What do you value about Scotland’s art and culture? This is a complex question I’ve considered a lot recently, as V&A Dundee completed the independent review of its economic impacts.
These are quite remarkable, with a total economic impact for Scotland of £75 million in the year since opening in September 2018. This impact has been strongly felt here in Dundee, which is very important for all of those who invested in this new international museum in Scotland’s fourth largest city.
Visitors to the museum spent £33 million in businesses across Dundee in 12 months, supporting almost 700 jobs, including the creation of an estimated 370 new positions. In a city of Dundee’s scale those impacts are very significant, but the value of any gallery, museum or cultural body is so much more than numbers.
V&A Dundee was originally imagined as many different things. As a museum of a world-class standard with a compelling mission to foster creativity nationally, as well as an economic driver for a city ambitious to regenerate and create opportunities for as many of its citizens as possible.
At V&A Dundee we have a particular focus, building understanding of how design creativity shapes, changes and improves people’s lives and the world around them. What we value within our team is clear – the creation of a museum which excites, inspires, provokes and engages the widest of audiences.
Our success is a long-term collaboration with our audiences, whether those are school pupils, students and creative professionals benefiting from the opportunities we provide; overseas tourists taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Scotland; or connecting for the first time with communities who feel that museums are not relevant to them. For V&A Dundee, our concern is with design and the difference it can make to all our lives, and so our work must consider all audiences and the many critical issues design can address. As a public space that has already attracted many hundreds of thousands of visitors, we are very well placed to do that.
Museums need to be connected to their communities. This is one aspect of their work that speaks of their power beyond the metrics of visitor numbers, pounds and pence. As part of our support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we published a substantial report in 2018 looking at the outcomes for heritage, people and communities from creating V&A Dundee. This utilised facts and figures as well as the stories of real people who have made the museum what it is so far. At V&A Dundee, as with cultural bodies across Scotland, being inclusive, being engaged and reaching out widely is not optional but fundamental.
The value of this was demonstrated powerfully before we opened. The group Home-Start Dundee, a charity which supports young families through issues including post-natal depression, isolation, physical health problems and bereavement, helped us design the museum’s family activities. The First Minister saw the invaluable contribution this has made when she joined us last year to meet with Home-Start Dundee and hear about the impact this has had on the confidence of vulnerable young parents, as well as their willingness to visit and engage with the museum.
Cultural organisations must, of course, measure the impact of their work. It is essential to show the value of investment and to be accountable for public funding and to the generous trusts and private individuals who make it possible for the arts to be a continuing part of life for people across Scotland.
Over hundreds of years, culture and creativity have played essential roles in defining our country’s identity. For many years now the intrinsic value of culture has been recognised and supported at national level. Today, we welcome the fact that culture has been included by the Scottish Government in the National Performance Framework and that the consideration of strategy, support and sustainability for the arts continues to be discussed and debated.
Throughout Scotland, day after day it is possible to experience work of the highest artistic quality being created by passionate organisations and individuals who care deeply about the value of creativity and its impact on people’s lives. It is by creating the widest possible access to the arts that we can all create the deepest value, with their inspirational, transformative potential helping us to understand our past and present, and the possibilities of the future.
Philip Long is director of V&A Dundee. Find out more at www.vam.ac.uk/dundee