Community takes creative town transformation into their own hands

Photo: Phil Wilkinson

Photo: Phil Wilkinson

A Scottish community took the revival of their high street into their own hands today (1 October 2016) by unveiling a nationally significant mural and completely transforming empty shops and outdoor spaces into a creative hub in just 24 hours as part of the inaugural Creative Coathanger – The Everything Creative Festival (on until 9 October 2016).

In the Scottish Borders town of Galashiels, surrounded by picturesque rolling hills, 17% of shops remain empty despite an increase in footfall brought by the new Borders Rail Link. To counteract this, the team of community leaders behind Creative Coathanger, alongside the local regeneration group Energise Galashiels secured support from nationally and internationally renowned artists and organisations to give the town an unrecognisable makeover. Creative talent from across the region and beyond filled all the empty shops and various outdoor spaces showcasing a myriad of cultural heritage and world leading creative industries through exhibitions, new commissions, workshops, pop up shops and open doors days. Visitors came from the Borders, Lothians and beyond.

Speaking about the event Sir David Steel – a great supporter of the arts in the Borders said: “Galashiels is alive and buzzing, and it is going to grow again.”

Explaining the significance of the transformation, Mark Timmins, one of the festival directors for Creative Coathanger said: “For the first time in many years, the new Borders Rail Link has brought an increase in footfall to the area, yet the potential of the town’s high street has not been fully recognised. We hope to change that and showcase the exciting opportunity that our wee town brings for businesses and visitors alike. The Borders is a hotbed of creativity – from world renowned creative industries to prolific artist recognized the world over for their work – so what better way to showcase this potential than with a festival of Everything Creative transforming the town in true DIY SOS style.”

Visitors to Galashiels today witnessed the town centre as it has never been seen before:

  • World exclusives: The unveiling of new commissions including:
    • the Flying Scotsman mural by Chris Rutterford, which was brought to the town following passionate campaigning by Energise Galashiels, an inspiring group of local volunteers who have worked tirelessly to drive regeneration in the town. The mural will feature the faces of many locals and home grown icons like Sir Walter Scott, rugby star Chris Paterson, footballer John Collins and Britain’s oldest ice cream man Adam Kelly (who only recently retired from his rounds in the town at the age of 94). Some treasured national icons like TV star Lorraine Kelly (who shared her support for the event on social media) also feature.
    • Attention grabbing Eco Art sculptures from Galashiels to Selkirk. Produced by three renowned artists, Toni Coyle, Lucy O’Higgins and Fiona Maher, these sculptures showcase local wildlife and the natural world through use of natural or recycled materials. From willow birds to bike tire sculptures.
  • Pop up shops, workshops and exhibitions including:
    • An exhibition by the wood turner and sculptor, Tim Stead. One of Scotland’s most prolific designers, Tim lived in the Scottish Borders until his untimely death in 2000 and his public commissions included furniture for the Glasgow restaurant Cafe Gandolfi, the Millennium Clock (in collaboration with Sharmanka) and the Papal Throne for the visit of Pope John Paul II to Edinburgh in 1982. His work is now preserved by a Trust set up in his name to safeguard his heritage and enable other artists to flourish.
    • A pop up shop by Artaholic – A nomadic gallery which exhibits throughout Scotland, specialising in affordable, inspirational art.
    • A wood turning workshop by the Borders Forest Trust.
    • A masonry workshop by Historic Environment Scotland.
    • Highlights of the exhibition by the National Galleries of Scotland and the charity Tomorrow’s People, which was displayed at the home of Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford House over the course of the weekend.
    • a Pop Up Shop showcasing the work of local young creative entrepreneurs funded by the Princes Trust and a craft and makers fair.
    • A competition to design the Inaugural Mainetti – Creative Coathanger Logo and Coathanger for the 2017 festival. Mainetti are based in the Borders and produce 100 million clothes hangers every year for major high street retailers like Marks & Spencer. The pupils of Galashiels Academy also displayed examples of their work following an art project with Mainetti.
    • A silent film showcase by VOMO (Voice Of My Own), which helps young Scots to make films and TV shows about things that matter to them.
    • An exhibition of work by art and photography students from the Borders College.
  • An art & craft fair – bringing together local crafters to provide tables of handmade gifts, art and crafts.

Creative Coathanger – The Everything Creative Festival – is on until 9 October 2016 and will showcase a wide range of events many of them free, which celebrate the rich cultural heritage and burgeoning creative industries of the Scottish Borders.

The festival’s programming for the first year has been so successful that they have secured funding from Creative Scotland, Mainetti, Brand Satellite, New Arts Sponsorship and the Phone Co-op. It has also secured support from many other respected bodies and organisations such as VisitScotland, Historic Scotland, Borders Community Rail Partnership, Arts & Business Scotland, the Moving Image Makers Collective and the Alchemy Film Festival, The National Galleries, Live Borders and Heriot Watt University.

Councillor Vicky Davidson, Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Culture, Sport, Youth and Communities, said: “The coming of the Borders Railway and the recent surge in creative energy around Galashiels has resulted in this exciting new festival. It showcases the very high quality of Border designers, artists, creative businesses and general creative talent so abundant here in the Borders. There are too many highlights to hang on one coathanger – this is a whole designer wardrobe full of creative delights.”

Karen Dick, Place, Partnerships and Communities Officer at Creative Scotland said: “Creative Coathanger provides an important platform to bring the community in Galashiels and the Scottish Borders together to discover local artists, performers and those working across the creative industries in their area. The Scottish Borders are world renowned for their textiles and we are delighted to support this festival which encompasses such a wide range of creative practice.”

VisitScotland Regional Director Doug Wilson said: “The establishment of the new Creative Coathanger arts festival represents a real commitment to further enhancing our region’s tourism offering and attracting more visitors to the Scottish Borders, an area renowned for its links to the textiles, fashion and design industry.”

For more about the festival or ticketing visit: