Awardees Create a Play in BSL with Deaf School Students

Petre Dobre and Jack Nurse delivered the project with Wonder Fools theatre company  and the RCS

We were delighted to hear about the success of Awardees Petre Dobre and Jack Nurse, who teamed up to work with a group of deaf students at St Roch’s Secondary School in Glasgow.

Petre is a deaf actor who was appointed as Scotland’s first ever BSL Director Trainee in 2018 at Macrobert Arts Centre.  He teamed up with Jack, who runs the theatre company Wonder Fools, to deliver the project on behalf of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  They focused on the play The Pack by Stef Smith, making it accessible for deaf audiences by transforming it into British Sign Language.

The team worked together for seven hours a day over five days to complete the project, then performed to their peers in the first school production since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.  Parents and carers were unable to attend the performances due to Covid-19 restrictions, however they will still get to enjoy the show.  There is a documentary of the project and performance in production, which the school will host at a special screening with popcorn and treats.

The project was featured in the Glasgow Times.  Read more in their article.

We are proud of Petre and Jack for their work in making theatre more accessible and inclusive.

Dance on Film – Update from Awardee Jennifer Bruce

Awardee Jennifer Bruce recently wrote to us, updating us on an achievement she is proud of. 

Jennifer received a Dewar Arts Award in 2019, to support her studies in musical theatre at Bird College in South East London.  This was her dream place to study, and her award helped her to get there.

Jennifer was excited to tell us about a competition she took part in, exploring dance on film;

“This last term at college, a choreographic competition was set at Bird College…The task was to create movement and film it, thinking about your artistic choices as a director, choreographer and artist.”

Using Amanda Gorman’s poem ‘The Hill We Climb’, Jennifer chose parts of the poem that inspired and resonated with her;

“This was something I really wanted to do as I love capturing dance on film, and wanted to develop myself as an artist who can discover and delve into multiple disciplines within the art form. It felt amazing to get creative during this difficult present climate.”

Jennifer explained that her training had been quite challenging since the start of the year, as since January she unexpectedly had to study online and stay home in Scotland. However, she didn’t let this hold her back;

“Using my iPhone, free editing software and a cold hill at home, I managed to make a piece of work I was really proud of.”

Participants submitted their videos to be judged externally.  The top 10 entries were selected by international company Alleyne Dance. They were then judged by Mark Smith – the founder and director of Deaf Men Dancing – and Stephen Mear CBE – a choreographer and director of musical theatre shows including Mary Poppins.

“I am over the moon to say my piece was selected in 3rd place.  It was truly an honour to have people of such high calibre watch my work. I am proud of myself as it really was something I wanted to do for me and for my love of dance.”

Jennifer added;

“I also wanted to thank the Dewar Awards especially for their continued support in my training…it is a great help in my journey towards the pathway to my goals.”

Congratulations Jennifer!

// Watch Jennifer’s video below
// Read more on her Awardee Profile.

Jennifer Bruce – The Hill We Climb

Awardee Graham McCusker Gains Distinction after Overcoming Leukaemia

A talented classical musician from Paisley, Graham’s Dewar Arts Award supported his studies at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Graham McCusker grew up in Paisley, and began singing with the Paisley Abbey Choir from the age of five. Since then, he has sung with the Scottish Opera, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a range of choirs including the RSNO Chorus. Whilst studying for a masters degree, Graham was diagnosed with leukaemia, but did not let this hold him back. He achieved a distinction in his masters degree, composed vocal music for the soundtrack of BBC’s ‘His Dark Materials’, and now has an album in the pipeline, co-produced and mixed by Robin Mullarkey (who has worked with the likes of Quincy Jones, Sia, Jacob Collier and Jordan Rakei).

Graham first received a Dewar Arts Award in 2014, to support his studies on the Postgraduate Diploma in Solo Performance at the Royal Northern College.  After successfully completing this, he received a further award to enable him to complete his Masters of Music in Performance. We caught up with Graham at the end of his studies to hear more about his achievements. He began by telling us how his illness affected him:

“I was in a position of purgatory, where I had completed my first year (January 2017 – July 2017) whilst still recovering from the chemotherapy treatment I received for leukaemia – I never really knew if I was going to be strong enough or be able to fully complete it. In the end, it was two years out of studying I took, to recover and have lessons with my principal study tutor, privately at his home studio near Stoke-On-Trent. So, I essentially was still living, working and renting in Manchester to make the weekly lessons possible, despite missing my home town of Paisley.

“It become clear, after some highs and lows of everything physically, slowly returning to normal, my body began to be able to deal with what I demanded from it. I felt that in early 2019 it was time to apply for funding for my second year of Masters and I was fortunately successful to secure it to complete my pursuit and dream to be a classical singer.

“Throughout the course and training, there were mainly highs. The main high being, I was fully fit, able to compete and also complete everything to my usual standard before my illness – if not slightly better! The education standard of course was very high. All the lectures and practical lessons were extremely engaging. I especially remember the Opera Scenes in January 2020 being a highlight – I was the lead baritone role in a scene from Verdi’s Un Giorno di Regno.

“The main, prolonged low that occurred…was when COVID-19 hit in mid March. All teaching had to be switched to being taught online. Nick Powell, my 78 year old singing teacher…influenced me through the ever popular medium of the Zoom. His motivational speeches gave me a good focus to continue to develop and progress regardless of the lockdown situation. In turn I am certain this contributed to the outcome of my mark, a DISTINCTION!

“Now, the pandemic is still ongoing so my experience of living as an artist and performer has changed dramatically…My income is composing and teaching remotely. Thank goodness for the internet.

“However, despite all the doom and gloom, an unexpected opportunity did arise which otherwise wouldn’t have. I completed some music of mine and I recorded at Angelic Studios near Banbury with some other fellow professional musicians. A 10 track album, along a more jazz and pop orientated direction, under the name, ‘Marouli’.

“The plan after the mixing stage is completed, is for the album to be mastered and pressed onto vinyl. My main role on the record…is composing the tracks, co-producing it with Robin, arranging the instrumentation, singing all lead vocals and playing some of the piano/keyboard on it.  In the past my music has won awards and been played numerous times on BBC Scotland, BBC 6Music, BBC Manchester & BBC Oxford.

“Aside from all of this personal excitement, I was fortunate enough to be given two contracts with Scottish Opera Chorus.”

Graham feels that the funding he received from the Dewar Arts Awards has made all the difference to his trajectory as a musician:

“I cannot thank you all enough for the award, it has really given me a fantastic start into the business and having attended such a prestigious establishment I have made some incredibly important contacts for the future.”

// Read more about Graham in his Awardee Profile.

// Read more about his work on the soundtrack for ‘His Dark Materials’ in this article.


The Dewar Arts Awards Welcome Two New Trustees

We are delighted to welcome two new Trustees to our board – Jenni Fagan and Robyn Stapleton.

Jenni Fagan

In 2007, Jenni received a Dewar Arts Award to support her studies in creative writing at Norwich School of Art & Design, and later at Greenwich University. Since then, she has completed an MA at Royal Holloway and a PhD at the University of Edinburgh.  She has created three fiction novels, five poetry collections, a play and two short films. In 2017 Jenni was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award with ‘The Waken’, and her critically acclaimed works have also appeared on such prestigious lists as Dublin Impac, Sunday Times Short Story Prize, James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Encore Award, and the Pushcart Prize.

Robyn Stapleton

Robyn Stapleton

Robyn is an award-winning singer and song leader who shares her talent and passion for traditional music with audiences and communities throughout Scotland and internationally. Robyn performs in English, Scots and Gaelic. She studied music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and in 2014 won the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician award. She has been nominated as a Scots Singer of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards and in 2021 performed at BBC Scotland’s Burns Night celebrations.

We are grateful to Jenni and Robyn for bringing their wisdom and expertise to the Board of Trustees, and are excited to have them as part of the team.

Tribute to Trustee Richard Chester

We are saddened to announce that Richard Chester, Trustee of the Dewar Arts Award, has passed away.

Richard performed with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra from the 1960s to 1980s, becoming their Principal Flute. A passionate supporter of music education, he went on to take up the role of Chief Executive of the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland.

Throughout his career, Richard contributed to music education and cultural development through a range of distinguished roles. He was Chairman of the World Federation of Amateur Orchestras, European Federation of National Youth Orchestras, St Mary’s Music School Edinburgh and the Scottish Arts Council Music Committee. He was a Trustee of the Edinburgh Quartet Trust, Lochaber Music School Trust and the Scottish Schools Orchestra Trust. He also acted as an Adjudicator for music festivals, conservatoires and schools.

Richard’s dedication to supporting young artists continued into his work with the Dewar Arts Awards. He brought exceptional skills, expertise, and sound judgement to the Board as well as a warmth and kindness that were deeply appreciated by all.

The following is a statement from our Chair, Ruth Wishart:

“Richard has been an invaluable member of the Dewar trustees.

His encyclopedic knowledge of Scotland’s most talented young musicians, and his long acquaintanceship with so many of them, gave us multiple insights over the years into the merits and ambitions of very many applicants.

In addition, his knowledge of instrumental tutors, and of global conservatoires – and their strengths and weaknesses – helped us to make so much better informed judgements on so many occasions.

I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say how very much we will miss his input, and his quiet humour.

He was an unfailingly courteous and self deprecating man who underplayed the extent of his influence and experience.

We are all so grateful for the time and attention he gave to the work of the Dewar Arts Awards.”

Sean Shibe Tops Official Chart and Signs Multi-Album Deal

Latest news and performances from the exceptional Awardee giving new voice to classical guitar.

Guitarist Sean Shibe received a Dewar Arts Award in 2008, enabling him to purchase a professional guitar. He was 15 years old and studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland).  Since then, he has gone on to become one of the most accomplished and celebrated guitarists of his generation.

Sean was the first ever guitarist to be selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist. He has since been featured on numerous BBC programmes including ‘Front Row’, ‘Inside Music’, and a special series entitled ‘Sean Shibe’s Guitar Zone’.

In 2018, Sean received the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Young Artists – the first ever guitarist to do so – and in 2019, won a ‘Concept Album’ Gramophone Award for his critically-acclaimed recording ‘softLOUD’. His latest album has topped the Official Chart for specialist classical music and he has recently signed a multi-album deal with Pentatone.

Sean has performed internationally at renowned venues and festivals, has appeared with world-leading orchestras and has collaborated with artists including the BBC Singers and performance artist/art filmmaker Marina Abramovic. His imaginative performance programmes include newly commissioned works, expanding the repertoire of the guitar and giving new voice to the instrument.

Sean is a truly exceptional Scottish artist and we are proud to have been part of his journey.


Dewar Arts Awardee Profile

Read more about Sean and his Dewar Arts Award

Sean’s official website

Lunchtime Concert on BBC Radio 3

Andrew McGregor introduces Sean in concert, featuring works by Bach and Steve Reich

Front Row on BBC Radio 4

‘Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe’s critically acclaimed work brings a new approach to the classical guitar by experimenting with instruments and repertoire. His new album Bach: Pour La Luth Ò Cembal, featuring works written for the lute but played on guitar, is number one in the Official Specialist Classical Chart’

Sean Shibe’s Guitar Zone on BBC Radio 3

Clips from Sean’s series, exploring ‘the rich sounds of the guitar and its relatives in music from seven centuries’

Inside Music on BBC Radio 3

‘Guitarist Sean Shibe takes lockdown recording to new heights as he builds a studio underneath a fortepiano (that’s correct) and lines up a playlist that features drones, dance music and a reconstructed Dresden manuscript. The guitar makes an appearance with pieces by Bach, William Walton and Johann Kaspar Mertz, as well as some comforting music for the guitar’s cousin, the lute’


***** “This astonishing and adventurous guitarist plays with such depth of tone, colour and intricacies of touch that it is as though he’s at a harpsichord…Shibe’s music-making is masterful, beautiful and convincing in every way” – The Times

“I’m learning things about the music I hadn’t noticed before because of the way Shibe voices and inflects it with such intimate understanding”  – Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 Record Review

“Commandingly impressive in slower movements… the clarity in his articulation of the most complex counterpoints is as exemplary as his gloriously warm timbre is alluring” – Stephen Pettit, The Sunday Times

“Stunningly recorded, this collection is a memento of a young artist on the vertiginous ascent, offering music making that is utterly ravishing” – Apple Music

***** “A mesmerising journey from light to dark… The spell, as always with Shibe, was total; no other guitarist that I know of is working at this artistic level” – The Arts Desk

Awardee Mirren Mack Gains Prime Time Role

Mirren cites her support from the Dewar Arts Awards as crucial in her progression.

In 2016,  Mirren Mack applied for a Dewar Arts Award to cover her tuition fees at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.  Now, she is poised to take to our screens on BBC One’s new drama ‘The Nest’.

Born and raised in Stirling, Mirren studied Musical Theatre at the Dance School of Scotland.  Her passion for acting led her to audition for the prestigious Guildhall.  She was overjoyed to be selected, but needed financial support to access the opportunity. Having accessed funding from the Dewar Arts Awards, she developed her skillset through her studies and is now demonstrating her true potential as an emerging talent.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Mirren credited her support from the Awards as being fundamental in her progression as an artist. She says that when she walks past the Donald Dewar statue on Buchanan Street she ‘rubs his foot for luck and says thank you’.  She is grateful for the support at a time when it was most needed and will do all she can in future to ‘give that opportunity to someone else’.

‘The Nest’ will premiere on BBC One on Sunday March 22nd at 9pm.

Congratulations Mirren!

** If you feel a Dewar Arts Award could support you in your progression as a young artist, or know someone else who might benefit, find out more about how to apply on our Eligibility and Application pages **

Read more about Mirren on her Awardee Profile.

Watch Mirren and her co-stars discuss ‘The Nest’:

Additional Funding Announced from William Grant Foundation

The Dewar Arts Awards have received additional funds over three years to support more young artists and makers.

The Dewar Arts Awards has received additional funding for the next three years from the William Grant Foundation. These funds will be used to further our work to support exceptionally talented young people who lack the financial means to achieve their full potential. The Dewar Arts Awards would like to thank the Foundation for its generous support. The new funds will be administered in the same way as our existing funds – the application process therefore remains unchanged.

Jenna Reid – Composer of the Year 2019

Awardee Jenna Reid named Composer of the Year at the 2019 BBC Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.

Congratulations to Dewar Arts Awardee Jenna Reid, who has been named Composer of the Year at the 2019 Scots Trad Music Awards.

Jenna is a fiddle player from Shetland, who has played music professionally for 20 years.  As well as composing and performing solo, she is a member of renowned ensembles Blazin’ Fiddles and RANT.

You can read more about Jenna on her Awardee Profile.

Image: BBC Alba on Twitter

The Panopticon – Awardees Collaborate on Production for The National Theatre of Scotland

The show is adapted by Jenni Fagan from her award-winning novel and directed by Debbie Hannan.

Two Dewar Arts Awardees have collaborated on a new stage production of The Panopticon.

Awardee Jenni Fagan adapted The Panopticon from her award-winning novel to an ambitious stage play for performance by the National Theatre of Scotland. Featuring a fifteen-year old protagonist, the show is set in a young offenders’ institution and is ‘a visceral, bloody and brutal testament to life and friendship’.

Jenni Fagan was the recipient of a Dewar Arts Award in 2007. This supported her studies in creative writing at Norwich School of Art & Design, and later at Greenwich University.  She graduated with a first class degree and went on to study an MA at Royal Holloway, taught by Andrew Motion.  Read more in her Awardee Profile.

Director Debbie Hannon received a Dewar Arts Award in 2010.  This supported her in completing an MA in Directing at what was then the RSAMD in Glasgow (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). Read more in her Awardee Profile.

The production has been widely acclaimed for its ambition, bravery and delivery.

Find out more about The Panopticon on the website of the National Theatre of Scotland.

Suitable for audiences age 16+.


The Telegraph – ‘an admirable boldness and ambition’

The Guardian – ‘Jenni Fagan’s faithful adaptation of her own excellent novel’ ****

The Stage – ‘Debbie Hannon’s production features strong performances throughout’ ****

Director Debbie Hannan introduces a behind-the-scenes preview of The Panopticon in Rehearsal

Audioflyer for The Panopticon