Dundee’s reinvention is picking up pace thanks to its waterfront ambitions - Brian Ferguson
It has been a while since I was swept away in the euphoria of a spontaneous standing ovation.
Many audiences I’ve joined over the last few months have been notably tenative and reserved, with venues, audiences and artists still finding their feet again.
A midweek fashion show was certainly not the kind of event I’d have expected to find an up-for-it crowd throwing off their shackles and high-fiving performers after rising to their feet in acclaim.
But I shouldn’t have been surprised given that the event was being held in Dundee, a city that is increasingly full of surprises – and confidence.
The opening of the event of the Scotland Re:Design Fashion Festival, one of the signature showcases for the industry, was notable as the first runway fashion show to be held at V&A Dundee.
But it also seemed to symbolise something of the city’s spirit and ongoing reinvention, at the heart of a changing landscape on and around its waterfront.
It’s just over three years since V&A Dundee opened its doors to the public, amid huge expectation that the attraction would help transform the city’s fortunes.
By early last year, it had put Dundee on the global map as a tourism hotspot and attracted more than million visitors.
It would be understandable if momentum in the city had been stalled by the Covid pandemic, which saw the V&A closed for two lengthy periods.
However no-one could accuse the V&A or the city of standing still in the last 18 months.
The former has hired a new director, Leonie Bell, secured national status and an additional £6 million in funding from the Scottish Government, unveiled exhibitions devoted to fashion designer Mary Quant and the evolution of nightclubbing around the world, launched a partnership with The Dalmore whisky brand and spearheaded a campaign to raise £1 million for a new cultural recovery fund for the city.
Crucially, V&A Dundee arrived in a city which already boasted groundbreaking cultural institutions like the DCA and Dundee Rep. It is equally important that the city’s recovery and future ambitions are not focused on its design museum, as iconic and important as it is for Dundee.
This week began with the news that Dundee is to become home to a brand new music festival at Slessor Gardens, the central public park created at the heart of Dundee’s £1 billion waterfront regeneration.
DF Concerts, the promoters founded in Dundee in 1982, will be launching the Summer Sessions event within walking distancing of a new urban beach overlooking the Tay.
The beach area has just become home to Scotland’s newest large-scale sculpture, in the form of a giant whale, which shone like a beacon in a remarkable overhead image of the city I came across on social media this week, alongside its new Christmas festival.
However the true scale of the city’s ambitions can be seen in the emerging plans for a 4000-capacity “esports” arena for gamers at Slessor Gardens and an Eden Project attraction at the city’s old docklands gasworks.
The fact both projects have been announced since the start of the pandemic is as good an indicator as any that if any parts of Scotland are looking for inspiration on how to reinvent themselves they need look no further than “the city of discovery.”