Interview: Martha Burns Findlay

Hello Martha, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I grew up near Loch Lomond and moved to Glasgow for university when I was 18. Moving from the countryside, I was enthralled by Glasgow’s distinctive character, warm energy and dynamic creative scene. Glasgow was my home for over 10 years before moving to London in 2015. I always thought London would be temporary thing, but after almost 5 years I’ve really grown to love the place. South-East London is my stomping ground. I’m now currently in the midst of relocating to Edinburgh. I’ve never lived in Edinburgh before but its a city that I’ve always wanted to know better. I’m really looking forward to becoming a Leith local.


When did you first realise you were creative?
As a wee girl I was very shy, but I was always interested in singing, dancing and acting. After tireless hours of performing in front of my parents in our sitting room, they ended up sending me to drama workshops at Scottish Youth Theatre when I was 11. This really helped me to come out of my shell and to grow my confidence. I also think growing up in a rural village with only 13 other kids at my school nurtured my creativity, as we had to be very resourceful and make-up our own fun. Every year we used to take part in a gala day where we would create a themed float and local farmers would tow us through the neighbouring villages and we would wave at the crowds. We spent the whole year planning our themed costumes from Vikings to rainforest animals, circus performers to pirates. It was the highlight of my year!

Can you tell us about your training?
I’ve always had quite a broad interest in both the arts and cultural heritage. For my undergraduate studies at the University of Glasgow I chose to study both Celtic Studies and Theatre Studies and later went on to do a Diploma in Physical Theatre Practice at The Arches & Adam Smith College.  Whilst at university I became heavily involved in community volunteering and I began working on community arts projects. I later went on to undertake a postgraduate Master of Education in Community Learning and Development which helped to inform my community arts practice. Whilst my formal training has been invaluable, I do believe much of my learning has taken place on-the-job through successive voluntary and paid job roles. For the past 10 years I’ve worked mostly within museum and art gallery contexts, working across multiple art forms.


You specialise in arts-led community participation and social practice – what is it about this aspect of the arts community that makes you tick?
The opportunity to participate in cultural life and to access the arts is a fundamental human right. I truly believe the arts play a vital role in our shared lives. The arts can be a tool for building bonds between people and communities; it can provide a platform for people to learn, grow and develop; it can be a form of expression and a tool for communication; it can help us to reimagine and reshape our neighbourhoods and cities; and it can act as a lens through which we can see our world in a new light. My passion for arts-led community participation and social practice stems from the transformative experience that the arts have had on my own life, and over the past 15 years I have witnessed the powerful impact it has had on the lives on others. In a chaotic and sometimes difficult world I truly believe that cultural experiences have the power to help us make sense of the world around us and to have some agency in how our world is shaped. It is the tremendous social value of the arts that inspires me to do what I do.

What for you makes a good piece of art?
I really struggle with the categorisation of good and bad art. I believe art is subjective. Personally, I tend to be drawn to art that connects with me in an innate way. It could be a personal connection, art that elicits an emotional response, or something that stirs my curiosity and critical consciousness.


What is LeithLate and how did you get involved with LeithLate?
LeithLate is an arts organisation that produces public art projects and creative events in Leith, Edinburgh. Founded in 2011, LeithLate has run all sorts of cool creative things over the years including the Shutter Project, Mural Tours, Leith Walkers Outdoor Exhibition and the annual LeithLate Weekends. As previously mentioned, I’m currently in the process of relocating to Leith, so I wanted to get involved with LeithLate in order to get to know the neighbourhood and to become actively involved in the local creative community. I’m also really passionate about art in civic spaces and I really love the work that Morvern Cunningham (Founder and Director of LeithLate) has done over the years. My first event with LeithLate was back in July, co-producing the LeithLate19 Weekend. I’m now currently working on LeithLate’s November programme and a season of events in early 2020.

Can you tell us about the Glow Art Trail?
The show will be an after-dark art trail in and around Leith’s Kirkgate. Bringing art to the streets of Leith, it will inspire people to explore the urban landscape and to see the neighbourhood in new and surprising ways. LeithLate is known for its public art interventions, but we’ve never done something like this before so it’s really exciting. We’ve invited five artists to exhibit existing and new artworks for this show. The featured artists include Edinburgh-based visual artist Abi Lewis, illustrator Ursula Kam-Ling Cheng, film-maker and photographer Lucas Chih-Peng Kao, Dutch-born videographer and projection artist Mettje Hunneman and award-winning Scottish artist Lauren McLaughlin. The artworks include window displays, neon signage and large-scale projections. The trail is free for all to attend and will run over three evenings from Friday 15 to Sunday 17 November, 6-8pm, for people to explore at their leisure. The starting point is the Queen Victoria Statue at the Newkirkgate Shopping Centre at the bottom of Leith Walk. Our November programme has been generously supported by City of Edinburgh Council and Baillie Gifford.


You’re also collaborating with Pianodrome and Leith Theatre to produce Moon Party this year. What’s that all about?
At LeithLate we love a party. Following our sold-out club night back in July, we’re teaming up with Pianodrome and Leith Theatre on our upcoming Moon Party which will take place on Saturday 16 November. As a continuation of the Glow Art Trail, our Moon Party will invite revellers to enjoy November’s dark nights and embrace the wild spirit of the moon. It will be an immersive night of projections by Mettje Hunneman, live music from S!nk, DJ beats and glow-in-the-dark performances all set within the magical Pianodrome. For those who are new to the Pianodrome, it’s a circular amphitheatre and interactive sculpture made entirely from upcycled pianos. It’s a piece of art in itself. Moon Party is the official launch party of Pianodrome’s ‘resonancy’ at Leith Theatre which runs from 12 November-8 December. Tickets for Moon Party are £10 and are on sale now:


Start at Queen Victoria Statue, Kirkgate, Leith
Friday 15-Sunday 17 November, 8-late
Free to attend, booking not required


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