I’ve spoken a lot about the need for community, rest, and the value of the arts and humanities. While I was in Dumfries I found those things in an organization called Drawing for Enjoyment or DFE for short. I stumbled across it walking up the high street one day, new to Dumfries, and looking for a way to meet people and find something to do in town, which wasn’t going to the pub. I saw on the board in the Stove (An artist led organisation with the aim of community development) a new class coming up called Drawing for Enjoyment. I was intrigued.
It didn’t take long before I got to know the man behind the vision, Frank Hayes. I began helping him set up and handout materials, clean up, and organise the exhibitions at the end of each block of sessions. We’d chat and plan over drinks and it didn’t take long before we were having 20 to sometimes even 40 people a week. What had been something targeted at 18 – 30 year-olds, now had people from 12 to 83 and from all different walks of life. At least once a week it seemed someone was telling Frank or I that this was the first time they’d drawn in 5, 10, or 20 years.
For me, having moved to a town where I knew no one, this really helped make feel like I was a part of something, that I had a community. It also showed me the importance of having community outside of academia as well. Not only did they keep me grounded but DFE drew an incredibly positive and supportive community. It was a place where you were accepted for just being there; a place where people really wanted to know how you were doing or how your week had been. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way either. We had people who came to workshops after some severe personal tragedies because they knew that’s where they would find the comfort and support they needed. Which I think is an amazing testament to the programme and community’s quality.
More simply, in that community and under the ethos of simply drawing for the joy of creating, I could relax, unburdened from the demands and anxiety concerning my PhD. It was 2 hours a week scheduled for me to just sit and draw, where it didn’t matter how it turned out. In that time of rest, it reminded me that I was more than my work; it helped me recapture my humanity. I think in so many ways that’s one of the most power aspects of art. I think it’s also why DFE has drawn such an amazing and supportive group of people; and in the process created such a wonderful community.
It also, gave me a sense of purpose outside my PhD. As Frank’s assistant of sorts, I would walk around to make sure everyone had what they needed, understood what we were working on, and also to encourage them. It was amazing to see people’s reactions when you praise their work. Their eyes light up a bit and they gain a little more confidence, become a little bolder, and stop worrying so much about ‘getting it right’. And the pieces that came out of those workshops and from people saying, “I can’t draw” have been amazing! The really amazing part was when a person could step back and appreciate their own work, that’s when we really knew DFE had made a difference in someone’s life.
I think in so many ways DFE demonstrates the power art can have. It’s a powerful tool in developing communities and helping individuals rediscover their humanity, learning to accept themselves while exploring their ability to express themselves creatively. It taps into something deep and transcendental, and yet simple and everyday. So why write this? To brag about a great opportunity and reminisce? Well maybe a wee bit, but it’s to encourage you to find your own outlet, your own DFE to get you through the hard times of a PhD. It’s also to encourage those of you in the arts to see the value in what you do and the importance and power in it. With that in mind I’ve asked my friend Frank to write a guest post about DFE, which now has added photography for enjoyment to its list of courses. I think his ethos and theory behind art would be interesting for many of you. Furthermore, I think his insight into the role he’s seen DFE play in creating a community and also the role it plays in rebuilding the community of Dumfries would be intriguing to many of you and possibly tie into your research. At the very least I hope it’s been a more positive break from exploring the difficulties and trials of a PhD, and encouragement to rediscover or find those hobbies that provide some community, help you relax, and embrace your humanity.
We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with David via email at email@example.com or connect with the blog on Twitter