9. Creative Dundee


A City of Culture

I arrived in Dundee 1984 I don’t remember the month. I was to direct a play by Arthur Miller, ‘The Price’.

My friend Neil Murray had got me the job, He was working at Dundee Rep as Head of Design and I had recently worked with him in Birmingham. He had persuade Robert Robinson, the Artistic Director, to give me a chance. We had been living in London and were very broke but my wife, at the time, had just got a job in Fife so we had moved to Auchtermuchty. It was a fantastic opportunity.

Thank goodness the play was a success and I was to be given other opportunities there. Life started to take on a whole new energy and things were looking much better on the financial front.

I spent four years in Dundee. It was my training ground. It was where I started to understand what I wanted to do with my life. Suddenly everything was making sense.

The Past

Those four years were fantastic years for the arts in Dundee. I remember the amazing work happening at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, for example, I remember the innovative work of Steve Partridge who I see is now Dean of Research –  I remember the music scene with  Danny Wilson and Michael Marra to name but two of the wealth of music talents in the city – I remember the pioneering work that Royston Maldoom was doing in the field of community arts/dance and of course there was the work we were doing at Dundee Rep including some seminal pieces – “Witch’s Blood’ a large scale community event involving  an audience of 1000 people travelling in 12 double decker buses across the city in 1987 and, the year before, “They Fairly Mak Ye Work” the first theatre production for a long time that reflected the lives of the people of Dundee at a professional theatre in Dundee.

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There were the creative activities developing across the city in communities away from the city centre. Places like Dudhope Arts Centre was doing pioneering work as were community development programmes in, for example, Lochee, Whitfield and Fintry. The bars up and down the Perth Road always seemed to me at the time to be full of music and poetry and debate. Just a few examples of  the creative atmosphere that was lighting up the city during those years.

The Present

30 years later and I have been going back to Dundee occasionally. The spirit of creativity is awesome. You can feel it in the streets. Of course the Rep is still there but the expansion of creative projects has been amazing.

Dundee’s artistic and cultural renaissance is progressing hand in hand with its economic regeneration. It is the birthplace of the Scottish games industry, some of the world’s biggest titles started there such as Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto. Whether it’s developing, programming or animation, if you’re into games, Dundee is the place to be.

There’s also Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre (DCA). DCA has trail blazed its way to becoming one of the UK’s leading artistic centres, attracting thousands of visitors each year to their exhibitions and events

The £5m dance, theatre and conference centre The Space at Dundee College is home to the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance offering award-winning courses and attracting Europe’s leading dance performers to stage shows and workshops in the city.

At the heart of the city centre, The McManus: Dundee’s Gallery and Museum has recently undergone an £8m revamp to restore its Victorian splendour and create a museum for the 21st century.

The world’s greatest museum of art and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum, has announced a proposal for a new landmark building in Dundee, the £45m project will occupy a prime site at the hear of the Dundee Waterfront redevelopment.

But the key to Dundee’s success has been the people, the community and their pride in their city.

Dundonian journalist Lesley Riddoch wrote recently in her blog  Another Side of Lesley Riddoch

“In their time Dundonians have elected Winston Churchill and the last Communist MP. So contrariness is in with the bricks. So is a stubborn modesty. The late songwriter Michael Marra described Dundonians as Glaswegians who listen. Locals won’t shout about Dundee — even though the city is overflowing with superlatives. It is Scotland’s life science hub, and boasts Britain’s most internationally cited scientists. Dundee University, worked with Ninewells Hospital to bring Britain’s best biomedical researchers to the city. And students of Scotland’s best art college (Duncan of Jordanstone) cross fertilised with the city’s powerful visual culture, and Sinclair PCs to create a digital entertainment industry with £100million annual turnover. The Dundee Courier’s circulation is just below the Herald and P&J and above the Scotsman. Abertay and Dundee Universities have been voted the most popular in Britain – never mind Scotland, Dundee City Council was awarded the best promotional strategy in Europe in 2004. The city houses the only urban wind turbines in Britain and with two thirds of its housing stock facing south – it’s gearing up to switch to solar energy for domestic heating and has just won a COSLA Excellence for cutting tenants heating bills with district heating schemes. According to Mike Galloway, “Dundee is small enough to get good ideas adopted fast but big enough to feel lively.” Or, as the Scotsman’s George Kerevan puts it, “Dundee has produced an entrepreneurial revolution of its own,” – competing with established centres through ideas, innovation …. and a stunning natural environment.”

The Future

Dundee has recently been shortlisted for the title UK City of Culture 2017 and the  organisers want to involve the people of the city. They will soon launch an “open call” for ideas to help pack the year-long programme in the event of Dundee winning the prize.

Can that happen? The people will  have their say. They will participate in all aspects of the planning process. They will make extraordinary things happen. My sense is that people in the rest of the UK don’t take Dundee seriously  – my hope is that 2017 will show the world a different story.

UPDATE  – 25.11.2013

We now know that Dundee lost to Hull in their bid for UK city of Culture but I know that won’t stop Dundee. By 2017 Scotland could be an independent country and there will be no stopping the people of Dundee developing their  vision




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  1. Pingback: In Praise of Large Scale Community Arts Projects - community arts international

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