I have always struggled with blanket statements about cities. You might have heard one of those when you told someone you live in Dundee and received some kind of disparaging comment back, or you might have seen them in the many lists deeming Dundee ‘the coolest little city’.
In my experience cities exist in scattered pockets of cultures and experiences. Trying to make a singular all-encompassing statement about any of them is just an exercise in projecting whatever your personal experience is and a way of showing your ass (this is my last day at the job and I thought it’d be funny to write ‘ass’ on the work website).
To me one of the most valuable things about Creative Dundee is that it reflects lots of these smaller Dundees to the wider collective: it brings sectors, makers, institutions, artists and audiences to each other, giving each a glimpse of another group’s Dundee and helping them build bridges to one another.
Here’s a video of my favourite moment when something like this happened, a small event that has inspired me many times over…
Rosa Luxemburg wrote that ‘the most revolutionary thing one can do is always proclaim loudly what is happening’. I think the spirit of how Creative Dundee operates, so nomadically amplifying many different Dundees, is the spirit any city needs to flourish.
Listen, I love my own personal Dundee. The walks in Stobswell Dundee, the reading at Magdalen Green Dundee, the late-night DCA films Dundee. But as well as enjoying our own Dundee, we need to make sure everyone in the city can enjoy theirs.
Many Dundees deal with some of the most acute pain across the country and even continent. From drug-related deaths to food poverty, we have many other superlatives besides ‘coolest little city’.
The choice we have to make is whether to put blinders on and pretend our own Dundees are all there is to see, or to observe our wider collective, focusing less on ‘my Dundee’ and more on ‘our Dundee’. I will always value my experience at Creative Dundee for showing me ways to do the latter.
In Bertolt Brecht’s words: ‘It takes courage to tell the truth about oneself’.
I’d like to finish this blog by thanking Andy, Gillian, Claire, Jen, Steph and Susie, explorers of the many Dundees, from whom I’ve learned so much. As well as the artists, makers, thinkers and doers who have inspired my time here – I’ve asked some of them to share something they learned by doing what they do, and I’ve included the responses below…
“I recently learned that Sea Horses mate for life, and that each morning upon waking they dance together to consolidate their bond. I learned this fact at an aquarium, where myself and dear friends were busy gazing at the fat bellies and clingy tails of little swimmy animals instead of doing GENERATORprojects admin. I have learned that no matter what shape your practice or pursuits take, you should frequently and generously spend time consolidating your bonds, skive/rest when needed, and sometimes visit aquariums (dancing optional)” – Jamie Donald
“I have learned that those most likely to experience the architecture and design firsthand should always have a voice throughout the design process, whether you are designing a house extension or bench on the street.” – Fíona Canavan
“The most important and successful things happen through encounter and collaboration. Systems or approaches that squeeze out either of these always fall short.” – Dave Close
“More than anything I’ve learned that I like working with people and that to get the most of this dynamic I need to be patient with others and to also be confident in my own abilities.” – Mal Abbas
“Over the years, I have discovered that joy, enthusiasm and shared experiences are at the centre of the creative boiler house for me. Even in the darkest places or in the hardest moments it is these qualities that bring forth the most rewarding processes.” – Emily Winter
“When you share your stories, others share theirs and it’s beautiful. Alternatively, singing about dick in 16th century Scots isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.” – Lynne Campbell
“Not to be afraid of naivety. Not knowing what the ‘done thing’ is in a space gives you the most amazing kind of freedom – to experiment, ask questions, make mistakes – that liberates you and allows you to create better ways of doing things. There is so much power in entering an industry as an outsider.” – Rhia Cook
“Works of great beauty are never born fully formed. They are wrought. They are born in fire. They skilfully hide their trauma.” – John McCann
“I learn anew daily that Dundee is so much more than it’s made out to be in both traditional historiography and modern attempts to turn it into a sellable brand. That the city has, over and over again, been a key site for radical change, visionary creativity, and struggle – and that these capacities are still very much alive in the everyday conversations we have within our communities.” – James Barrowman
“I feel artists try to appeal to institutions in vain when they (institutions) aim to appeal to the wider public purse and not you. Focus on people and the institutions will follow.” – Ahmad Deeni
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