Dundee hopes the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) design museum, which opens this month, will help the city build on what is already an impressive cultural offer.The £80m V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first dedicated design museum, will be unveiled on 15 September. It will be the only V&A museum outside London and is part of a wider £1bn transformation of Dundee waterfront.
The institution is forecast to attract about 500,000 visitors in its first year, many of whom are expected to come from outside Scotland.
“We want the V&A Dundee to be for everybody,” says Philip Long, the museum’s director. “It’s a museum that takes very seriously its role in Dundee and the wider community. Its purpose is to encourage interest and active engagement in design in Scotland, across the UK and far further afield.”
According to Stewart Murdoch, the director of Leisure & Culture Dundee, the charity responsible for delivering cultural development in the city, Dundee receives a comparatively small number of visitors from overseas.“The V&A Dundee will absolutely change the landscape,” says Beth Bate, the director of Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA), which opened in 1999 and was a key part of the city’s cultural evolution. “It’s already had a tremendously positive impact. The way we are now talking to people about what we are doing here is evidence of that.”
Bate says the DCA has undergone a rebrand and revamp to reflect the expected increase in international visitors, and has adapted staff training to deal with that. “We have a powerful autumn programme planned,” she says. “We have had to think about who the visitors are and where they are coming from.”
She points out, however, that the opening of the V&A is only the latest chapter in Dundee’s story. “It is a big and exciting chapter, but it is a longer story,” she says. “I was drawn to Dundee because it has an incredible cultural weight.”
The city’s cultural ambition can be tracked back over the past 30 years, and even beyond, says Murdoch. Dundee has had an art collection of international standing since its heyday as a centre of the jute industry at the turn of the 20th century, thanks to support from wealthy philanthropists.
Dundee was one of the first places in Scotland to provide its residents with a free library, and was later home to five Carnegie libraries.
“Investment in culture, art and libraries, and a respect for those areas, is deep in the city’s DNA,” says Murdoch. “It is quite unusual for a city with deep deprivation.”
According to Murdoch, this latest evolution in the city’s cultural history started with the replacement of the Dundee Repertory Theatre in the late 1970s, and has continued to develop through events such as the arrival of the polar exploration ship RSS Discovery from Greenwich in the late 1980s, the opening of the DCA, and the refurbishment of Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum, the McManus, in the early 2000s.
“We are on the fourth-generation five-year cultural strategy,” says Murdoch. He adds that Mark Jones, the director of London’s V&A when the decision was taken to begin the Dundee project, was clear that the city’s arts and cultural scene was a key part of the attraction.
That sentiment is echoed by Long. “The success of organisations such as the DCA and McManus have given Dundee confidence to put culture at the heart of the city’s future, and without that, the V&A Dundee would likely not have happened,” he says.
For Bate, Dundee’s size is also key to its cultural development because it facilitates collaboration.
“There is a particular way of doing things here – the ‘Dundee approach’ – which is design-led, collaborative and about partnership,” says Bate.