Set deep in the Caithness countryside, Lyth Arts Centre is housed in the former Barrock Public School - a small, Victorian-era building surrounded by trees and ancient stone walls; whilst the exterior of the building retains much of its historic character, the interior has been adapted and transformed into a multipurpose theatre venue and exhibition space.
The centre was established in 1977 by William Wilson – an accomplished artist who had also been involved with the Edinburgh Festival. Along with a desire to offer touring theatre performances and exhibitions, he also recognised the need to develop and support both local arts and artists within his native Caithness and the north of Sutherland. The venue was compact and intimate, regularly overspilling into William’s home in the adjoining schoolhouse; by 2002, expansion of the facilities had become a necessity, and the centre gained disabled access, a new exhibition and cafe area, and an accommodation annexe for artists and performers.
Now in its 38th season, Lyth Arts Centre provides a focus for arts and culture in the far north of Scotland, and also acts as a stepping-off point for local activity and involvement. A year-round programme of live performances presents the best (and often innovative and experimental) work of small-scale touring companies, including drama, dance, jazz, folk, word, and new music. Promoting work of the highest standard, the majority of the programme is devoted to presenting the work of professional British and international artists and performers.
The centre’s reputation for hosting residencies has grown notably over the course of the last decade, with numerous practitioners and groups from the fields of theatre, music and visual art all benefiting greatly from spending time working in and responding to its unique and inspiring location. Offering generous hospitality and an escape from the hectic pace of everyday life, residencies at Lyth Arts Centre provide valuable opportunities for creative professionals to concentrate on the development and exploration of artistic practice and potential, whether visiting as an individual or as part of a collaborative group. The facilities, all of which are located on-site, have been carefully designed to provide participants with the comfort and freedom to work without distraction or intrusion.
In spring 2014 the centre embarked upon a three-year residency development project, allowing the devotion of more time and resources to the hosting and facilitating of residencies during its season of events…which is where I come in. I’m Karlyn Sutherland – a Caithness native, architectural designer, glassmaker and (as of April this year) Residency Coordinator at Lyth Arts Centre. I lived, worked and studied in Edinburgh for almost 10 years, relocating home to Lybster (on the east coast) in 2011 in order to finish my Ph.D. thesis and to work on several ongoing local architectural projects. Common to all avenues of my work is an intrigue into the relationships that are formed between people and place, with a special interest into the impact of such bonds upon creativity; I am constantly surprised by the ways in which people (particularly visitors) respond to the northernmost corner of Scotland, and by the resonance it can go on to have within their work and lives. The residency programme at Lyth provides the ideal platform for creative professionals to begin such explorations; I’m thrilled to be involved, and will be blogging about all that unfolds – welcome along!