It might seem perverse in the week of the launch of a very fine programme for this year's Edinburgh International Festival to be singing the praises of Alloa in Clackmannanshire, but not to artist and veteran Fringe hand Richard Demarco it won't.
Exactly a month ago as I write, I was at an artist's talk by Lys Hansen in the new Makers Gallery in Alloa as part of the programme surrounding her exhibition there, Paris Buns And Bombs, which closes on Thursday of this week. Hansen is the daughter of Alloa bakers and her show is based on memories of a war-time childhood in the town. It includes images of herself and her family, and of young soldiers and mill-girls as well as more oblique echoes of the time.
Although the gallery's associated events programme has included baking sessions and the reminiscences of others about the Second World War in Clacks, Hansen chose to focus in her talk as much on her later experience as an artist in residence in Berlin, and the way in which that gave her a view from the other side of the conflict.
Loading article content
As it turns out, it was all thematically not a great distance away from the concerns of the 2014 EIF programme, but that was not Demarco's point when his presence in our midst was recognised and he was invited to add his own thoughts. Never lost for a word in any circumstances, he proceeded to express the opinion that Alloa excelled in the visual arts to an extent that the capital should look to its laurels and that it was about time that the town's standing as a hotbed of creativity received the recognition it is due.
Before I carry on, I should perhaps declare an interest. Demarco may have travelled from Edinburgh to see Hansen's show, but I live within strolling distance of the Makers Gallery and have very possibly now been resident in Clackmannanshire for longer than I was in either Edinburgh or Glasgow (arithmetic has never been my strong point). Feel free to bear that in mind when I say that, typically outrageous though Demarco's comparison may seem, it also (equally typically) contains a surprising nugget of truth.
Leaving the dominance of the capital in terms of collections of visual art to one side, there are other places in Scotland that are more readily associated with painting and sculpture than Alloa. The South West's Solway towns and villages are perhaps Scotland's St Ives, while the picturesque East Neuk of Fife, and particularly Pittenweem, had a similar reputation long before the chamber musicians arrived with their summer festival. More recently Deveron Arts has made Huntly in Aberdeenshire a mecca for art, often of more conceptual nature.
It is obvious to me as a resident, however - and clearly to Richard Demarco as well - that involvement in visual art is an integral part of community life in Alloa and its surrounding county. It is recognised as part of the solution to problems created by unemployment or mental illness and is part of the portfolio of many involved in social care and community work.
There are little galleries everywhere and most restaurants and cafes do not hang generic shop-bought pictures but the work of local artists. The fine tearoom in Cambus, where I live (the only commercial business in the village besides Diageo's vast whisky plant), is currently showing work by Allan McEnroe, whose distinctively Scottish practice combines fragments of Irn Bru cans with other media in his animal studies and portraiture. Come June, Forth Valley Open Studios, one of the largest such events in Scotland, will see many Clacks artists opening their doors to the public.
Before then, as Mr Demarco would surely wish me to point out, there is still just time to see Paris Buns And Bombs, the current show by an artist who is unarguably the doyenne of the hive of artistic activity around Alloa.