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Mind Expanding Moments – by Ervin Mackie

Press Change is a 10-day-long youth community journalism project, supporting a small cohort of young people to develop their skills, confidence and agency in raising their voices, whilst exploring local environmental and societal issues across Dundee

Keen to discover more about the city where he lives, Ervin also wanted to challenge himself in new creative ways, by interviewing people on the street about their relationship with art and the communities of Dundee, whilst learning more about photography.


Photography by Ben Douglas
A bit about me and how I joined the project

My name is Ervin Mackie. I graduated in Biochemistry from the University of Dundee in 2023 and I am currently unemployed. I have lived in Dundee all my life, so I am passionate about this city. I love all the green spaces available and often walk around them with my dogs. I spend much of my time creating art, like crocheting, embroidering, and sculpture making.

I would say I was a last-minute addition to the Press Change team. When I got an email the day before the first meeting, I was surprised and confused about the project. As it is a pilot project, a lot of the fine print on the project's outcomes were unknown. All I knew was that there would be four other young people and five creative practitioners, of which I knew two. They were the ones who invited me to take part in the project. I know them through a drama group I am in.

My thoughts when I went to the first meeting

When I first went to the meeting, it was in the Keiller Centre, but I did not know which room it was in, so I walked around and started getting nervous when I couldn't find it. The room was right in the back of the Centre and when I found it, my first thought was that the windows were massive and that there was no place to hide. I then noticed the people, there were a lot. The aim of the meeting was to get to know each other and share thoughts on current issues.

The creative facilitators tried to get many young people to share their views in their own words, and because it was their first time being there, many didn't want to go first. I felt I had to take the plunge and talk; I thought I needed to be more outgoing than usual in this setting. There was a task that asked us to read out the answers to one of the prompt questions, and I was the first one to do it out of the young people. I just remember trying to be funny and make jokes while I was talking. I felt embarrassed immediately after, but I tried not to show it.

After the first meeting my thoughts were still full of confusion, but joy as well. I liked the people there, and the chance to participate in this project got me excited, especially whenever I thought of it. I just knew I wanted to continue coming to the group meetings.

The next meeting was similar but more aimed towards what we cared about and wanted to focus our projects on. There were short tasters of different types of art, such as writing, drawing, and photography. I enjoyed the activities they gave us, and some were very thought-provoking.

What is my project, the aim, and a little about the questions

From the start, I knew I wanted to talk to people, and because one of the activities was photography, I wanted to take photos of people. I also wanted to make a poster I could hand out to people to make myself feel more official and not so creepy. 

The Press Change project wanted to give five young people the chance to talk about something they were passionate about, and for the topics to be about social issues and climate change. At the start, I had a few different topics my project could have explored, but I narrowed it down to how people interact with art and gave my topic a social issue spin. I also wanted a chance to interact with others more, so I challenged myself by interviewing people and getting their opinions on my topic.

Since graduating last year, I have become a hermit and wanted to use this project to be more social and produce a piece of art by the end. I wanted my project to be a piece of writing and, hopefully, an exhibition of the portraits I took and some quotes from the interviews. I felt a personal connection to this project from the start and wanted to keep that going throughout.

What my thoughts were when I was interviewing people

I wanted to interview different people, so I thought people from the public and some people from an art background would give a good mixture of opinions. 

The first time I was interviewing people, it was spontaneous and was not planned. I was at our third group meeting and Ben, one of the creative facilitators, convinced me to start that day. We then went out, and he showed me how to work the camera I had recently got. We walked about a little, taking practice shots of him, and that is when I took his photo to use in the project. 

We then made our way towards the Steeple and met Emily and Travis down a side street. They were friendly people to interview, and I'm glad they were the first to allow me to interview them. They were very patient, and I appreciated that. Interviewing two people at once made it more of a group discussion than an interview, making it easier for me. But doing it gave me the confidence to talk to more people that day. I was lucky at first; Ben asked people if they wanted to be interviewed mainly because he knew most of them. They were also really kind and had interesting stories to share with me. I could say that about everyone I interviewed. 

Reflection of art community of Dundee quotes, collage illustration by Jurgita Vas

My favourite part of interacting with these people was the chance to take their photos. I loved the ability to encapsulate a moment of their lives in an image. I now have that as a memory that I will not easily forget because I can look back at all these photos of people who helped me grow.

The people I interviewed that day helped me gain more confidence to go up to people and talk to them, which I used the second time we interviewed people. This time, though, Ben, my biggest supporter throughout this project, gave me little challenges to overcome when we were out. At first, it was just going up to people and asking them if they wanted to be a part of my project, and he was there for moral support. Then, it was about going to talk to someone while he was away. I appreciated that he pushed me to achieve as much as I did with this project. He also taught me how to use a camera, change the settings, which lighting is best, which backgrounds would look good, how to frame people in a photo, and how to edit. I now use these skills in my personal life, and hopefully, they will continue to grow.

I was apprehensive throughout the time I was interviewing people that I wasn't going to have the desired amount, so I asked another creative facilitator, Avery, if he knew any people in the creative sector who would be interested in being interviewed, which is how I organised an interview with Cara. Then, Bethan, one of the young people, offered to ask their lecturer in DJCAD if they could send out my poster and information to some art students to see if they wanted to participate in my project. Which is how I got a couple more interviewees. I think having the ability to interview people in different contexts gave me a better perspective on being an interviewer.

What was the difference between a planned interview and the street interviews?

I think the main difference between a planned interview and the street interviews was the vulnerability. The planned interviews were one-on-one meetings and done inside, which gave the interviews a closer environment. Most of the environments were new to me, so I was a bit nervous. I did get a wee tour of some students' studios, which I loved. It was interesting to see what people were working on. I liked how these interviews felt more personal, as shown by Marie's photo; her art surrounds her, and I love that. Compared to being on the streets, it was more of an open space, which for me, made it feel less nerve-racking but probably did not help the interviewees.

For the street interviews, there were more people milling about, and it affected how I interacted with people. I was stiffer to start with. I was also way too worried about being rude and not making anyone uncomfortable. I think that could have been because there was less chance of walking away without things being awkward. For one, I don't think I could have left the building alone without getting lost. But with the street ones, that wasn't the case. There was not as much worry if someone just decided to walk away if they didn't like my questions or if I asked them to do something they didn't like.

The conversations were different. I think giving people a chance to prepare themselves for an interview helps them feel more comfortable and not put on the spot as much. I felt the conversation flowed a lot easier, but that did depend on the person. I did an interview over the Internet, which did not feel as connected as the ones done in person, but it was still good to get their perspective.

I think that because the planned interviews were conducted inside, taking photos was much more challenging. I found getting the proper lighting very difficult because I did not have my camera expert, Ben, there. I had to figure it out myself. I did, but I noticed I had to take many more photos to get the right one compared to being outside. I also think I took more photos the further in my project I got because I had more experience and was way more picky with getting the perfect shot.

What were some of the replies to some questions and how I related to them

I tried to be concise with my questions and not too complicated with the wording. I wanted them to introduce themselves and then answer what kind of art they like and the benefits of doing art, what could improve Dundee, how they engage with Dundee's community, and what projects they would love to see. 

The main questions I was interested in hearing about were: How do you think people can engage more with art through their community? What do you think can improve Dundee's community? And what project would you love to see happening in your local community?

There was a lot of overlap in the answers for each question, especially between how people can engage more and how Dundee can improve. For answers on how Dundee can improve, many were things society as a whole could improve. 

For example, better funding was one, which was a bit obvious but true: “there is not enough funding, and it is hard to get. Many projects happening struggle because of that”

Reflection of art community of Dundee quotes, collage illustration by Jurgita Vas

Another is time poverty; everyone is struggling because of the economy, it's hard for people to have time or energy to do things they would like. Which I think influences what people can do in the community, such as not being able to afford workshops or the cinema. 

There was a familiar comment people were making about events being more accessible. Be it in the context of money, locations being spread around Dundee, types of people these activities are for and what the activities were. They want more activities and workshops to be aimed at families and younger people. 

People thought activities that were put on were not just art activities, but some were to learn life skills like cooking or budgeting. I like the thought that there is a free class there that people can use to improve the quality of people's lives. 

Reflection of art community of Dundee quotes, collage illustration by Jurgita Vas

A couple of people said that sharing information was another thing that could improve Dundee—sharing things like life skills or just events that are going on in Dundee. I agree. I don't know much about what events are put on around Dundee. It would be nice if there were one place to find all the information, like a website where different companies could post about what they are running.

The main things the interviewees said would help people engage with art more were free events, more accessible events, co-creative events and more art installations. Someone said something obvious in hindsight, but something I didn't do myself was to tell friends and family about events you hear are on and suggest for them to go. This would help with publicity, would help increase the number of people who attend an event and support the local events. 

A few people said something that might be holding people back from interacting with art is the stigma around it, and that art is for the elites. I think that might influence people's willingness to go into a gallery space or try a new art form. It is something people have to work on personally to get over, but art is personal and can be defined by everyone, so everyone should be welcomed.

The last question was just a fun addition to the interview because I thought it would be nice to hear what people wanted to happen in their local community. Each person had different answers, but I loved hearing them all.

Reflection of art community of Dundee quotes, collage illustration by Jurgita Vas

One project was more music events, be it a festival or a workshop to make your own. Some others wanted more shops, art installations, the Eden Project, more buildings being taken over for art, more performance art and even an Art café where you can learn things and have a place to put up your own. One idea was for community centres in Dundee or different cities to join together to organise one big art event that involves the public and helps them connect with each other. I thought that was a lovely idea. I'm unsure what it would look like, but I think it would be cool if it happened. Someone wanted more activity trails to help connect the public with nature. I think all these ideas are lovely and hope to see them all happen in the future.

What were some memorable moments during the interviews?

I've never formally interviewed someone before, so I didn't know what to really expect when I started. I just chose the question I wanted them to answer. I did not think more about it, except from what I was interested in hearing about. However, after actually doing an interview, I noticed very quickly that the order of my questions affected the flow. At first, the order was very light and nothing too negative, but when I asked the last question (what could improve Dundee's community) it affected the mood, bringing everything down a little. So, with Ben's help, we decided it was better if we ended the interview on a more positive note, and that question being, what project would you love to see happen in your local community?

After Willam's interview my photos changed for the better. While taking his photo, I noticed that he was a little stiff and unsure of what to do, which I felt a lot during this project, but right at this moment with my new found confidence – I was pushing my luck – and I asked him to smile. It worked. I took a candid photo of his natural smile. Since that photo, I have found a love for taking pictures of people's smiles and when they are in a more natural environment, which you can see through David with his dogs, Marie with her art, and Katie being mid-laugh.

Another memorable moment was Ben's challenge of talking to someone while he was away. I kind of cheated, but how would he find out? We were on Dundee's University campus beside the union, and I was looking entirely lost, and made eye contact with Alys. We kept making eye contact while she was walking towards me but I was second-guessing myself whether I should ask her or not. But then Alys was right beside me, asking if I needed anything before I got the confidence to ask her first, which is how she joined the project. She was very nice and told me many stories, like how she was part of a conference with an art performance which made a mural out of the discussions happening there.

On that same day, after leaving Dundee's University campus. There were a lot of people to interview. We were talking about what things to look out for when wanting to talk to people. For example, if they are in a rush or people with kids, it’s best to leave them alone. So that got me thinking: is that the case for people with dogs? His answer was no, but he was trying to explain that it depended on whether the animal was pulling or not. I stopped him mid-sentence to go up to David, who happened to be passing by. Then we got chatting about how I wasn't the first person to interview him recently and how his dogs were rescued. We all were enthusiastic about getting a photo with the dogs in it, and the moment she turned to face the camera, it was perfect. It brought a smile to all of us, and it still does when I look at it.

Cara's interview was held in the Press Change hub, and Claire, the producer, brought a recorder I could use. At first, I was happy because that meant a clearer recording, but it presented itself as a challenge when trying to get the file. At the last meeting, I was in a slight panic; I could not find the file when looking on the SD card. But Lisa came to my rescue, took the recorder off my hands, and troubleshot the device for me. She got the file back, thankfully.

My thoughts when I went to the last meeting

When I went to the last official meeting, it was very different from the others. Each person had their own work to do, so we split off into smaller groups. The aim of that day was just to prepare for a presentation and take the time to get any support we needed. I was working on compiling the interviewee's answers and starting to write this piece you are reading now. The day was full of work, but it was comfortable.

Being surrounded by people whom I got to know and make friends with, and getting the chance to have fun conversations while also being productive was a change of pace for my usual work ethic, which is normally staying up late and working too close to deadlines.

This day gave me the chance to experience what group work should be like if you're a little more social—being able to have conversations and bounce off ideas when needed and still have the space to work. 

The space we were based in definitely helped make me feel this comfortable, with its soft lighting, comfy seats and blankets. It made it feel homely, which is a little sad to think that the next time I go into the Keller Center, it won't be the same.

What was the outcome, and am I happy with it?

At first, each young person had an idea of what they wanted their outcome to look like. Mine was an exposition of the photos I had taken, with an accompanying piece of writing to give more context to the pictures. This naturally evolved as the project did. Time moved very quickly, and how feasible some of the ideas were came to light. Having an exhibition was scraped because it was a bit short notice to organise a place to hold and format the layout for everything which is sort of okay because I didn't want to take on that responsibility either, but still, it would have been nice to see big prints of the photos I had taken.

I knew from the start I did want it to go online, so I am happy with that outcome. I cannot say if I like how it looks because I did write this before it was put up there. I have faith in Claire and Creative Dundee to give justice to all our pieces of work. Like they did with our presentation. Press Change was invited to The Steeple to discuss our project in a room full of change-makers. We did not have long to prepare for our presentation, so Claire offered to make our PowerPoint slides. I thought they turned out great. Very professional. It started making me nervous when I was shown them on the day. I was going up on stage to talk about a project I chose on a whim and ran with. I started having doubts about if my project was good enough. I couldn't tell what someone could get out of it, and I couldn't tell what difference this could make, but then I remembered that not everything you make needs to have a grand purpose. This did help a little, but when you're five minutes into a word vomit presentation, all functioning thoughts stop, and empressement sets in. I remember ending my section with, "Sorry I'm fumbling. You probably don't care. People are great, art is great, " then handing it to the next young person to speak. I enjoyed the chance to be a part of that meeting. It was fun, and I got to go home with lots of flowers because of it.

Final message

I want to thank everyone who participated in my project as an interviewee: Emily, Travois, Jane, Karen, Barry, Willam, Alys, Sarah, David, Katie, Lewis, Marie, Rosalie, Christine, Cara, and Ben. I want to give extra thanks to Ben for not only allowing me to interview him but for being there for me throughout this project. I want to thank Gemma for being my editor. I want to thank Avery for giving me the resources and advice on my poster which I was a little self-conscious of. I want to thank Lisa for being my life-saver. I want to thank Claire for allowing me to join this project. I want to thank all the other folks I worked with during this. It was a joy. I also want to thank whoever got to the end of this. Thanks for giving it a chance, and I hope you enjoyed reading.

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