Creative Dundee

Our Year in Review 2020

Ahmad Deeni on stage at PechaKucha Night Vol 27 at Dundee Rep Theatre in Nov 2020. Photo: Holly Quinn.

Each year we put together some highlights and reflections on everything we’ve been working on. Here’s our 2020 edition, a letter from Director Gillian Easson and the Creative Dundee team.

What’s been the defining track of your 2020? (with apologies to fellow inner ear sufferers) It would be tinnitus for me. It has been some year…

Rejoining the Creative Dundee family in April following parental leave, it was a strange time to come back. A greatly extended family, with 4 kids under 5 years old across our small team, it was clear that lockdown would potentially change how we worked. It most definitely did. Hosting events after 7pm was completely out for a while and instead we had to put care and consideration into understanding and supporting each other’s unique circumstances. We are fortunate, we managed to keep working throughout and appreciate this isn’t the same for many in our field. I’ve questioned whether we should write this recap, but I am reminded that visible stories which demonstrate the realities, vulnerabilities and resilience of our sector are needed. 

So here we are. Through individual circumstances and collective challenges, a number of projects, connections and insights have emerged. Here’s how our year shaped up.

Amps Network

A real sense of family and a safe space to share, the Amps community tell us it’s been essential to keep connected through the 36 weekly breakfasts we’ve hosted since lockdown began. It can be difficult finding places to speak openly about the process behind creative practice, so the Open Your Drawers section at each breakfast offered that space – getting the chance to glimpse into a different temporary, adapted workspace each week and hearing people speak honestly and truthfully about the uncertainties of their new realities. 

Collaborations have happened thanks to this sharing – the giant Dundee Christmas Card in City Square came to life when one Amp heard Suzanne Scott talk of her practice at scale and the rest is a real life Christmas tale! Ampersand+ launched in November and has already proven really popular, sharing time and expertise to make the local informal sharing ecology more visible, open and fair. 

Peer support and mutual aid has been everything that’s been good about 2020 and we’re sure this will continue into 2021 and beyond. 

Claire Dufour, our Programmes Producer, explains further:

Our Amps Breakfasts have been my anchor throughout this bizarre year, with genuine conversations each week, and it has been rewarding to see the Amps community grow stronger in numbers and in connections. It’s also been heartwarming to have so many people offering their expertise and skilled support to others through our new creative sharing project Ampersand+, largely outnumbering those seeking help. I already knew this about Dundee’s creative community (in its broadest sense) but 2020 has made it even more visible, and despite the physical distancing we’ve been forced into, I can safely say even more palpable. It’s with mutual care, kindness, love – yes, LOVE – and optimism that we grow and success, and that we’ll bounce back.

And here are some things Amps have said: 

“The Breakfasts have been invaluable these last few months. I feel I’ve gotten to know more Amps than I’ve been able to in person.” and “It’s so nice to see everyone’s faces once a week and the questions that you’ve been posing have given me a lot to mull over and think about… Very glad I finally joined and stopped being such a hermit.” and “Thanks so much for persisting with the weekly calls, it really does feel like it’s brought us all closer together and the showcases/drawers bits are really lovely. It’s allowed me to become more familiar with people I don’t come across professionally and get a much better feel for some of what’s going on around Dundee.”

September’s virtual Amps Meet Up – one of approx 40 Amps events in total since lockdown began.


This year was a significant one for reflection on the inequality within the Creative Industries. From the threat COVID posed for the creative organisations and practitioners, to the systemic racism regularly exposed all over the country and beyond. Early on we set out a few goals regarding the role we play in Dundee’s creative space, which you can read here, Inequality is not a Coincidence

In the piece we outlined additions to our programme and commitments to accessibility and diversity measures. For instance, we hosted a workshop with Glasgow Women’s Library on Creativity and Justice, including speakers within our events that spoke to a variety of lived experiences and touched on key pressing issues like the Climate Crisis. We also commissioned four artists, as part of The Full Picture, to each explore a different barrier of accessibility within Dundee’s Creative Industries, and have continued to work with them to share their findings widely.  

We also set out to not just work on what we do in our programme but also how we do it. This meant a consistent enquiry at our (and our network’s) shortcomings in making Dundee’s creativity a more equitable experience to everyone. It meant constantly looking at what was happening in the city, and considering our role and responsibility in achieving that goal. Those were manifested in impromptu events like the conversation between Sekai Machache & Matilda Williams-Kelly following the racist vandalism at Sekai’s Sharing Not Hoarding exhibition. 

Sam Gonçalves, our Digital Producer, explains further: 

It hasn’t started this year, but more than ever I’ve had the feeling of the world being a massive unjust machine that will keep chugging on regardless of what I say and do. The only times this feeling ever softens is when I see these open and honest conversations and explorations of justice, and the shows of collaboration and solidarity that come with it. Supporting the artists on The Full Picture, learning from thinkers like Sekai and Tilda, having constant ‘putting the world to rights conversations with the Creative Dundee team – all special moments. It sure is a long road, but I’m glad we are on it.

The Full Picture artists who explored the barriers to the creative industries. Photos: David P Scott.

Adapting and Adjusting to Lockdown

We wrote about some of our experiences of adapting to the pandemic in this earlier post, Making Community in Uncertainty. However, it’s fair to say when we wrote this back in August we thought it was likely that things would open and life would continue again, rather than the ‘open or closed?’ scenario we all face on a daily basis. 

Early on, we spent a lot of time reflecting as a team on why we did things and how we could reimagine our activities in light of the pandemic. We brought back We Dundee with partners, as a way for residents to share their lockdown surprises and reimagine what the city should do next. Hundreds of people got involved in the two phases and quotes received became posters animating our city centre streets empty billboards from July onwards. 

Hosting PechaKucha Night Vol 27 at Dundee Rep Theatre, as their first in-house activity since lockdown, in November was a real highlight. With brilliant speakers on stage, yet an entirely virtual audience with no live feedback to our empty auditorium – it was a surreal experience. Dundee Rep are just the best partners, so huge thanks to them for their care and attention throughout. Audience feedback was very positive and we were delighted that people saw the value in joining this hyper-local digital experience, despite having a world of content at our fingertips. 

Events like InGAME Insights and programmes such as Fabric have brought divergent communities together to consider topics including future practice and leadership qualities. Continuing throughout the year as we reflected back as a team, we feel like we’ve actually met more new people and made more meaningful relationships this year, than any other.

It’s not all been without challenges – personally, it’s been more difficult to switch off from work and we miss incidental chats to sound out ideas massively. We’ve dropped the ball on certain things – Dundee Soup and the 99 Things Guide are a couple of projects we’re keen to see back in 2021. It’s all been good learning for going forward. 

However, by making sure our team/communities’ needs come first, we’ve been able to rapidly respond to what’s happening in real time. In pre-pandemic life it would have been more difficult to be as responsive – to find a venue/get speakers etc. And contrary to what I think I thought before, virtual has allowed safer and more confidential spaces for communities to share. 

Andy Truscott, our Team Admin, explains further: 

“As with everyone the world over, lockdown came with its positives and negatives for me. My little boy Orin was born late in the afternoon on the 23rd March so for me that date has a whole other meaning and it also meant I missed the announcement of the national lockdown. Life with a newborn and almost 4 year old at the time and working from home was chaotic some days (to say the least) but as we found our feet it got gradually easier and I couldn’t have done it without the support and understanding of the rest of the Creative Dundee team. Lockdown did mean that we got the time to adjust to being a family of 4 at our own pace but it also meant we couldn’t have visitors which felt very strange in comparison to when our daughter was born. Remote working has been an adjustment but I feel more productive and a lot more present with family life and the balance feels a bit more equal, weirdly. I can do nursery drop offs and pickups and see milestones in both kids I would otherwise miss at the same time as checking in with the rest of the team and working together on the projects we’ve delivered since March.” 

We Dundee posters across Dundee’s city centre featuring residents hopes and ambitions. Photo: Holly Quinn.

Reflecting on 2020

Throughout the year, we’ve seen connections continue to emerge, audiences continue to support and creativity continue to flourish. The year has also been a stark reminder that there are no set, easy template or toolkit ways to navigate life. 2020 has highlighted the simple but brilliant ingenuity of people and communities working together. I am especially grateful for the dedication, expertise and willingness to get stuck in by our small team and Board. Thanks also to everyone who has engaged and collaborated with us, it’s enabled us to: 

Make a number of positive changes – staffing improvements, cultural shifts and launched a website in the middle of the pandemic. We also created 14 commission based opportunities, directly investing in local creative practitioners.  

The Amps Community Ideas Fund at the start of December totalled £2,000. This is the highest the annual fund has ever been, which felt totally inconceivable to achieve back in March. Well done Tactical Urbanism who Amps voted as the 2020 awardee!

With a number of fixed costs to make PechaKucha happen, we are grateful to everyone who booked tickets. We’re sharing the ticket sales breakdown to show the reality of ticket buying on our impact to deliver and ability to offer accessibility for all – thank you. 

But even though we can see so many bright and hopeful moments through the year, this has been an unimaginably difficult one for so many in the creative and cultural sectors and beyond. People whose work depends on live events and gatherings, people who can’t just simply pivot to working from home, people who lost their livelihoods through lockdown. 

And while the harsh realities, broken connections, systemic injustices and impacted lives won’t magically transform on January 1st or with the provision of a vaccine, our commitment to the city, its creativity and people will also remain. 

With a year of upheaval, isolation and trauma under our global belt, next year will have to include finding greater connection, support and care for each other and our planet. Whatever 2021 holds, we want to go through it by connecting, nurturing and amplifying what matters to you and our place. Will you join us?


Gillian & the Creative Dundee Team

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