• sradagcreative

The Creative Ruralist Podcast

Anyone who follows me on social media might have seen I've mentioned this before, a series of Podcasts started as part my final project for my Masters course. I was inspired by some of the brilliant, in-depth discussions I’ve had with my peers, lecturers, and guest speakers on the masters programme over the course of those two years. These conversations covered everything from what it means to be a socially engaged artist, to perceptions of rurality, to how we present ourselves as creative people, who are creating the current narrative of rural life in Scotland. Looking back, I wish we’d recorded those conversation, and shared them publicly, because within this wee network we are surrounded by quite like minded people, and all agree that we already know about, discuss and challenge these issues and questions.


So, this podcast aims to be a platform to open up this discourse, broadening this dialogue about what ‘Rural’ and ‘Remote’ means to us who live and work here, and making it open and accessible to those who don’t, to get more involved and participate.


The following blog post lists the episodes of season one, along with an excerpt of the critical review of this podcast - submitted as part of my final masters submission. The piece gives a little background on the reasoning behind starting this podcast. If you'd rather just listen to the podcasts themselves just click these links and happy listening!


" This podcast, in a small way, offers opportunities for other representations; a space for rural people to have their say, and reclaim different narratives of rurality."


Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6


Excerpt from critical review, submitted in May 2021.


As a young Hebridean islander experiencing the city of Edinburgh for the first time at university, I was all too often amazed and frustrated by the lack of knowledge, the preconceived romantic notions, and the general misrepresentation of what rural life is really like. It is my belief that there is a lack of understanding of what it means to be ‘rural’. This is both from (some people) within and outwith what is perceived to be ‘rural’ areas.

In an attempting to counteract what I feel are inaccurate narratives of rural Scotland, I have been trying to tell a more accurate perspective, by sharing – through my photography - the authentic stories of the places and people of my home community, here in the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Conversation also plays a huge part in this practice and I chose to focus on this aspect to create The Creative Ruralist Podcast. I decided to use the dynamic digital format of ‘the Podcast’ to reach and engage with a new audience to share these positive ‘rural’ experiences.

" The Creative Ruralist Podcast explores peoples’ feelings about perceptions of rurality, particularly from the perspectives of female creative practitioners working socially in what are perceived as rural areas. "


As a rural island community, we have a specially close connection to our culture and heritage - a deep-rooted connection to the people and the place. I take pride in coming from a ‘rural’ Scottish Island, and I definitely do not feel ‘remote’ here. However, ‘remote’, ‘isolated’ and ‘wild’, are words that are often used about rural places, often by non-rural dwellers. There is also a stereotype of a slow-paced, disconnected, slightly backwards way of life here, with quite negative connotations.
The idea to make these podcasts was inspired by some of the brilliant, in-depth discussions I have had over the last two years with my peers, lecturers, and guest speakers – most of whom are women – through the Masters course in Art and Social Practice. These conversations included what it means to be a socially engaged artist, perceptions of rurality, and how we present ourselves as creative people who are creating a contemporary narrative of rural life in Scotland.

I am very aware that within this network we are surrounded by quite likeminded people – similarly situated in ‘rural’ places, working in the creative industries, who already know about, discuss and challenge these issues and questions. We were essentially ‘preaching to the choir’ here. I felt that these conversations needed to be heard by a wider audience, in a way that was accessible, and which allowed opportunities for participation. Starting with my own network, I wanted to provide a voice, as guests on this podcast, for other rurally based creative practitioners who have had similar experiences to my own.



So, why a podcast? ­­

One goal in starting a podcast was to have an accessible, public platform to share our experiences and perspectives as rurally situated practitioners, with the hope that this might lead to progress and changes of perceptions. The media, books, the tourism industry, and to a certain extent cultural colonialism, have all played a part in painting a fairly inaccurate picture of what it means to be rural. The language we use to talk about these places also plays a part in shaping these perceptions. Words like ‘remote’, ‘isolated’ and ‘wild’ are used to evoke imagery of “rugged mountain, misty glens…remote lochs” (Moffat, 1986), highland cows and sheep on empty crofts with derelict houses on them, white sand beaches and turquoise seas with no-one to be seen for miles. This idea of the “Pastoral myth” (Pacione, 1989) persists. Yes, these images exist, but there is a substantial part of this narrative which is missing. The people are missing! There are vibrant, thriving, living communities in these rural places, despite these negative perceptions (Gilg,1991). This podcast, in a small way, offers opportunities for other representations; a space for rural people to have their say, and reclaim different narratives of rurality.

As someone who lives and works in rural places ­– who also has a wide and eclectic network of people living and working in other rural areas – I feel that am well placed to draw upon these resources and skills needed for this project. Podcasts provide a platform to share my own specific knowledge and experiences on these themes, as well as those of my network, to share this discussion with the wider public and do my bit in helping to change this romanticised narrative, as “laid down by Ossian and Walter Scott” (Jamie, 2012) to a more accurate one. It is also pertinent to mention that this project was carried out during a global pandemic, so this medium offered an opportunity to use an exciting new format to make meaningful work, while following government guidelines around social distancing.

As many creative practitioners experienced, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic brought about a forcible change to our “normal” ways of working. I am a photographer and graphic designer, but conversation and storytelling also play a huge part in my practice. My mother tongue is Scottish Gaelic, so this culture has always been intertwined into my practice. In both my personal and professional life, I have always had an interest in conversation, being interviewed, interviewing others, and sharing the stories of my community and its people. Over the years I have had a steady connection with the Gaelic media throughout Scotland, so I have become comfortable in talking on radio and television. Presenting and leading seminars on this online masters course, as well as my work as a Heritage and Arts development officer for the local community land trust – where I host evening talks and organise heritage events that promote our local assets to a potentially international audience – have all contributed in building my confidence as a host and as someone who was in an informed position to share these discussions with the wider world. Therefore, even as a visual practitioner, where it could potentially be risky to diversify into audio publishing, I felt it was a natural extension. This project provided an exciting opportunity for me to explore working in a new format, which enriched my existing skills, and complemented some of my previous experiences, and interests.
The experiences of meeting, educating, hosting and conversing with people in this online format, especially during the pandemic, has emphasised the opportunities and access that working online can provide even from very rural locations.

Working as a professional in still visuals I also see advantages from working in dynamic formats such as audio recordings, which can complement the images. Podcasts are increasingly popular, perhaps because they allow mobile availability in a busy society. Whether commuting, working from home, cooking or just winding down, the mobile quality that podcasts have - they can literally come with you in your pocket - mean they are accessible to a wide audience of potential listeners.

This ease of access suggested the perfect format to create The Creative RuralistPodcast. As an avid podcast listener, I particularly enjoy when you can feel that you’re in the room with the speakers, as an “active listener” (Johnstone, 2020) to the conversation. The combination of feeling involved in a conversation, along with the semi-anonymity of the guest in this medium, means that listeners can become more amenable to having their minds opened to new ways of thinking. This anonymity can also be a comforting factor for the speakers, allowing them to speak more freely than if it was recorded on video, for example. Audio is a platform that allows for open, honest and objective discussions, which also holds the potential to engage with a wide audience. This allows a safe space for us to open up this existing discourse on ‘rural’ places, to challenge the perceptions of ‘rurality’, and to propose a new narrative. Authenticity is factored in as these conversations are constructed by people living and working in ‘rural’ places, while ensuring that the dialogue is open and accessible to those who are not rural.

As a podcast listener I was acutely aware of the need for good technical quality, and achieving this despite the new frustrations and challenges of both using new tools and techniques and working within this new post-pandemic working . There were also ethical considerations to consider, on who could participate, on covid-safe-working.

The process of recording the six episodes in this series remained the same throughout, with some minor improvements as mistakes were made and as I became familiar with the process over the six months of the project. Interviews were all recorded online using WebEx and ZOOM video-conferencing software to safely navigate the Covid-19 restrictions as this avoided any face-to-face contact. This also meant that guests were not restricted to my locale and I could interview people from anywhere. Some examples of the themes were sent to participants in advance of the interviews along with their consent forms, however specific questions were held back until the day because I wanted reactions to be genuine and not to feel rehearsed – for conversation to be and sound natural and relaxed.

I had initially planned to keep the interviews under 30 minutes; however, it was evident that there was scope and interest to have longer conversations of up to an hour in length. Subsequent episodes were 45-50 minutes in length after edit, which meant that there was time for a really in-depth conversation as well as allowing for a proper introduction and exit monologue, and this kept each episode under the hour mark. I felt strongly that I wanted to include the entire conversation, again so the experience felt natural, but also retaining the space and quieter moments as the participant’s thoughts develop.

I did my background research on each participant using a combination of their websites and external documentation, such as publications they were mentioned or featured in. I found it particularly interesting to see the differences between aspects of their practices and lives that participants chose to share with me verbally, and those that I found on their websites. I found it surprising that in almost all cases, participants downplayed the extent of their practices and achievements, and although we mentioned some of these during the interviews, many did not mention them as part of their formal introduction. I therefore made a point of highlighting and promoting these achievements in their pre-recorded episode introductions.

The final step in the editing process was to balance the volume of the recorded audio, and then to layer some music over the start and end. The music, in keeping with the ethos of the podcast, is a composition by one of the participants, by Jane Hepburn Macmillan, called ‘Creative Places’. I was particularly drawn to this piece of music because I felt it was emotive of the creative process, which tied in with my desire to promote participants practices, and represented the tone and personality of this podcast. It also added a level of professionalism and finesse to the overall sound of the final product and there was a lot of feedback from listeners who said it added to emotional experience of listening to the conversations.

The participants of the podcast were drawn from a positivist sampled selection. The decision of whom to interview in these six episodes was difficult in some ways because there were several people that I felt could bring different dynamics and unique perspectives to the themes. Starting with peers on the masters course – because I knew they had experience in discussing these themes in the past – I chose a sample which could cover a range of disciplines and rural places. From there I started building a shortlist of other potential participants, to ensure that there was a range of perspectives, life experiences and a geographical balance of island and mainland practitioners.
Early on in the project it was decided that interviews would be a mix of groups and individuals. This decision was partly because I was a bit worried that the episodes might be repetitive, a worry that was soon dispelled. Another reason was that the participants themselves might feel more confident and comfortable in speaking as a small group rather than in a one-to-one interview. Finally, I thought that it would give the listeners variety in the types of conversations they were listening to. However, looking back, even with the same types of questions, the interviews were very different. Each episode explored the participant’s lived experiences as a rural creative practitioner, as well as their feelings on the overarching themes of rurality and socially engaged art practice. This variety of experiences meant that the answers were unique and varied, so that it did not feel repetitive.

Each episode was structured in a similar way, with a bank of broad, open questions on the themes or rurality and social art practice, which were used to initiate all of the conversations. I jumped back and forth between calling them interviews and conversations, because I do not feel they are as interrogative or structured as most interviews. I asked similar questions in each podcast in order to maintain a level of consistency and continuity throughout the episodes, and to establish a baseline to compare and contrast the recurring issues or common themes.

Open questions were intentionally broad, so participants could expand what they wanted from them, and this also left space to refine their response later. Some questions explored their rural experience, or how being rurally based affect their practice? Was there a greater awareness of the cultural background of a rural place? Their answers varied from very specific, practice-based responses, to much more general community focused considerations. Although each episode has a unique quality to it, there were common themes and responses that arose in all six episodes.

A community of interest (Rennie, 1993) has developed from these podcasts, and despite the variety of backgrounds, practices, and disciplines within the creative industries, there has been a gravitation towards common themes and a similar desire for change. All episodes were recorded before any of them were made public, suggesting that these common themes grew organically out of the individual responses and could not have been guided by having heard previous episodes. One of these collective points was the call for a de-centralisation of resources, in particular those of the arts organisations and funders. Rurally situated artists felt un-supported, underfunded and un-represented by organisations such as the National Galleries of Scotland and Creative Scotland, whose resources are often focused on the Central Belt despite claiming to be ‘national’ organisations. Within this theme it was also interrogated as to how, from an arts funding perspective, we measure the effectiveness and success of socially engaged art within rural communities, because the centralised methods and objectives imposed on these places does not work.
Another theme that reoccurred throughout was in response to the language we use to talk about and describe rural places. It was stated how words like “remote” could be interpreted differently by each individual. Furthermore, describing rural places and landscapes with words such as “wild”, “isolated” and ‘the edge” (Blackie, 2019) only added to the “19th century…romantic associations” (Moffat, 1986), of rurality which were not only un-true but also un-helpful. I felt encouraged to see that self-proclaimed “city-dwellers” and “urbanites” were engaging with the podcast on social media saying that they are having their minds opened to the negative denotation that these words could have, and this may be something to explore in future.

A final theme that was prevalent was the sense that being part of a rural community is also a community of interest, comprised of shared values and supporting one another, both in physical “cooperation in economic life, and…mutual aid” (Pacione, 1989) and in social encouragement. A point was made that these places have shared values, with community, people, landscapes, language and history all playing parts in creating a deep-rooted sense of connection that natives or ‘incomers’ can feel a part of. Despite the overlapping themes, each episode has a uniqueness and a special quality which both intrigues and inspires. This is due, in part, to the diversity of the participants themselves, and these differences led to the decision to have a gentle thematic focus for each episode, which ranged from contrasting island versus mainland rural experiences, to living rurally but working globally, to how social art practice and public art can fit in a rural context.

To publicise the podcast, I started a Twitter profile (@TRuralist) where I could promote episodes when they were published and to pose questions that would invite discussion on the themes discussed in the podcast. Although Twitter is a platform that I am relatively unfamiliar with, compared to Instagram or Facebook, I was drawn to the fast-paced format and threads as a way to easily keep track of the various themes. The exchanges so far indicate it was a good decision, and I have been overwhelmed by the level of engagement.

One follower described the podcast as “…pioneering in the way that it challenges ideas about 'remote', 'rural' and 'island' places and spaces…” (A. Dunnachie. Twitter, 2021). Another highlighted a point in episode 1 where “…Creativity in places so often positioned as peripheral, far from remote from the people and places is being sustained.” (C. McCullagh. Twitter, 2021). Another listener to the podcast messaged me privately after listening to the podcast and highlighted the comparison of,…two vibrant centres in which the arts and making art are vital: both are complex webs of relationships-- inner cities and rural places. Both derive and inspire art that is connected to people and place.” (Prof. R. Beard. Facebook, 2021). I am moved by the reactions and responses that these conversations have evoked on an international level.

Another outcome has been to continue expanding our network and connect with likeminded practitioners. This began with a bunch of friends, but I have now started a WhatsApp group to connect people outwith this Masters cohort. The initial intention was to share episodes with the group, but I did not expect that this space would also come to share thoughts on the themes and questions discussed on the podcast. The group also became a really supportive space to openly share thoughts and feelings, worries and concerns about the various topics covered in the podcasts.

©Fiona Rennie, 2021

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