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Letters / Has Shetland Arts lost its way?

Shetland Arts once had a thriving visual arts scene. But where is it now?

It had a gallery that artists, both national and international, were keen to show work in. There was once a commitment to a regular Open exhibition (once upon a time called the Bonhoga Open and very popular) with the focus on local input, but that is no more…even before Covid.

The Bonhoga Gallery itself used to be a magnet for the visual arts of all kinds…. but that seems to have vanished into some kind of shop and an arts space encompassing applied arts and crafts or occasionally some fine art but seeming to have no particular direction.

The quality of the creative arts in these isles is excellent in all its forms and deserves better exposure but currently fine art has been edged out.

Mareel has never had a suitable exhibition space either. Even the balcony above the cafe is under used and fails as an exhibition area.

As a creative artist I feel that Shetland Arts has little commitment to visual art. The younger artists coming through from Shetland College or returning to the isles to establish their artistic career are being poorly served by this seeming lack of interest in promoting any form of fine art.

They can’t easily see the exhibitions that appear in other Scottish venues and it appears that Shetland Arts does nothing to encourage them or try to compensate.

Where are the inspiring exhibitions of art from home and abroad that were a feature many years ago?

While the focus may be on a future arts hub in the old AHS site (and even that has gone quiet) it doesn’t address the situation at present.

I think it’s ironic, and rather significant, that the best visual arts venue in Shetland at present is Da Gadderie in the museum run by the amenity trust, while Shetland Arts peddle second hand paint and old tools.

And I know that it’s not just the visual arts where this lack of commitment is felt.

Are the trustees aware of the situation and the misgivings of many in the creative arts sector locally that Shetland Arts has lost its way?

Peter Davis
Wester Skeld



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