V&A Dundee reveals ambitions to take 'spectacular' tartan exhibition around the world
Scotland’s biggest-ever celebration of tartan is being lined up to go on tour around the world under a drive to raise the ambitions and global profile of Dundee’s V&A after its fifth birthday this weekend.
Hundreds of objects brought together for the nine-month show could be heading to the United States, Asia and across Europe, where key objects are currently on loan from, following the response to the exhibition.
The prospect of an international tour was disclosed by V&A Dundee director Leonie Bell as she vowed that it would be “resolutely ambitious” in its next five years despite the impact of soaring costs on the cultural sector.
She hopes new research into its first five years – which found that the museum had generated an estimated £304 million boost to the economy, attracted half a million first-time visitors to Dundee and supported 450 jobs in the city – will help persuade the Scottish Government to increase its support for arts organisations.
Ms Bell pledged V&A Dundee would develop more of its own “spectacular” shows following the success of its first “home-grown” exhibition.
But she pointed out that a show of similar scale and international reach would take several years to plan, research and deliver because of the level of resources required – and admitted V&A Dundee was still “building a case” for financial help to take Tartan overseas.
The exhibition, which runs until 14 January, brings together objects linked to Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, the Tartan Army, Doddie Weir, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Sir Billy Connolly, Sir Jackie Stewart and the Bay City Rollers. More than 300 exhibits were secured from 80 different lenders.
Ms Bell said: “Tartan was so huge for us – to do a home-grown design show, of its scale, diversity and calibre. It has brought in a huge range of people from all over. We’re learning a lot from what people are responding to. They love the mix of things and want to see stories of design that are of Scotland, but are also international.
“We really want to tour the show internationally now. It tells a story of Scotland that's traditional, contemporary, diverse and authentic. We really believe that it should go on. We're building a case to tour it and looking at what kind of resource that will need. We know there are people interested around the world.
"Tartan is an emblem of the quality and scale of what we continue to do. But it was extremely resource intensive. To curate, produce and design a show like that you're looking at three or four years to develop it. But that’s what a show like that deserves.”
Although it took less than four years to build, V&A Dundee was not without controversy before it opened, with its final cost almost doubling to more than £80m. A number of changes were made after early criticism that it was not making best use of its spaces.
The new research on the museum’s impact, published ahead of a programme of anniversary celebrations, estimated that it had generated £109m for Dundee’s economy and boosted visitor numbers to the city from around 880,000 in 2017 to 1.25m last year.
More than a third of V&A Dundee's visitors have been from Dundee, Fife, Angus, Perth and Kinross.
The research states: “Differences of opinion towards the museum remain and can be the topic of local debate online and from visitor feedback. However there is evidence that the museum has grown a strong local following and that many local people are backing the museum with time and engagement.”
Ms Bell said: “Being a big thing in a wee city, with all that energy, the constant feedback and the high level of scrutiny that V&A Dundee gets swirling around us, is really interesting and makes us feel we have to do stuff with it. It’s about how we can bring it inside so that we’re really listening, responding and changing.
“For me, museums and other cultural organisations are, like towns and cities, continual works in progress. When you open, you’re not complete, you’re only just beginning. We’re really just getting into a groove of what this building means, how visitors use it and what they want from it.
"It’s also about how we use the building, work with it and really articulate what the indoor and outdoor space is."
V&A Dundee has reached its fifth anniversary against a backdrop of mounting concern across the cultural sector about the lack of response from the Scottish Government to the impact of Covid, Brexit and rising costs while arts funding has remained at a standstill.
Ms Bell, whose museum currently receives £3m in direct government funding, said: “I know we have the privilege of the V&A brand, but for an organisation of our size, we raise a huge amount of money ourselves from donors, trusts and foundations, and work really hard to raise money commercially.
“It’s really, really hard for us to deliver the scale and quality of programme that this organisation and the city warrants and deserves with the current cost of things.
“Standstill funding, soaring prices and extreme expectations of what we can do is a cocktail that we take really seriously. We’re continually looking at how we can innovate.
“It’s really hard at the moment. Everyone is just taking a massive breath and hoping. But I think our report tells a wider story of what can happen if you support culture to thrive. The impacts and values it generates are really diverse and significant.
“Relatively speaking, the culture budget is not that big, but what you get from it is utterly enormous and I don’t think it ever lets you down.
“I do think culture is valued in Scotland. It’s about how we convert rhetoric into really supporting culture to prosper. We’re in a risky position at the moment. Some bold, progressive policy strategy and decision-making needs to come to make sure that an awful lot of what is most precious sustains and thrives.”