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Open Road to post-Covid recovery in Aberdeen – with arts and culture leading the way

open road
Aberdeen arts organisation Open Road can help the cultural sector lead the city's recovery, says co-founder Lesley Anne Rose.

An Aberdeen arts organisation “born in the pandemic” has launched a drive to help the north-east get back on its feet as the region recovers from Covid-19.

Open Road co-founder Lesley Anne Rose believes arts and culture have a vital role to play in boosting a sense of community and well-being as people emerge from lockdown – as well as being a major economic driver in the long-term.

Now the organisation is driving a project in Fittie as part of the Culture Collective, a pilot programme run by Creative Scotland to set up a network of creative practitioners, organisations and communities, all working together to make a difference in lives and communities in response to the pandemic.

Lesley Anne Rose, co-founder of Open Road at Fittie.

Open Road is also offering advice to artists and creatives across the north-east to help them turn their projects into reality, said Lesley Anne,  an experienced and acclaimed producer whose roles over the years have included head of producing for the National Theatre of Scotland and head of artistic development for Aberdeen Performing Arts.

She said: “The north-east is at a very special point in its history and we really want to think seriously about how we can contribute towards that from an arts and culture perspective. So we are an organisation that is about championing people and place. We absolutely believe culture and creativity can change people’s lives.

Open Road champions for north-east artists and talent

“We are very rooted in the north-east and we are here to champion artists, creative projects, people, talent and the region as a whole.”

The Culture Collective project, which sees Open Road working with the Fittie Community Development Trust, is specifically aimed at helping the community rebuild post-Covid, said Lesley Anne.  It will see three artists working in three different areas.

“One of them is looking at rebooting community cohesion post-Covid as we all come out, go into each other’s homes and come together again,” said Lesley Anne.

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Open Road will work with the Culture Collective on a post-Covid project in Fittie.

“How do we facilitate that? We have to mark the times, people need to talk about the experiences they have been through and come together as a community.”

A second artist will explore the theme of climate change and imagining new futures and what communities can do and how they can be heard.

A third will look at the tension between visitors and locals, said Lesley Anne.

“How do you manage that relationship? You can share stories and experiences and come together as human beings and understand there is more that unites than divides.”

Open Road project will see creation of ‘sound walk’

While selecting artists for the Culture Collective programme is in the final stages, Lesley Anne said Open Road wants to hear from and help other artists and creatives from across the north-east.

“One thing we do offer is 15 minutes of free advice. If there is an artist out there or someone with an idea that they want to get off the ground and don’t know how to do it, get in touch with us and we will sit down with you for 15 minutes and give you some advice.

“It could be we might take it further beyond that, or direct them to somewhere else or point them to Aberdeen City Council creative funding.”

Aberdeenshire artist Fiona Soe Paing will launch a “sound walk” at Forvie Nature Reserve.

“It was something I really missed when I was early career, just someone I could talk to for 10 to 15 minutes to get a bit of advice.”

One Open Road project about to come to fruition will see Aberdeenshire electronic music composer and sound artist Fiona Soe Paing create a “sound walk” to launch her song cycle project, Sand, Silt, Flint, at Forvie Nature Reserve on May 29 and 30.

People can download a walk and sound experience as they walk through the dunes, with GPS prompting music, archive material and spoken word to explore the folklore and balladry of the north-east. It will be a pilot for a full album and series of sound walks to be released early next year.

All guns blazing for arts and culture

While Open Road was set up a few years ago, it had been in the background while Lesley Anne’s focus has been on work with arts organisations in the city – but now she is “all guns blazing with” Open Road.

“This company is a direct result of Covid and how we can respond post-Covid,” she said, adding during the pandemic she, like many others, reflected on her personal and professional life.

“It was clear in March and April last year this was something that was going to change our world significantly for a long time. I’ve worked in the Central Belt, I’ve worked all over the UK and actually I can’t do that, I can’t leave my home, so can I serve where I stand? The company is born of that.”

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The rolling sand dunes at Forvie National Nature reserve.

Lesley Anne believes that Open Road can make a real difference, with producers acting as “the midwives of theatre or culture”.

We are the ones who make things happen, we raise the money, we develop the talent, we develop the project and we deliver them,” she said.

“One of the things Aberdeen has really missed in creating a grass roots scene, is a lack of trained producers. That is a key remit of Open Road. It’s about training people so they can take their work work into their own hands.”

Exciting – and scary – moment for Aberdeen

Lesley Anne believes the cultural sector can boost the north-east in several ways, from giving communities a voice and empowerment to boosting the economy by attracting more visitors seeking a cultural experience. And she sees Open Road as playing a key role, working alongside the existing artistic and cultural organisations in the north-east.

“There is a particular moment in Aberdeen which I think is really exciting right now. Some of it is scary. We are moving away from oil and gas, we are moving away from global oil city, we are a coastal community and there is lot of stuff around that and climate change,” she said.

Lesley Anne sees arts and culture as crucial for the future of the north-east.

“I felt there was a need to respond to that professionally. To bring everything I’ve learned over the past 30 years to this place at this time and I feel really excited to be doing that and to be here.”

And Lesley Anne has a clear long-term vision about what she hopes Open Road can help achieve in the north-east.

“It is as somewhere that is really vibrant as a cultural region. Of having real confidence and pride in its own unique cultural voice, cultural offering.  I hope to bring pride to the region, the artists of the region and our reputation beyond the city and the region as well.”

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