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Empty units on Ayr high street transform into sites for JUPITER+ contemporary arts programme

By Jen McLaren, 23.10.2023
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Jupiter+ Learning Studio, Photo by Elliott Hatherley, Courtesy of Jupiter Artland

An immersive art installation and accompanying creative learning programme is underway in Ayr thanks to a collaboration between award-winning Edinburgh sculpture park Jupiter Artland and acclaimed Scottish artist Rachel Maclean.

JUPITER+ is Jupiter Artland’s nationwide art and creative learning programme that commissions artists to transform public spaces. Its aim is to support the next generation of artists in Scotland, targeting 15-25-year-olds who may wish to pursue a career in the creative industries.

Maclean presents Don’t Buy Mi, a dark and surreal public artwork which has seen the artist – known for her elaborate films and digital prints – turn a formerly vacant shop on Ayr High Street into a free immersive installation.

From the outside, it resembles a dilapidated toy shop on the verge of closing down. Inside is an unsettling, upside down dystopian world, where strange toy dolls are piled high and posters advertise ‘nothing must go’ and ‘don’t buy mi’. This is the surreal realm of fairy-tale princess Mimi, where nothing is for sale. Maclean’s work also responds to the crisis facing many high streets across the country. 

Another formerly-vacant unit located adjacent features daily workshops, talks, and programmes. There is a green screen film studio and flexible creative learning and event space. JUPITER+ is working with every secondary school and college in Ayrshire to support the next generation of artists, designers, architects and cultural leaders in Scotland.

Claire Feeley, head of exhibitions and learning at Jupiter Artland says the aim was to make a new model for public art that would empower Scotland's young people, address issues relevant to their lives, and inspire new ideas for public space.

“We had Rachel Maclean in mind and we said we wanted to go on this journey with her where we would invent a new form of public art, and one where the learning programme and young people’s voices would be at the heart of that.”


Jupiter+ Learning Studio, Photo by Elliott Hatherley, Courtesy of Jupiter Artland

Jupiter Artland set up a youth council called ORBIT and in 2018 the young people went to see Maclean's solo exhibition at the National Gallery London. This group proposed the idea of a Scottish high street as a context for Maclean’s commission. Each year, new young people have the chance to join the youth council.

While lockdown stalled the outreach project, Maclean created a Mimi shop sited in Jupiter Artland’s woodland in 2021, accessed via a Hansel and Gretel-style breadcrumb trail of heart-shaped stones. This remains a permanent feature.

Then last autumn JUPITER+ Perth was piloted and received just over 8000 visitors in its three-month run, engaging with 425 students from 22 schools.

Claire says: “We knew one of the most successful aspects of Jupiter Artland was our learning programme. Not only do you see incredible artworks, you’re also outdoors in nature and there’s something so fundamentally empowering about that. The learning in Perth was just taking that empowerment model and putting it on the high street.”

Claire adds that the space in Perth was designed like a high-end art studio and the young people could experience what it was like to be a professional artist: “So much about the project is making a case that you can thrive and be successful and have a career in creativity.”

Founder and director of Jupiter Artland, Nicky Wilson, says the young people who attended the opening of Don’t Buy Mi in Ayr were “thrilled” an artwork had been put in the middle of their space – somewhere they usually hang out.

She explains: “We all know that bringing art into communities is important, but sometimes just inhabiting a high street and allowing people to wander in and discover things feels like a complete gift to people.

“Perth was a great pilot and we learned a lot about projects delivered there and the engagement that makes a difference to a young person. We discovered that mentoring was important to them – they really want to talk about their futures, be inspired and feel that adults are taking an interest in them.”


Don’t Buy Mi is located at 53 High Street, Ayr, KA7 1LT and runs until December 23.

Opening hours are Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm. Entry is free.