Dundee bolsters team for European Capital of Culture bid

Dundee has invested for the opportunity to host the European Capital of Culture over the last 20 years. 
Picture: Alan Richardson
Dundee has invested for the opportunity to host the European Capital of Culture over the last 20 years. Picture: Alan Richardson
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Dundee has called in events guru Peter Irvine, former Edinburgh International Festival director Sir Jonathan Mills and a former producer of the Brit Awards, Helen Terry, to mastermind its bid to be crowned a European Capital of Culture.

A £40 million programme featuring up to 80 events, including at least six major arts festivals, would be staged across the city in 2023 if it wins the title.

A key element underpinning the bid is that would “expand Scotland’s close relationship with the EU and Europe by forging new relationships and cementing ones one.”

The 12-month programme, which will be kept under wraps until next year, is billed as a “once in a generation showcase for Scotland’s creative and cultural talent.

A £128m boost for the economy and around 16,000 new jobs are predicted to be generated by Dundee’s bid, which is up against competition from Belfast, Leeds, Nottingham and Milton Keynes. Only two UK cities have previously held the title - Glasgow in 1990 and Liverpool in 2008.

Mr Irvine, who staged some of the biggest events during Glasgow’s reign in 1990, said Dundee’s programme would be “the cultural event of the decade in Scotland.”

Ms Terry, who spent ten years producing the Brit Awards, said Dundee needed to be “Olympic-scale in its ambitions” for 2023 to stand a chance of winning the title.

Much of the focus of Dundee’s bid, which is hoped to attract an additional 450,000 visitors to the city, will be on and around its fast-changing waterfront, which is currently undergoing a £1 billion generation, including a new open-air arena, Slessor Gardens, and the city’s long-awaited V&A museum, which will open next summer.

However other events would be staged in public parks, in a historic former printworks, West Ward Works, established venues like the Caird Hall and an expanded Dundee Contemporary Arts complex.

Dundee’s bid director Bryan Beattie said: “The judges don’t expect you to create new arenas just for one year. They want to see that you are imaginatively using the venues that you have. However the context for the bid is that Dundee is really starting to grow again, after losing something like a quarter of its population over the last 30 years. We want to use the 2023 programme to address how a city can rebound from something like that and explore what a future Dundee should look like.

Mr Irvine said: “It’s a great project to be involved in for a whole host of reasons, but the main one is that it will make a huge difference. It would be a seriously big deal for Scotland if Dundee was to get this. It us in a completely different realm to anything else.

“We need to make an absolutely convincing and compelling case for Dundee. We’re speaking to people with big ideas and big reputations. It would be a truly international programme, with uniquely distinctive, stimulating and inventive events about Dundee and Scotland.

“Every time I go over the Tay Bridge I just feel that it is Dundee’s time. The V&A is appearing before our eyes and the whole waterfront is being realised. With the river and the hills of the north of Fife in the distance, it has a great location and presence, which we would make the most of and there is a lot of open space to work with.

“You can feel the tide rising. The collaborations, creative energy and ambition are already there. The objective is to transform Dundee and all our perceptions of it. That’s started. But this would stimulate, galvanise and fast-track that, in a really inspiring way.”

Sir Jonathan, who collaborated with Dundee Rep during his EIF tenure, said: “There’s no doubt that Dundee has some very big shoes to fill, as Glasgow is still seen as one of just two or three outstanding cities to have held the title. It was truly transformative.

“Dundee could have sat back with the V&A on the waterfront, but it is ambitious, daring and brave - it really wants to change itself. The cities that tend to do well with this title are the ones that you may have heard of but have not bothered to visit before. That’s because they have a lot to prove.”

Ms Terry, who is now a freelance consultant, said: “I’ve lived in Callander for 17 years and was commuting up and down to London for work. Dundee is probably where I spend most of my leisure time. I love Dundee and its people. There’s something about it - it just has so much potential and it’s just great that it is now being realised. This bid it has to be Olympic-scale in its ambition. It cannot be parochial. It has to have things in it that you will never see anywhere else that can only happen once.

“I’ve been looking at the big events that will get people talking. I’m having some very interesting conversations at the moment.”