|Another story of
According to Bob McGilvray, consultant
director of Dundee Public Arts Programme, the idea of an arts centre for
Dundee originated in the printmakers' workshop and associated gallery organisation
in the Seagate in 1986. McGilvray could not say from whose actual lips
this idea sprung. It must have issued forth from the wellhead of group
wisdom. An arts centre, a greater ideal, would provide them with a more
prestigious stage to improve their position within the city, and most importantly,
might extend the range of facilities for artists independent of the art
Dundee Printmakers Workshop Ltd
& Seagate Gallery had little money. Its rent and running costs were
paid by the District Council (DC) and Scottish Arts Council (SAC). In order
to drive forward their arts centre initiative they had to interest parties
with more money. Pieda, an Edinburgh-based arts consultancy, was commissioned
to produce a feasibility report but, in the words of McGilvray, "It was
a waste of money. They sent along some office junior who hadn't a clue."
The Scottish Development Agency
was then asked to contribute to another feasibility study. This time a
consultant, Tim Jacobs, did the honours. I have not been able to find a
copy of what was entitled, Jacobs' Intrinsic Strategy. It was published
sometime between 1989 and 1991 and cost between £15k and £25k.
It was trashed. McGilvray told me that Jacobs had been asked to examine
three likely sites to develop as an arts centre: A vacant building next
to the Repertory Theatre, a vacant lot behind Dock Street, and the Seagate
Gallery building itself. Jacobs' vision was to cost £600,000 per
year to operate. As far as the DC was concerned his figures did not 'stack
up'. They were certainly not prepared to invest such a sum in art at that
time. The vision was impracticable and was summarily forgotten. The feasibility
study was assigned to wastepaper-bins throughout the city. Hence its subsequent
rarity. Maybe in years to come these products of '90s culture will be seen
as works of art in their own right and become highly collectable.
Bob McGilvray was highly regarded
as an artist by his peers. He painted the first two public murals in Dundee,
which were commissioned by the DC under pressure from SAC who paid McGilvray's
fee. He had become a part-time lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone (DoJ)
and was the director of an initiative called the Dundee Public Arts Programme.
He was an obvious and popular choice of artists' leader.
Originally McGilvray was paid as
the Exhibitions Organiser and shared the work of running the Seagate Gallery
with Ann Ross, the part-time administrator. During this time the Board
of Directors was being chaired by Jonathan Bryant whose vice-chair was
Steve Grimmond. The Board was still actively pursuing the dream of an arts
centre as being a natural progression of Seagate Gallery and its stablemate,
the printmakers' workshop. However, it was told by SAC that in order to
seriously pursue its ambition it would have to appoint a full-time director
whose duties up until that point had been shared by Ross and McGilvray.
The post was advertised and McGilvray encouraged an Aberdeen-based artist
called Dave Jackson--who had held a successful exhibition at the Seagate--to
apply. Steve Grimmond who was actively involved in the local art scene
as a musician and printmaker resigned as vice chairman of the Board in
order to apply for the director's post. It was awarded to Dave Jackson
in April 1993.
When Jackson assumed his post as
Executive Director, McGilvray was employed as Exhibitions Consultant. The
Board paid him £5,000 per annum to carry out part-time duties and
when Jackson was hired on a salary of £17,000 it was obvious that
McGilvray's post would be sacrificed. Obvious to most people except McGilvray
that is. He accused Jackson of stealing his job and as far as I know never
spoke to him again. McGilvray had been enjoying a privileged position at
the Seagate from where he could run the Dundee Public Arts Programme rent
free and by doubling up staff could take on three part-time jobs. He remains
highly critical of Jackson who, by uniting the printmakers with the gallery
under the banner, Seagate Ltd, ultimately sacrificed it to DCA Ltd.
Jackson perceived McGilvray as the
'clan chief' and was aware of the acrimony his arrival as an outsider had
caused. His determination to reverse the collective apathy split the ranks
and likely brought about recriminations that affected ensuing developments.
The organisation had died on its feet as a result of dismissing the Jacob's
report, having no clear exhibition's policy and a lack of proper management.
With complete endorsement from his Board of Directors Jackson effected
a 'Nordic House' styled policy: To raise the profile of locally-based artists
and the gallery while bringing in the best contemporary art he could afford.
He recognised the gallery as being the interface with the public and concentrated
on raising its overall profile. Live events, coupled with a policy which
incorporated Dundee Photographic Society as associate members, helped treble
the annual attendance figures. Jackson had been briefed by his Board to
make the Seagate break even and this he did by creating a popular centre
of cross media events. But there were many who mocked him within the arty
cliques and pubbing huddles where historic loyalties were watered and cultivated.
Dundee is a small city with a village closeness and it is all too easy
to offend and to incur petty jealousies. History is the result of the cause
and effect of human relationships: The colliding and denting of egos: The
marrying of partners. And this is a story of such.
During this time Steve Grimmond
worked for Dundee Council, within the corridors of power traditionally
dominated by more ruthless and corrupted characters. When I interviewed
him in his office on December 9th 1998 he was distinctly on edge. His body
language betraying his casual executive exterior. He had been Corporate
Planning Officer since 1994. One of the first jobs he had been given was
the development of the arts centre project. What he neglected to tell me
was that prior to this he had been handed the Dundee Arts Strategy Consultation
Document to complete and publish.
The first Consultation Document
was a spiral bound A4 report of 79 pages. It clearly defined The Arts as
being "set out in five generic parts: A. The Visual Arts; B. Literature;
C. Music; D. Sound and Vision; and E. Performing Arts." It was an audit
of every facility for the aforementioned within Dundee.
In December 1993 the DC's Chief
Executive, Alex Stephen, issued an open letter 'Dundee Arts Strategy--Consultation'
enclosing a "Consultation Return Form, How You Can Help," to be completed
and returned by the 14th February 1994. By completing the form arts organisations
would be invited to attend an informal consultation meeting. This was convened
in April 1994 at the McManus Galleries. Its agenda included a 'Welcome'
by Alex Stephen; a 'Chairman's Introduction' by Eric Robinson, Director
of SALVO (Scottish Arts Lobby); 'Outline Remarks' by Andrew Nairne, then
Visual Arts Director, SAC; and 'Brief Statements' by spokespersons from
the main local groups:
Dundee Printmakers Workshop Ltd
& Seagate Gallery, Dundee Art Society, Dundee Photographic Society,
the Embroiders' Guild (Dundee & East of Scotland Branch), the Saltire
Society (Dundee Branch), the School of Television and Imaging (DoJ), Dundee
Rep and several 'Individuals'.
The only organisation represented
that advocated a City Arts Centre "with an emphasis on a facility like
the Printmakers Workshop, but encompassing a broader range of media to
include photography and electronic imaging" was DPW Ltd & Seagate Gallery.
SAC suggested "that a further consultation
paper setting out the goals and priorities of the Arts Strategy should
be issued before the District Council agrees the Strategy." SAC also included
detailed comments on the proposed new City Arts Centre and suggested "that
the Public Art project should continue to receive support from the District
Council and other agencies and should be widely promoted to enhance the
city's image both in respect of its quality of life and also its artistic
and cultural aspirations."
The second Consultation Document
was an Arts Strategy of 29 pages bearing the Scottish Arts Council logo.
It had evidently developed from the McManus meeting and was so redolent
of SAC documents that one must conclude that DC was led by the nose by
SAC in its production. This is confirmed in the introduction: "The development
of an Arts Strategy for Dundee compliments the Charter for the Arts in
Scotland which was launched in January, 1993 by the Scottish Arts Council."
At this time every Scottish city and region was undergoing similar exercises,
each one subsidised and endorsed by SAC.
A shift in emphasis
This second draft became a glossy
A4 'Dundee Arts Strategy' designed for public consumption. Published in
December 1994, its idiom is formulaic hyperbole. The DC refers to itself
as "a listening Council" which "Aims to confirm Dundee's status as a major
regional centre for the Arts." The Strategy informs us that "no art activity
is intrinsically superior to any other," and that as a force "arts and
cultural activities can make a major contribution to putting the heart
back into the City"'. A city that was disembowelled throughout the 1960s
and '70s, culminating in the corrupt stewardship of Lord Provosts Moore
and Charles Farquhar from '73 to '76.
The Strategy defines "the development
of a City Arts Centre, primarily for the contemporary visual Arts." Under
'Strategies', we find highly questionable statements that pre-condition
the City Arts Centre vision: "It is only through experiencing the best
that would-be artists will be encouraged to excel." Under 'Facilities',
the City Arts Centre is described as being "independent", a description
that would become even more contradictory with time. This statement is
followed by 'Economic Benefits', one being that arts provision attracts
tourists and prolongs their time in the City. "To capitalise upon this
a longer term strategy will be to develop links between arts, tourism and
economic development organisations in the City with a project driven remit
to identify high profile initiatives." One presumably being the City Arts
Centre. Under 'Participation', it clearly states that: "Every member of
the community should have the opportunity both to practice and enjoy the
arts. Access to creative self expression should not be in the preserve
of a minority." This ethos is further declared under 'Access and Equal
Opportunity': "Underpinning all of the specific Arts Strategies for Dundee
is a commitment to ensure equality of opportunities and of access for all."
The publication concludes with an
Action Plan and the first priority under Short Term Action is to "Establish
a Steering Group to develop proposals, locations and costs for a City Arts
Centre." This is to be achieved by a grouping of the Chief Executive (Alex
Stephen), SAC (Andrew Nairne) and Arts Organisations (those above mentioned
as operating in Dundee). Within the publication this list was extended
to include a new partner, Scottish Enterprise Tayside (SET) who had obviously
been encouraged, through the wording of the second edition of the Strategy,
to participate as a major investor; contributing £920,000.
1995 to 1997
Back in Steve Grimmond's office
he told me that he was placed in charge of building a partnership that
could make the art centre concept work. A concept, it must be said, that
was very confused in its expectations and ideology. So much so that the
arts community believed that it would be independent and entirely for their
Grimmond's boss, Alex Stephen--who
had been in the DC during the notorious Farquhar era and had held the post
of Head of Finance and who set up the Arts Strategy--was now manipulating
his officer's strings. Grimmond 'arranged' a meeting with Dr Chris Carter,
the Deputy Principal at DoJ. He was very keen on the arts centre proposal
from the point of view of a partnership. And, according to Grimmond, was
interested in the way such a project might help the college to raise its
public profile and connect more strongly with the city. This meeting served
to affirm the college's role as a partner within a major investment, the
costs of which could not be met by the DC or any one partner alone.
Grimmond also told me that his job
entailed establishing a "greater clarity". This was achieved by "listening
to the different ideas of what an arts centre might be." His general recollection
was "that there wasn't a huge discrepancy between what the DC wanted and
what those at Seagate wanted." Grimmond's recollections are highly suspect
for although the Seagate artists expected the arts centre to be independent
of DoJ the DC could not develop the project without Dundee University,
DoJ's parent organisation.
"The vision," said Grimmond, "was,
from the outset, that a new art centre would contain the printmakers' workshop
and that the galleries would be the principal enhancement. They would have
to be better than what we already had. If they weren't the whole project
would be a waste of time. There were also ideas for cinemas, artists' studio
space, a ceramic workshop and sculpture studio." There were even possibilities
for photographers and live arts too.
These informal Steering Group meetings
encouraged an open forum which included Dave Jackson and James Howie from
the Seagate, Ian Howard and Charles McKeen from DoJ, and the DC's Steve
Grimmond and John McDougal (Finance Dept) augmented by engineers and architects.
The Steering Group discussed and examined forty potential sites within
Dundee. The most significant of these, 'McLean's Garage' being a large,
city centre site commanding a view of the River Tay and virtually straddling
the boundary between the university campus and the city centre. From the
point of view of all the major partners, DoJ, DC, SET it was the site that
offered the most spectacular economic benefits in terms of its central
location and tourist potential. Such a key development would also attract
significant funding from SAC and other agencies. By this stage Seagate
Ltd (a brand name devised to unite the print workshop and the gallery)
was being castrated. It had neither the financial muscle nor the strength
of a unified community of artists with which to fight off its emasculators.
What followed was a condensed, energetic
period in which the steamroller gathered a momentum that was not to ease
off enough for people to take stock until the building was underway. During
the spring of 1995, to prepare for single tier government, while the old
DC was being shadowed by Dundee City Council (DCC), a new administrative
organisation was put into place. Arts & Heritage was established in
April and with it a restructuring of staffing levels was implemented. Clara
Young lost her role as Keeper of Art: a role that permitted local artists
direct access to the McManus Galleries in terms of talking through projects
and ideas. Young was replaced by a Team Leader and a Chief Arts Officer,
Andrea Stark, who was appointed in July '95 having previously held the
post of Head of Arts Development with Sunderland City Council. Before relinquishing
its bank account to DCC the DC purchased MacLean's Garage for £390,000.
The role of the Steering Group was over. The policy of open debate was
also at a close. It was time to consolidate and to develop. A private company
Dundee City Arts Centre Ltd (DCAC Ltd) was set up and the major partners
were invited to send representatives to attend regular meetings.
At this stage Seagate Ltd believed
that it held a third stake in a new arts centre and felt confident that
its reps, Sheena Bell and Douglas Black would report back to the Board
all that was being discussed behind DCAC Ltd's closed doors. However, this
belief was unfounded when the reps refused to inform the Board as to what
was going on. No minutes were made available. Minutes that were being kept
by Steve Grimmond who, when I questioned him in his office about the role
of SAC and its rep, Andrew Nairne, declared quite categorically that they
"were observers only. They maintained an arms length approach throughout,"
he said and then continued: "They never sent an observer. They received
minutes ... As far as I recall they were never represented." I found his
statement incredulous, for although SAC certainly do favour an arms length
policy when it comes to dealing with their revenue clients they had certainly
showed enough interest in the arts centre project from its first murmurings
to take an active part through attendances by Andrew Nairne at several
meetings. I asked Grimmond if Andrew Nairne had ever attended meetings
of DCAC Ltd. "My recollections are," he declared, "that he was never there."
On December 22nd '98 I met with
Professor Ian Howard in his office at DoJ. Involved in the arts centre
project from the outset, he had been asked by Dr Chris Carter to attend
meetings as a representative of the School of Fine Art in the company of
Charles McKeen from the School of Architecture. Would his memory be sharper
than the man who had kept the minutes? "The SAC were observers more than
advisers," he confirmed. But they did attend meetings either in the person
of Sue Pirnie, Amanda Catto, or Andrew Nairne. "We met once a week or once
a fortnight," he continued, "SAC came once a month."
According to Howard another feasibility
study was commissioned. A number of consultants tendered for the job and
it was, once again, awarded to Pieda. He referred to this as an interim
report which outlined various options by which the arts centre might proceed.
One option was chosen. "We built a much larger vision" he said. "Other
consultants were brought in to develop the Business Plan," and "a bigger
plan enabled it to be a larger project. We wanted to achieve 'critical
mass,'" he explained. Originally the college investment would have been
for post-graduate studios only but as the project became bigger the potential
for research facilities began to look obvious. "We have no custom-built
research facilities here," he explained. "Only teaching facilities. Custom-built
laboratories would make for more interesting developments, different synergies
and links." I was beginning to see how dreams are made, especially when
they can be endorsed and supported by large, state financed institutions,
corporate development and a powerful City Council.
Howard's relatively open approach
to my questions confirmed one thing. Grimmond's uneasy and edgy display
had been a clumsy attempt at concealment. But what was he trying to hide?
From the time DCAC Ltd appeared with a controlling influence of the project
all sorts of rumours about coercion and small town gangsterism began to
emerge. It was alleged that Councillors and Council employees had begun
a campaign to weaken the administrative structure of Seagate Ltd. Particular
Board members were harassed, asked to stand down, abdicate their responsibilities.
Effectively turn a blind eye to what was going on. A local guitarist with
aspirations to establish an annual Guitar Festival was advised, reputedly,
that the Council would not fund his event if... The past president of Dundee
Photographic Society and an employee of DCC was coerced into resigning
from the Board after serving on it for ten weeks only. He believes the
command filtered down from a higher authority within the Council. The bully-boy
tactics of the past were still in evidence. When James Howie threatened
to withdraw Seagate Ltd's support of the arts centre he received a threatening
letter from Alex Stephen suggesting that he was jeopardising the future
development of the city. Seagate Ltd had, by this time, taken legal action
to ensure that minutes of DCAC Ltd meetings were released to the Board.
Later their firm of solicitors informed the Board that they could no longer
represent them. At the AGM in November 1996 it was noted that Sheena Bell
and Douglas Black had resigned from the Board on the 28th November 1995
while maintaining their positions in DCAC Ltd. They wanted to preserve
a continuity, but a continuity of what? Self-interest?
Grimmond had been so emphatic that
he had repeated it twice. "They (Sheena Bell and Douglas Black) were representing
the interests of the membership (of Seagate Ltd) which largely consisted
of local artists." I had asked if local artists' interests were represented
at DCAC Ltd. Clearly they were not. Local artists' only grasp of what was
going on with the arts centre development was via a wilting grapevine.
Seagate Ltd was effectively reduced to a scramble as Howie valiantly attempted
to recruit people to sit on the Board in an attempt to hang onto threads
of communication and control. The Council withdrew its financial support
of £8,000 per annum and SAC likewise saved itself £80,000.
And although Seagate Ltd was earning up to £30,000 a year it was
evidently perceived as an organisation worth sacrificing. The one person
who should have taken up their cause, Andrew Nairne, the Visual Arts Director
of SAC, did not. One could be forgiven for thinking that he had set his
ambition on running the new gallery now that Seagate Ltd was effectively
out of the picture.
According to Steve Grimmond, however,
the decision to subsume Seagate Ltd if the arts centre went ahead had been
discussed during the Steering Group meetings to which those at Seagate
were a party. "The revenue funders," Grimmond stated, "would not duplicate
their commitment. And in terms of the Seagate reps they stuck to that principle."
Dave Jackson was made redundant in March '97 despite being employed to
take Seagate Ltd forward as an arts centre. He took Seagate Ltd to an industrial
tribunal who found the company guilty of unfair dismissal.
Professor Ian Howard was not alone
in taking the university's vision of a Research Centre for national and
international collaborations forward. For not only did his colleague, Charles
McKeen attend DCAC Ltd meetings but so too did Dr Ian Graham-Bryce, Dundee
University's Principal, and Alex Stephen, DCC's Chief Executive. From reasonably
modest beginnings a major development began to take shape. Arts & Heritage
were incorporated into the vision along with the Steps Film Theatre which
had occupied space within the Wellgate Public Library since 1979. The vision
did include the printmaker's workshop but its membership was dismantled
and it was reinvented as the Print Studio. According to Howard there will
be: "A continuum from local to international." The Print Studio providing
the link between the ordinary practising artist with an interest in printmaking
and the international research fellow invited to work in the 'Laboratory'
on cutting edge, high-tech projects. Links too will be developed between
the Research Centre and local industry as well as other faculties within
the university, such as the Medical School.
Howard's vision is in harmony with
Dundee City Council's Economic Development Plan; while in the Council's
Corporate Plan 1996 to 1999 it says that a new City Arts Centre "will be
a significant focus for the development of Dundee's cultural industries
which is a sector of the economy the City would need to achieve growth
in." One-person and small businesses operated by artists and craftspeople,
musicians and writers did not count as "cultural industries," for the partnership
that drove forward the development of the City Arts Centre did not include
them. The partnership consisted of state subsidised "cultural industries"
that had access to major capital funds. Nowhere is there any mention of
supporting and promoting the work of local artists who, if they create
outside of the medium of printmaking, will not be catered for within the
In April 1996 an architectural competition
to find a suitable design for the City Arts Centre was launched. A panel
comprising DCAC Ltd, SET, DCC, SAC and the Competitions Unit of the Royal
Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, selected Richard Murphy Architects.
Dundee City Arts Centre would be their first major rebuild. The package
to present to the Lottery Board was taking shape and it must be concluded
that the decision to go for a major Lottery award had been taken during
the early stages of DCAC Ltd because the Lottery as a capital funding source
came on stream in March 1995.
Andrea Stark, Arts & Heritage's
Chief Arts Officer who had begun to attend meetings of DCAC Ltd was put
in charge of the application. A comprehensive Business Plan was commissioned
from Pieda. It begins: "The Dundee City Council, in conjunction with Scottish
Enterprise Tayside, is seeking Scottish Arts Council National Lottery funding
to develop the Dundee City Arts Centre. The project will provide a unique
experience within Scotland allowing visitors to view and participate in
state of the art visual arts exhibitions and processes. The project cost
amounts to £8.6m and a contribution of £4.8m is sought from
the Scottish Arts Council (National Lottery)."
Interestingly, the background details
say: "More recently the project has been championed by the Dundee Printmakers
Workshop." No mention of Seagate Ltd as a driving force or a partner is
made. No mention of Seagate Ltd as an organisation with a director and
board of directors is made. Under Construction Costs it states that "the
disposal costs of the Seagate Gallery, have been included." It goes on
to say: "The disposal cost has been calculated to be £168,000, if
the Council has to buy out the lease from 1998 to 2010." Presumably these
details were being discussed at meetings of DCAC Ltd while Seagate Ltd
still had a director on a salary with an understanding that he was to be
responsible for taking the arts centre project forward. Dave Jackson and
James Howie were quite right to feel concerned for it is obvious that Seagate
Ltd as an organisation was to disappear while its 'sub brand' organisation
who shared the same building would survive.
Through a misleading and confusing
use of brand names Seagate Ltd had been divorced in people's minds from
the print workshop. If the gallery was to be redundant so too was its director
despite the fact that as Executive Director he was responsible for both
organisations. This underhand strategy made economic sense because the
new Print Studio would rely on the old DPW Ltd equipment while the gallery
was simply an empty space with no material assets to carry forward. We
can also assume that this strategy and the entire contents of the Business
Plan were being debated and finely tuned during meetings of DCAC Ltd.
The SAC Lottery application was
signed and dated on 24th August 1996 by all the partners excluding Seagate
Ltd. In April of that year Laura MacDonald, acting Chairman of Seagate
Ltd's Board, signed what she believed to be the final draft of the Business
Plan. However, it was amended and republished in August and this version
was the one that was sent to support the Lottery bid. On 29th October 1996
it was announced that a record sum of £5,380,756 had been awarded
to Dundee City Arts Centre. The role of DCAC Ltd was complete.
Dundee Contemporary Arts Ltd
DCA Ltd had been formed in May 1997
after DCAC Ltd was dissolved and three months after its director's post
had been advertised. Many rumours about Andrew Nairne had preceded his
appointment. It had been a "stitch-up" according to one academic at DoJ.
Allegedly he had been in a position to negotiate his own salary when, as
an SAC rep., he had attended meetings of DCAC Ltd. Almost everyone in the
know in Dundee will tell you how he handed in his resignation at SAC two
months before the post of Director was advertised. The post was advertised
in February 1997 and, according to Prof. Ian Howard who assisted with the
interviews, attracted a fairly wide field of applicants. Only two, however,
were deemed suitable. An anonymous person from London and Andrew Nairne.
Both were interviewed by Andrea Stark, Ian Howard and Councillor Andrew
Lynch, convener of Arts & Heritage. All three having attended meetings
alongside Nairne throughout the planning and development of the city arts
centre project. No wonder conspiracy theories multiplied.
His previous record working in an
arts centre as Exhibitions Director in the Third Eye Centre is peculiar
to say the least. Stoy Hayward, Chartered Accountants, were appointed as
administrator to investigate the accounting records for the fifteen months
ending June 1991. This revealed a trading loss of £242,873 which
compared to a reported profit of £4,618 as shown in the Management
Accounts for the year ending 31st March 1991. In a written statement Stoy
Haward's Douglas Jackson said: "During the fifteen months prior to my appointment,
the company's expenditure on the centre's cultural activities significantly
exceeded its grant funding. (£220,100 from SAC and £15,000
from Glasgow District Council per annum). A balance sheet prepared by me
on a going concern basis at 18th June 1991 showed an insolvent position
with current assets at £106,000 from which to meet current liabilities
Stories of deliberately concealed
travel receipts and personal extravagances abounded--someone had been spending
money without due concern. Six members of the Board of Directors resigned
and a chorus of rumours echoed around the art community of Scotland. Astonishingly,
in his report Jackson said: "Subsequent enquiries showed that the company's
ledgers and bank account had not been updated or reconciled since 31st
March 1990 and therefore management accounting information presented to
the Board after that date could not be relied upon."
The SAC provided "a dividend fund
for the benefit of unsecured creditors". This amounted to £125,000
but of course SAC had to settle other 'accounts'. An unlikely scapegoat
was found in Lindsay Gordon, the Visual Arts Director of SAC. He took SAC
to an industrial tribunal and won his case of unfair dismissal. In a opportunistic
move, Andrew Nairne applied for and was given Gordon's vacant office. There
he stayed until destiny called in Dundee, The City of Discovery.
Nairne took up his Dundee post in
May 1997 and according to the Pieda Business Plan was to receive a salary
of £21,740. But then at this time the company with responsibility
for the operation of the galleries, print studio, cinemas and cafe franchise
was to be named Dundee Visual Arts Ltd. Later the word 'Visual' was to
be replaced by 'Contemporary', a trade name to describe a hybrid, homogenised
artform that often denies its cultural origins.
It is premature to judge how DCA
Ltd might fulfil its own remit in the Business Plan because it is not scheduled
to open until March of this year. However, we can assess its character
on the evidence of what has emerged in this story. After a period of consultation
followed by a duplicitous development (when artists were not informed as
to what was being discussed behind closed doors) a partnership representing
the interests of powerful organisations within Dundee, with the complicity
of SAC, railroaded through a vision that failed to address the needs of
local artists. The resulting institution will enhance the career prospects
of those who were directly responsible for its development and further
the careers and status of an exclusive minority who operate within its
studios and laboratories.
DCA's internal hierarchy is based
upon the assumption that the 'best' art is produced by those with an art
college training. It fails, therefore, to acknowledge that some of the
'best' art of the 20th Century was produced by artists who were outside
of this self-acclaimed elite. Academic research during the last fifty years
has shown that there is an equality within art which DCA's philosophy denies.
Instead of commencing from the basis that all artists are equal it imposes
a pyramidal power structure onto art, at the top of which are the staff
of DoJ. Local artists will provide a workforce for the facilities within
the institution and perform outreach and educational roles. That the exhibition
policy excludes locally-based artists on the assumption that their work
would not attract tourists speaks for itself.
That the welfare and interests of
the local community of artists was sacrificed by DCA's perspicacious and
career-blinded developers in favour of a corporate vision is obvious by
the way they refused to accommodate the city's largest grouping of amateur
and professional photographers (the Dundee Photographic Society) who have
been promoting the medium (and the city) since 1880. The photography darkrooms
are geared to service the requirements of printmakers and not necessarily
The absence of a creche is a blatant
denial of the existence of women artists with young children. These artists
are the most vulnerable in terms of the struggle to create. Without a caring
support structure many simply give up. That the developers represented
a white Christian majority within a city of a diverse cultural blend must
also be noted.
Despite all the rhetorical devices
employed to secure funding the keystone to DCA's existence is its claim
upon the territory of tourist and economic development. That Dundee University
has 11,257 students plus staff on campus and contributes approximately
£10m to the city's economy is the central reason why it was invited
to join the arts centre partnership. Not only is its rent of around £70,000
per annum and its initial investment of £197,000 crucial to the building's
economic viability but its staff and students will produce the art component,
provide an audience for events, and help staff the facilities.
There has always been an unhealthy
umbilical connection between art groups in Dundee and DoJ as mother figure.
Such symbiosis has not assisted a truly independent art scene with sufficient
cultural distance from 'mother' to make radical and original art. Now that
DoJ has secured an even stronger position within the heart of the city
and within the very citadel of art production which also houses two public
art bodies, the art cinema, and the DCC's Arts and Heritage offices, there
is absolutely no cultural distance whatsoever between state run institutions
The state has the controlling influence
on art in Dundee and this does not bode well for a culture that is taking
its first steps towards independence. That the state is so firmly behind
the construction of DCA as a "unique cultural institution" with links to
similar hi-tech institutions in Europe reflects New Labour's millennialist
vision for the 21st Century rather than a more modest and fundamental solution
as proposed by Dundee-based artists. With New Labour's aspiration influencing
Lottery funded projects, which tend towards over-excessive schemes requiring
vast sums to maintain and operate at the tax payers' expense, there is
a danger that those sectors of the community most in need will be disenfranchised
and alienated. This state of affairs being exemplified in Dundee where
individualistic and self-taught artists will shy clear of DCA because it
has little or nothing to offer them.
Not only has the original notion
of an arts centre, independent of DoJ and serving, first and foremost the
interests of the local community of artists, been lost but the very name
'arts centre' has gone from this new institution's corporate logo. The
building is now called Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) and a pale, electric
blue neon sign, visible from the waterfront and railway approaches to the
city, advertises it as such.