Issue 205
September/October 2018

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Sep 24, 2018

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Editorial Comment

Artwork PO Box 3 Ellon AB41 ::

Oh Bilbao, Bilbao where art thou?

IN MARCH 1999, to great fanfare, Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) opened its doors on the Nethergate – a former 1920s garage on several levels beloved by skateboarders who raced down its ramp from the street level to that of the railway station etc. facing the River Tay.

Skillfully converted by Richard Murphy, the DCA contains its foyer, seminar rooms, art galleries and offices at street level and one level above, while downstairs are the toilets, two art cinemas, a bar and restaurant (that goes like the clappers at weekends) and Dundee Printmakers' Studios.

Below them are facilities belonging to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, including another small gallery and fine art printing facilities – and, below that, the kitchens.

The aim of the DCA was to enhance the cultural centre of Dundee, already enlivened by the successful completion of Dundee's Rep Theatre (after years of languishing roofless) and the growth of both Dundee and Abertay universities. They form, of course, a response to the demise of most of the city's industry: Olivetti, Timex and NCR in particular. Only D.C. Thomson (and The Beano) seem to soldier on.

However, one of the dreams – that big exhibitions would draw in people from Edinburgh and Glasgow – never materialised, not even when work by Will Maclean or Timorous Beasties was staged. And even the choice of local exhibitions was not nearly as popular as when the old printmakers' studio was housed in the Seagate.

Now, all that is supposed to change. The opening of the V&A Design Museum, designed by the Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, in a building jutting out on to the River Tay adjacent to the RRS Discovery, has an exhibition space big enough to house the kind of blockbuster shows held in the V & A in London – shows like William Morris and The Arts & Crafts Movement, 20th Century Italian Design and David Bowie.

Such events, it is hoped, will draw in people from all over Scotland and turn Dundee into a tourist hub rather than an end destination.

But that's not all. The museum is housing both existing and emerging design collections and establishing contacts with Dundee's creative industries (video in particular?) and local community groups. And, among the opening features, is an exhibit containing one of Mackintosh's Ingram St tearooms and a major exhibition on shipbuilding.

And yet, despite the major achievement of completing this £82m building, Dundee is, as per usual, shooting itself in the foot. The museum is too close to Discovery Point for comfort and views of it from the centre of the city are being obstructed by building new hotels – in fact, unless visitor numbers grow substantially, there are going to be far too many beds in Dundee.

Furthermore, the creation of hotels, offices and car parks around the newly-built railway station are distinguished by their total lack of relationship to one another, be it in scale, texture or colour.

Compared to the western end of the Perth Road, Dundee's Riverside is a complete mess and the narrowing of the road itself is already leading to numerous traffic jams. Allowing blocks of flats overlooking the river to narrow the Riverside Drive is to blame for this.

Given the beauty of the Tay estuary – one of the world's truly great river settings – what is going on along the northern side of the Tay is a disgrace.

Maybe there's only one explanation: Dundee is too poor, and too unimaginative, to make the most of its geographical location.

The Summit of hypocrisy?

WITH SO MUCH else going on, towards the end of the Edinburgh Fesitval you might have missed it, but the Great and the Good of the arts world all gathered together in the Parliament building over three days to remind each other – and those of us who were listening – how very important a role the arts play in our society.

The Edinburgh International Culture Summit was in town once more. No scandal, thank goodness, no naked ladies being wheeled across the stage as in another rather different gathering of the Great and the Bad(?) – the infamous Edinburgh Festival Writers' Conference of 1962, referred to in an adjoining column.

Unlike much in today's art world, the Edinburgh Summit does not seem to have to scrape and save to mount the annual jamboree.

Noticing that the UK government had apparently donated a cool £50k to the event, we wondered what other contributions there had been – from Holyrood, from Creative Scotland, from the British Council, from......

Stop! Why do you want to know? What's it for? The usual questions. Write in and ask us nicely and we might tell you. Ummm!

Shome irony here, shurely?

Arts support being cut left, right and centre, libraries being closed, theatre groups losing their grants, Creative Scotland in a deal of chaos and a six figure sum (at least?) can be made available so that we can be told how important a role the arts play in our society.

We know the arts are important. We know they are suffering swingeing cuts.

Is yet another talking shop and nice cosy stays in four star hotels really the solution?

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