Invergordon Off the Wall was formed in January 2002 to address the social and economic deprivation of our town through the creation of a professionally painted outdoor art gallery celebrating the heritage of Invergordon. A place which has seen many significant historical events and whose deep anchorage has provided the opportunity for a busy port and a home for dolphins, seals and bird life.
The original aims of Invergordon Off the Wall
Invergordon Off the Wall was formed in January 2002 to:
- revive the community spirit of Invergordon, by giving the community a common aim
- enhance civic pride
- celebrate the history of Invergordon
- halt economic decline by re-branding the town as a destination for tourism
- create a cultural focus for the town through a special outdoor art gallery
- promote an ongoing interest in our own history
By involving local community groups in the development of the mural trail, Invergordon off the Wall sought to engage local people in a common goal to celebrate local history through the creation of large scale public artwork.
The international mural town network inspired the group in the first place and has been a constant source of reference for what can be achieved in local communities when art is the focal point for regeneration.
Marion helping paint The Loch mural
How did it all start?
In 2002, Marion Rhind heard about the murals in Sheffield, Tasmania, Australia from her parents. You can read the story in her own words below.
Marion shared the idea with local community groups she was active in and soon afterwards the group Invergordon Off the Wall was formed. The group evolved over time and committee members came and went, all contributing their skills and time to the project at each stage of its development.
Marion was the lead inspiration and energy behind the project, and held the vision for the mural trail and the future benefits it could have for the Invergordon community and local economy.
Marion tells the story about how she came up with the idea
“I don’t know if many of you are prone to eureka moments at 3 am in the morning, you know when you really have to share something or you will burst, well my poor long suffering husband Sonny could tell you a thing or two!
Look back to 2002, we began as a sub group of the Invergordon business association and our purpose was to fundraise for the high street flowers. It had been said at many a meeting that we needed some kind of draw to bring people off the liners into the town, and we also knew that we could never compete with Alness on the flower front …so what were our alternatives …
Back to that eureka moment. My parents had come back from a town called Sheffield in Tasmania, and had talked about the fabulous murals in the town lighting up their gable ends with all the local stories. You know what coming don’t you? yes nudge nudge! Sonny – “It’s 3 o’clock go back to sleep!” Well you can just imagine how sympathetic he was to hearing “we could paint all the gable ends in Invergordon!” oh believe me he has heard worse!
Fast forward a few weeks and this idea had burned so hard, enough for me to take it to the business association. To be fair they had nothing to judge it on, no pictures or facts, just my ramblings. The verdict was split, as you can expect, however there were enough people there who could see the potential for “Invergordon off the wall” to be born.
We were a very disparate group with just about as many strings as kites to keep things grounded.”
Marion Rhind, from a talk she gave about the mural trail
Off the Wall: A Short History of the Invergordon Mural Project
Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal brought her regal presence to the launch of the mural trail in September 2007 and the sun shone all day. An easy day with carefree crowds but like all worthwhile projects, it represented a multitude of obstacles which had been overcome.
Every town has a personality, with points of interest and beauty spots – just like every person. The east coast of Ross-shire has a string of towns and villages, and inhabitants who belong to one town sometimes feel they are entering another county when they visit another town. With the ebbing of industries like the Invergordon smelter and the vital oil jobs at nearby Nigg, as well as the redirecting of the A9, these towns had suffered a huge loss of revenue, and experienced all the problems associated with high unemployment. Still lovely places in many ways, and still loved, but a shadow of their former selves. One of the ways regeneration occurs is when individuals are inspired to change. Invergordon was lucky enough to be the home of one such individual.
In 2002, the parents of local woman Marion Rhind, after a visit to Tasmania, regaled their daughter’s family with tales of a remote left-behind communitywho’d turned around their fortunes by painting their high street buildings with colourful murals. Marion immediately recognised some parallels. Invergordon had also become somewhat of a left-behind community. Marion was a dreamer and worried about her beloved town. She imagined it glowing with original artwork like a huge outdoor gallery and saw a chance for the town to buzz again, to be somewhere people talked about and wanted to visit as a destination. A chance for the folk of Invergordon to feel proud of their town again. People from other places would flock there just to see the murals, and while there, remember all the other reasons to love Invergordon. The shoreline, with the view out to the Sutors and Cromarty. The distillery with a mouth-watering barley smell. The unusually wide high street lined with interesting buildings. On a sunny day with blue sky behind it, the high street looked as if it sat on top of the world – clean and bright and hopeful.
Marion’s husband Sonny Rhind and business owner Jim Campbell agreed it was a grand plan, though they were aware of likely difficulties. Finding funding, engendering community support, sourcing the right artists, gaining a consensus among the diverse community groups as to the focus of the murals– all of these, in varying degrees, threw up huge challenges, and there were days when the steering group almost gave up. Change never comes smoothly – you can never please everyone. It takes countless meetings, letters and emails and phone calls. It takes energy and determination both of which Marion had in spades.
Eventually the funding applications with, among others, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Highland 2007, The Highland Council and Forward Scotland were successful enough for the project to embark. Invergordon community groups were invited to propose themes for the murals which reflected their own interests. Professional artists from around the world were invited to propose ways of illustrating those themes. The artists came from near and far, got to know some of the locals and the locals got to meet people from afar. The mural concepts were presented and judged. The town began to feel less wary, now something was happening, and it was overall deemed a good thing. Five artists were awarded the commissions, and they moved into the town with their brushes and paints. Scaffolding arrived, and for a while, townspeople walked below the working artists and watched the pictures emerge. Marion Rhind is sadly no longer with us, but her legacy remains. The town of Invergordon is a unique outdoor art gallery and well worth a visit.
C. Rogerson June 2021