Graeme Bell, general manager of Inverness Airport, for category sponsor Highlands and Islands Airports, presents the commendation to curator Catherine Maclean and musician Dalbir Singh Rattan of the Purvai Festival 

Catherine Maclean ended her 12 years work at Stornoway’s An Lanntair arts centre on a high point when the Purvai festival received a commendation at the annual Highlands and Islands tourism ‘Oscars’.

The Purvai Festival, which celebrates Asian arts and culture, was given the special awards by judges in the Best Cultural Event or Festival category.

In all, winners were announced in 14 categories in the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) which had attracted entries and nominations from 163 businesses and individuals.

HITA chairman Craig Ewan said: “Many congratulations to all our winners and those who were shortlisted for awards.  It has been another highly successful year for tourism in the Highlands and Islands and this is reflected in the quality of entries and nominations we received.”

Speaking to EVENTS about her change of work, Catherine says: “It just seems like a natural progression, in a way.

Catherine is joining Comhairle nan Eilean Siar working on a brand-new project ‘Dualchas airson Daoine’ - Heritage for People.

Most of Catherine’s roles have been a natural progression from each other, from securing her job at the front desk in An Lanntair, working her way through various different responsibilities, and finally focussing on the arts centre’s ‘Creative Places’ and ‘Purvai’ projects, exhibitions and commissions.

In her role as the Great Place Project Manager, Catherine will be galvanising partnership and consultations between the Heritage and Arts organisations across the Western Isles.  

“We’ll be looking at developing a new strategy and a plan for the arts culture and heritage, which will be closely tied in with tourism and our unique island industries. We will be devising this strategy in close consultation with all the organisations across the Western Isles and the community,” Catherine explains.

Looking back, “My background was in art, so I was in the right environment,” says Catherine of her work at An Lanntair, which came to an end last month.

Catherine, who studied at Grays School of Art, worked as a curator at An Lanntair – a job that allowed her to unleash her creativity as she worked on projects and exhibitions.

Such projects included not only the Purvai 2017 Festival but also the ‘Collector Extraordinaire’ exhibition – both of which explored the links between the Hebridean and South Asian heritages through the collection of Stornoway explorer, Colin Mackenzie, and community research carried out with the Asian Hebridean families.

Catherine reflects: “I went to India on my first professional development opportunity and I started looking more closely between India and the Hebrides.   I then found the largest Indian collection collected by a European was researched and collated by a man from Stornoway, Colin Mackenzie!
“It was a project which enabled us to look at another part of our Hebridean Heritage, but one which put us in a global context, which was fascinating!

“It allowed us to take our projects onto an International platform. I also started to think a lot more about the Asian families which are part of our community and wanted to tell their story as part of the project, which we did through the Copan Chai community research project.”

Perhaps a lesser-known achievement is Catherine’s role in An Lanntair’s Creative Place Awards win in 2015.  “I worked as the coordinator for that project,” she explains.  “It was an award for smaller community’s out-with the central belt to give them a boost in the promotion of their creative community and activities.  

“We were the successful applicants in our category, which was a big achievement, and led to an extensive partnership programme across Lewis and Harris and many arts projects, new commissioned works and community events across Lewis and Harris over two years”

What will Catherine’s new project involve?  She reveals: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has been successful in being awarded Heritage Lottery Funding for a new and specific project ‘Dualchas airson Daoine’ as part of the Great Place Scheme and I will be taking up the position of Great Place Project manager delivering the project over the next two years.

“The first part will involve looking at a strategy and plan for the arts culture, which will be closely tied in with tourism.  From that, we can devise what activities and projects will be coming forward.”

Catherine anticipates the new role will involve a number of similarities to her job at An Lanntair, allowing her to express herself creatively while she curates projects.