Crear’s trademark red tin roof and white roughcast walls are a clue to its farming past, but the vast studio – high-ceilinged, glass-walled, and maximising available light – has one message only, and that is Arts.
This unique building, 4 miles beyond Ormsary on the single-track road which runs down the west side of South Knapdale, sits on a plateau with views of Jura, Gigha, and the Co Antrim coast.
Recent years have seen the former steading transformed into one of the UK’s most atmospheric arts venues, and since 2002 this discreet corner of Argyll has hosted a string of concerts featuring musicians of truly international standing.
In the studio, which in its previous life was a byre for cattle, an exceptional example of one of Steinway’s grandest pianos attracts pianists from around the world.
Annually in January, a week-long Masterclass taught by internationally acclaimed accompanist Malcolm Martineau hones the skills of established singers and accompanists, and, in August, the venue’s annual Poetry Week brings together accomplished writers from home and abroad.
In 1998, Artistic Director Kate Lithgow decided to turn the former farm into “a space to create – an inspirational working space with accommodation”.
With a background in professional photography, and a vision of providing a retreat, gallery, and rehearsal space for artists, musicians, and writers, she returned to her Mid-Argyll roots and called upon the skills of old friends from Argyll and from art school days, knowing that they would handle with sensitivity the conversion of the steading.
The earliest events were artists’ residencies, followed, in 2002, by the studio’s first concerts.
Throughout, Crear’s musical advisor has been conductor Harry Bicket, who, with Kate, has brought to Argyll many of the world’s foremost singers and instrumentalists for the venue’s annual Summer Season.
There’s even a series of Crear Classics CDs, and artists who have recorded at the studio in recent years include Karen Matheson and Glasgow band Travis.
Crear’s concerts are run by the arts charity “Space To Create”, and every effort is made to ensure that events are as accessible as possible, with season tickets priced affordably and under-18s enjoying free admission.
Working closely with Enterprise Music Scotland, Crear provides residencies for young professional musicians, and brings these musicians into Mid-Argyll schools where they encourage pupils to explore music.
It’s well-nigh impossible, though, for a rural venue to survive on arts alone, and fortunately Crear’s magical setting has allowed it to diversify. Its innovative wedding events business not only provides much-needed employment in the area, but also safeguards the future of the charity; as do the latest developments – high quality in-house catering and professional flower arrangers – which are also available for events beyond Argyll.
Crear’s ability to offer wedding parties exclusive use of the premises for four days has proved popular, with close family and friends able not only to share the last-minute preparations for the big day but also to absorb the tranquillity of the surroundings once the inevitable pre-wedding pressure has eased.
As well as accommodating full-size weddings, Crear offers couples who want to get away from it all, and to enjoy the very special and intimate moment of their marriage ceremony in complete privacy, a Wee Wedding, where vows are taken on the Crear beach and accommodation is provided at nearby Caisealrag Cottage.
And what better way to celebrate a Wee (Highland) Wedding than with a sociable afternoon at South Knapdale Sheepdog Trials, which are held annually at Crear in July?
With 26 people on the Crear staff, Kate Lithgow is very conscious of the organisation’s responsibility as both an employer and a contributor to the local business community. She says: “Without the team, there’s no Crear success. People are everything”.
Crear favours local produce and suppliers, and Kate is quietly proud that Crear’s existence brings several thousand visitor nights, annually, to the local economy.
Conscious that, to succeed, a business needs settled staff, Kate campaigns for the provision locally of affordable housing.
Looking ahead, there are plans for a winter events programme, and for Crear’s second phase – a second studio, and more bedrooms – and Kate is determined that Crear will remain “intimate and welcoming”.
She says: “Visitors look upon (Crear) as a very special place in a magical landscape – something different from the hurly-burly of most people’s lives.”
Having seen Crear, it would be difficult to argue with that.
Crear – Space to Create can be contacted via 01880 770369 or email@example.com