than the speed of sound,
Asteroids burning through the sky,
Shoots for ‘X’ and reaches for ‘Y’,


We will land in the desert
Instead of the ocean, (x2)
Crash land! Crash land!
Without a commotion

Verse 2

Gone our lights when sails went down,
Drift apart, we’re lost and found,
Space is empty but we feel so much,
A weightless feeling, a heavy touch.
All that was left to create was the music…

The afternoon brought an inspirational private performance from Miniature Dinosaurs accompanied by cheers and whoops from the participants. The participants were given a selection of drum rhythms, bass lines, guitar chords and melodies which they discussed as a group before selecting. Gradually the song was coming together, spirits were high and rehearsals began.

Working on the song

Miniature Dinosaurs perform for the workshop.

The final task was to perform the song in the Grand Gallery. All participants performed with Miniature Dinosaurs; singing, playing small percussion instruments and some even learned the song on their own guitars. It was a great performance by a brilliant band and excellent participants of a fantastic song. Well done everybody!

The final performance

Performing the finished song in the Grand Gallery.

The final performance

The group perform the finished song.

Here’s what Alban Dickson of Miniature Dinosaurs had to say about the day:

It was a privilege to have been part of such a great day at the National Museum of Scotland. We were very excited by this project, and the prospect of taking inspiration from Scotland’s creative legacy in science and transforming it into the domain of the arts.

Being part of a project, especially when up against the clock, is always a cohesive process and it was brilliant to see such a broad range of participants come together throughout the song writing process we helped them with. Everybody brought their own expectations and musical influences to the table and together they came up with some amazing and unexpected ideas for the song. Working in situ at the museum was yet again an amazing experience for ourselves and demonstrates that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye within such a landmark building.

And this is what one of the participants, Steven Thornton, thought:

I really enjoyed taking part in the song writing workshop at the museum. A few days earlier I had looked at Miniature Dinosaurs on YouTube and was very impressed by their music. They are a great band! I knew we were going to have a wonderful time.

 I was a bit nervous when I arrived but I was soon put at my ease. Everybody was so friendly and excited about writing and performing a song. We looked around the museum for inspiration and had great fun creating the song together. I learned a lot about being a song writer. It certainly is not an easy job. When completed, we rehearsed over and over and then performed it in the museum concourse at the end of the day. This was the highlight of the workshop for me as I was on drums. It was a great success and we had enthusiastic applause from the large audience.

Thank you to Miniature Dinosaurs and the organizers for such a fantastic experience.

Sam FairbairnBy Sam Fairbairn, Scotland Creates volunteer

On Thursday 28 November 2013, our Scotland Creates volunteers launched three animated films presenting objects from our Science and Technology collection in a new and exciting light. The launch formed part of Museum Takeover Day, a national initiative to celebrate the contribution made by children and young people to museums. Special events at National Museum included performances of science show Alex’s Amazing Adventures by Holy Rood High School and a song-writing workshop with Scottish rock band Miniature Dinosaurs. The animated films, devised and directed by the volunteers, can be seen in the Connect and Shaping Our World galleries until 21 April 2014. The Scotland Creates project is supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Creative Scotland.

My summary

How do I sum up the exhibition? It was an amazing sight, seeing all the ideas that we started with come together to create something awesome. It was hard work but it paid off seeing the people who came along to see the animations.

How the day went

The day started off with a lot of last minute preparations while waiting for people to arrive. Then at two o’clock the guests started arriving and we were in charge of seeing that the guests were all in the room so that the introductions and the animations could be screened. Once the guests were all seated there was an introduction by the Community Engagement Manager, Christine McLean, who introduced what we had been doing and then the lights were dimmed, signalling the start of an introduction to what we had been doing in the build-up weeks leading to the opening. And then the animations started!

The first animation shown was Dolly the Sheep, then Bionic Arm vs iPad and finally it was the film about Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell. You can see the opening to Bionic Arm vs iPad here.

Once the previews had finished we then watched a flash mob dance by pupils from Craigmount High, Forrester High and Leith Academy. Then to finish of the day there was a live performance by Miniature Dinosaurs, which finished the official opening for the exhibition.

Pupils gave a surprise dance performance in the Grand Gallery

Pupils from Craigmount High, Forrester High and Leith Academy gave a surprise dance performance in the Grand Gallery.

Miniature Dinosaurs performing in the Grand Gallery

Miniature Dinosaurs performing in the Grand Gallery.

My final thoughts

The day went well, no problems came up and it all ran smoothly which was good, and the guests had good feedback on the animations. The exhibition runs in the Science and Technology galleries at National Museum of Scotland from 28 November to 21 April 2014 if you’re interested. I would certainly go see it.

Karyn McGheeBy Karyn McGhee, National and International Partnerships Intern

On Tuesday 24 September I joined the Scotland Creates Volunteers on a trip to The Roslin Institute (where Dolly the sheep was born!)  Having no idea what to expect, the whole trip was enlightening, educational and all round good fun.

The volunteers are part of a project called Scotland Creates:  A Sense of Place. They are working to curate an exhibition based on National Museums Scotland’s Science and Technology  collections, and have chosen Dolly the sheep as one of their objects to study.

The group outside The Roslin Institute

The Scotland Creates group outside The Roslin Institute, with Karyn and Scotland Creates Project Officer Fiona Young (right).

We were greeted by Nicola, The Roslin Institute’s Public Engagement Officer, who gave us a tour of the new and very flash building.  We were then taught about the basic science of Dolly and genetic modification. This gave us an insight into the research taking place at Roslin, its importance and how it relates to present day issues.

The afternoon brought us to Dryden Farm. Here we were met by Chris Proudfoot, a research fellow at The Roslin Institute, and John Bracken. John was a key member of the Dolly the sheep team – he was the person who came up with her name! We toured the farm where we were shown genetically modified sheep and pigs.

My initial thoughts on genetically modified animals were unclear, as it’s a subject I knew very little about.  Visiting The Roslin Institute taught me that there are very important reasons behind their research, such as tackling diseases. Being able to modify animal’s DNA could massively reduce the chances of major outbreaks of diseases such as Bird Flu.

Sculpture of Dolly the sheep on display in The Roslin Institute

Sculpture of Dolly the sheep on display in The Roslin Institute.

Karyn poses next to Dolly the sheep!

Karyn poses next to Dolly the sheep!

As a group, we discussed the display of Dolly in the museum.  Some of the group found it difficult to grasp the concept of a natural history specimen being located in the Connect gallery, which focuses on science and technology.  However, after visiting The Roslin Institute, a number had begun to fully appreciated her scientific significance and found it an appropriate place for her to be on display.  The majority of the group liked her interpretation and the ethical questions it raises, along with the choice of touch screen display. The spinning motion of Dolly’s display was hotly debated, with some members finding it expressive of her importance to science while others found it unsettling. Overall, after learning about Dolly’s love of attention and natural curiosity for people, perhaps this is what Dolly would have enjoyed, observing everyone and being put on a pedestal.

Dolly the sheep on display in the National Museum of Scotland

Dolly the sheep on display in the National Museum of Scotland.

Dolly the sheep stars in one of three animated films developed by our Scotland Creates volunteers, which  are showing show in our Science and Technology galleries at National Museum of Scotland from November 2013 – January 2014. Find out more at

Jennifer ReidBy Jennifer Reid, Partnerships Officer

On 19 June I received a phone call from my manager asking whether I “would mind” going to Benbecula for two nights to celebrate the opening of an exhibition?  Would I mind?! Let’s just say it wasn’t a difficult decision.

A week later I joined two colleagues from Learning and Programmes, Christine and Fiona, to board a (tiny!) flight to the Outer Hebrides.  We were on our way to visit Museum nan Eilean, Sgoil Lionacleit, whose exhibition ‘A Reir na h-Aimsir’ was opening the following day.  The exhibition was produced as part of a two year partnership project called Scotland Creates – A Sense of PlaceA Reir na h-Aimsir was curated by young people from across the islands and includes objects from the collections of National Museums Scotland and Museum nan Eilean. It focuses on weather and the effect that changes in weather conditions can have on life on the islands.

Rain gauge.

Rain gauge in the exhibition.

I am ashamed to admit it, but prior to this trip I had never been to the Outer Hebrides before. This trip provided me the perfect opportunity to visit, as well as see the exhibition. Thankfully Fiona and Christine had both visited before, and knew their way around.

I was surprised the next day to pull up to a High School, but Fiona was quick to explain that the museum was in the High School! We had also arrived on the last day of term, and safe to say there was a feeling of” excitement” in the air – and not a great deal of work being done! We made our way through the crowds of school children, and into the exhibition space at the heart of the school building. And wow! What a wonderful job everyone at Museum nan Eilean had done. The team had been working with a group of 16-24-year-olds on the design, layout, text and photography for the exhibition, which has led to a creative and engaging exhibition. I particularly enjoyed the way they had incorporated stories, legends and sayings about the weather, and investigated whether or not any of these had any real basis in meteorology.

Scotland Creates volunteers Peter and Ruiridh

Scotland Creates volunteers Peter and Ruiridh.

Scotland Creates volunteer Peter shows Community Engagement Manager Christine McLean round the exhibition

Scotland Creates volunteer Peter shows Community Engagement Manager Christine McLean round the exhibition.

Jenn chats to staff at the Museum

Jennifer (centre) chats to staff at the Museum. In the background is a Harris Tweed suit designed by Vivienne Westwood, on loan from National Museums Scotland.

At the opening event we were treated to a talk by Dr Eddy Graham, a renowned meteorologist based in Lewis, and a dance performance by pupils from the lower school.  There was also an impressive supply of cake!

Weather inspired dance

Weather inspired dance performed by pupils from the lower school.

The group has also been working with musicians from the band Skerryvore through Live Music Now to compose a piece of music inspired by the changing weather, which will be incorporated into the exhibition.

I would definitely advise checking out the exhibition if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the Outer Hebrides over the summer months, I am keeping my fingers crossed for another phone call…

You can find out more about one of the star objects in the exhibition, a green Harris Tweed suit designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood, in our feature, written by Scotland Creates volunteer Bethany Lane.

Laura ButterworthBy Laura Butterworth, Scotland Creates volunteer at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery

Our Scotland Creates volunteers are working with curators and other staff from National Museums Scotland and four partner museums, including the McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock, to create an exhibition on the theme of Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place. The exhibition, ‘Colour, Design and Creativity, An exhibition inspired by the Clyde Pottery, Greenock (1816 – 1905)’ opens at the McLean Museum on 10 August and runs until 21 September 2013.

As the oldest known piece of Clyde Pottery, this small earthenware plaque will take pride of place as part of the McLean Museum’s Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place exhibition this summer. The piece, which is on loan from National Museums Scotland, was discovered in an Edinburgh junk shop in the 1960s, yet, since its discovery very little has been learnt about it. The plaque is clearly marked ‘D. & M. McNab’ and its reverse inscribed ‘Greenock Pottery 1818’. It is assumed to be commemorative. But for whom? Or what?

The McNab plaque

The McNab plaque.

The Clyde Pottery Company, under several guises, produced wares in Greenock from the early nineteenth century until the factory’s final demise in 1905. The pottery became extremely important to Greenock and the surrounding areas. Many people found employment at the factory or in its associated flint mill and retail outlets. Greenock has its own ‘Pottery Street’, where the famous factory once stood, and many local people still treasure its wares as family heirlooms. At one point, the area was even known as ‘the Greenock Potteries.’ Given the theme of the exhibition, how the creativity of Scotland’s past has created the Scotland that we know today, I decided it was important to know more about the plaque and started digging around…

Making use of my somewhat mediocre knowledge of undergraduate Classics, it is clear that the figure on the left is Dionysus: he wears a crown of vine leaves and raises a glass of wine in a toast with one hand. Dionysus is shown seated upon a lion, an animal that he transforms into several times in ancient Greek mythology. The abundant fruit and grapevines symbolise Dionysus as god of the harvest. Dionysus is most traditionally depicted alongside nymphs, or maenad, so this is a plausible identity for the other pictured figures. In the true spirit of Greek mythology, there are reportedly at least two nymphs – Nicaea and Aura – who had children with Dionysus, so this potentially explains the smallest figure in the scene. Alternatively, the baby could be seen as a stylistic representation of Dionysus himself, who was raised by nymphs. Either way, the scene is intended as a lighthearted one of plenty: life, wine and rich harvest.

The next figures featured on the plaque that I needed to identify were, obviously, D. and M. McNab. Given the scene it depicts, it is natural to presume that the McNabs were wine merchants, or involved in a similar commercial venture. I checked out local trade directories, archives and even contemporary shipping registers, but to no avail. In later years, individually decorated pieces made to commemorate local weddings became somewhat of a Clyde Pottery tradition. However, the way the McNab plaque is dedicated does not really fit with this tradition and I could find no matching marriages anywhere in Scotland, let alone specifically in Greenock. I felt a sense of panic that I would never learn anything new about this piece.

However, by a ridiculous stroke of good luck, a remarkably similar item was sold during my research for the museum’s exhibition. This plaque, of the same size and markedly similar relief scene, was dated to around 1790. This earlier plaque was considered to be Scottish given the McNab Plaque, which is marked ‘Greenock’ as previously noted. However, there is no evidence at all – literary or archaeological – for a pottery at Greenock of any kind before 1810. Given this piece’s earlier date and its consideration as a very fine example of ‘Prattware – cream earthenware, the relief hand-painted and then glazedit is more likely to have been produced in the Staffordshire Potteries, specifically the Pratt pottery works at Fenton.

Significantly, the first Clyde Pottery manager, recruited by company owners Andrew and James Muir, was James Stevenson, part of a skilled and well-known family of potters originally from Cobridge, Staffordshire, just a few miles away from the Pratt factory. Other skilled Staffordshire pottery workers were also encouraged to Greenock. It is natural to assume that the Muir brothers also imported physical aids for their new pottery business, such as tools, moulds and designs, as well as the skills and techniques needed to use them. Interestingly, it is noted that the clear definition of this earlier plaque’s relief moulding suggests a piece cast from a new or little used mould. Could the McNab plaque, therefore, be a later product of the same mould?

Clyde pottery jug, also on loan to the McLean Museum and Art Gallery for Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place

Clyde pottery jug, also on loan to the McLean Museum and Art Gallery for Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place.

The two plaques are both just over seven inches (18cm) in diameter, and despite being painted in different colours their reliefs are almost identical. Yet there are some significant differences: their respective Dionysus figures toast with glasses of differing shapes and, in the McNab plaque, the female figure in the background does not wear a headdress. Perhaps more expert analysis could determine whether or not the McNab plaque could have been made using the same mould as its earlier cousin after it had been altered or even restored after over use. The McNab plaque could also potentially be a copy of this earlier, finer piece, perhaps made during the course of an apprenticeship. Even so, this would still point to knowledge of the original plaque or mould in Staffordshire.

Who D. and M. McNab were, I cannot say. However, the McNab plaque itself does seem to paint a picture of how local businessmen and entrepeneurs in the busy port of Greenock often used the town’s trade routes and connections to draw in skills and ideas and create something more specifically local and Scottish. What is most significant about the McNab plaque, therefore, is what it suggests about the Clyde Pottery’s establishment and development, and in turn how Greenock’s Pottery street factory helped to create a sense of place.

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