My name’s Hayley and some of you reading this might already know me, I’m sure a lot of you won’t – it’s been a while! Although I’m not from Dumfries, I was born and raised in – and have moved away from and back to and away from and back to – Annan. The proximity between the two places made Dumfries a regular weekend spot for me growing up, and after leaving school at 16 I studied Art & Design at Dumfries & Galloway College for 3 years, before moving to Glasgow to study Fashion Design at The Glasgow School of Art.
During this time, I helped with the initial set-up of blueprint100 and was part of The Stove’s furniture up until leaving for uni. I graduated last year, worked lots of random and completely uncreative jobs to save up some money and then ran away to Florence, Italy with my boyfriend (because that’s what fashion degrees do to a person). In Florence I worked part-time as an English tutor, and full-time as a gold salesperson in Piazza Santa Croce. One of those jobs was more enjoyable than the other. We moved back to Scotland just in time for Miss Corona turning the world upside down, and so what was intended to be a relatively short stay with my parents back in my childhood home in Annan has become much longer and undefined.
Like a lot of other people, this uncertainty and pausing of plans has actually provided me with a really valuable opportunity for self-reflection that life doesn’t tend to offer. As a recent graduate I’m still in the same position many others are when they finally leave education; floating about, with more potentially pursuable passions than they can count but no clue which one to actually follow. I hadn’t long started working as a sewing machinist producing PPE for the pandemic when Katharine Wheeler contacted me with an opportunity to help lead blueprint100’s shaping and development for the future. I enthusiastically accepted, because becoming part of blueprint100 played a pivotal role in my creative development as a school leaver up to being a university fresher, and as a graduate now I believe it will continue to do so. Something about revisiting it now, after benefitting from it in so many ways when I was younger, feels satisfyingly ‘full circle’.
My history with blueprint100 dates back to 2014, when we were still calling ourselves ‘The Young Stove’. I was 17, out of school for a year and just starting my HNC in Art & Design at Dumfries & Galloway College. At this time my involvement in the arts didn’t go further than the fact that I knew I liked creating things and I had a vague but impassioned desire to go to art school and eventually make a career out of it. Not long after attending my first Stove event (which was aimed at young emerging artists) I was invited to help shape what eventually became – after probably months of us all trying to figure out a suitable name – blueprint100.
I was at first just intrigued by the idea of being creatively active outside of my studies, and thought if nothing else it would help with my CV and future university applications. What drew me in further was the idea that creative opportunity was something that was possible for young people like myself right here at home. I know I’m not alone in growing up in Dumfries & Galloway feeling as though, in some way you can’t quite articulate, you’re missing out. The grass always seems greener in Glasgow or Edinburgh or London. Becoming involved in the development of blueprint100 opened my eyes to not only the existence of Dumfries & Galloway as a community abundant in creativity, but also to positively utilising my previous hometown dissatisfaction into a driving force behind my creative practice.
During the time I was actively involved in blueprint100, from its beginnings until I left for art school in 2016, we made things happen for ourselves that I wouldn’t have thought possible when I first participated. I learned about the power of a community-focussed practice and of open and creative collaboration – ideas that weren’t necessarily made accessible to me through my education alone, which centred on developing my skills as an individual. I also learned about the power of high-vis vests as an invisibility cloak against potential authority.
Looking back now, I’m still so proud that if we felt something should be done, we generally just did it. If we wanted an exhibition in Glasgow, despite none of us at the time holding art degrees, we found a way to have one. If we wanted to stage a surrealist procession through Dumfries, cloaked in white and culminating in a performance filtered through coloured smoke, as Jordan Chisholm and Dillon Colthart did for Nithraid in 2016, it happened. If we felt like, rather than mount paintings onto a wall for an exhibition, we’d prefer to coat ourselves in a bucket of fake blood and pace out onto the High Street like Ivor Gott did in 2015, IT WAS DONE.
Ultimately being part of blueprint100 showed me that being from Dumfries & Galloway is far from a hindrance – it’s a blessing. Streets where ‘nothing happens’ become blank canvasses. And when ‘nothing happening’ is the expectation, it means that when something does happen – when we make things happen – it holds a power and a reach that just isn’t as easily doable in the cities we grow up envying.
As I have returned to blueprint100 and working with The Stove again, now in my 20s and looking to begin my career rather than my art school education, I’ve been able to reflect on how my experiences back then shaped my creative approach into what it is now. I’ve come to realise that the underlying ambition behind everything I do is to engage with people; in the years I spent making clothes I never figured out until recently that it’s not the garments themselves I was interested in as much as their visual accessibility for communicating ideas that can be otherwise out of reach. Back then and even now I felt clothing was a great example of accessible art, because every single one of us dresses ourselves each day, we all understand clothing’s core purpose and context, and we all hold opinions on it – even if you aren’t interested in fashion, there are still reasons why you chose to wear one t shirt today rather than another. Through working with blueprint100 now, I’m really excited to explore further the ways we can creatively communicate and engage with each other and the wider community while striving to be accessible and inclusive.
With this in mind, accessibility and inclusivity are at the centre of how I’d like to see blueprint100 evolve through this project. The opportunities blueprint100 has made available over the years to young people who wouldn’t have otherwise had access to them, and the ways in which it has helped many of us – myself included – to begin forging creative career paths have been invaluable. However, identifying yourself as an artist, showing up in creative spaces, or even considering that the arts are something you can actually turn into a career at all are ideas that remain daunting for many of us at the beginning. The creative industries are also still predominantly white and middle class, meaning those of us who exist outside those categories can struggle to find the confidence to enter spaces designed for artists regardless of how comfortably we identify as artists individually. I’d love to see blueprint100 build on the unique platform it already offers young creative people locally by increasing its outreach to those who might feel otherwise excluded from the arts and wider creative industries in spite of their talent and potential.
If you’re still reading this – because it’s become quite the essay – I’d like to finish with a brief reference to what has been my favourite lockdown binge-watch, Mad Men. Don Draper, the show’s morally questionable protagonist, says this absolute belter of a line at one point in the series: “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. I feel like this weirdly summarised the potential blueprint100 has to empower its participants. Many of us begin with blueprint100 feeling as though our hometowns are lacking in creative opportunities, but over time realise nothing is actually stopping us from creating them ourselves. Our grass is as green as we want it to be, as long as we water it.