DCA: A Modern Success Story

2nd February 2009

Since Donald Dewar cut the ribbon on Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) in March 1999, the building has transformed the cultural life of the city and established its place not only on the Scottish stage, but on the world stage of art. Formerly a derelict building playing host to local skateboarders, DCA drew 30,000 to its first exhibition, which included artists such as Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Anish Kapoor and Anya Gallaccio.

Over the past 10 years, a staggering 271 artists have contributed to DCA’s programme, with seven of those subsequently picking up Turner Prize nominations. The centre attracts over 300,000 visitors each year - twice the city’s population - and three times the initial forecast. In 2001, it staged perhaps its most influential exhibition to date. Here+Now, a collaboration with Aberdeen Art Gallery and Dundee’s own McManus Galleries, was a seminal survey of Scottish art in the 1990s. Nobody has attempted anything on a similar scale since, and it remains a definitive snapshot of who’s who in Scottish contemporary art.

DCA nurtures no neuroses about mixing high-calibre cultural thinking with cheerful local outreach work, though. Its Print Studio, for example, teaches over 100 creative courses, and prints produced there have made their way into the collections of London’s Tate gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Meanwhile, its two cinemas screen between 200 and 300 films a year, from arthouse to blockbuster, and its Discovery Film Festival is credited with giving 19,000 local children their first taste of world cinema.

Economic impact studies may not be as fashionable as they once were, but DCA’s was the ultimate good news story. In 2003, the centre was credited with creating 258 jobs and over £4 million for the local economy, a success which was coined nationally as “the DCA effect”. Even now, with major retailers failing every day, the gallery’s shop has boosted its sales figures significantly on previous years. It’s also claimed to be culture minister Linda Fabiani’s favourite place to shop.

DCA sits along the road from the art school, across the road from the chippie, and on the other side of the underpass from Mecca Bingo. That’s the way Dundee works, and it really works a treat.

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