Brian Ferguson: Funding V&A will be worth it

CGI images of the plans for the V&A Museum at Dundee. Picture: Contributed
CGI images of the plans for the V&A Museum at Dundee. Picture: Contributed
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Creative Scotland has found £5m to fund Dundee’s V&A, but will it be worth it, wonders Brian Ferguson

A BLAST of east coast wind was my first impression as I emerged from the station. But the second impression lingered far longer, as I took in the huge extent of work under way on Dundee’s waterfront.

Almost all familiar landmarks from previous visits had been flattened, including eyesores like Tayside House, the old tower block council headquarters, and the Olympia leisure centre. The only familiar fixtures on the landscape were RSS Discovery, the city’s famous floating visitor attraction, and the old Tay Hotel, now part of the trendy Malmaison chain.

While lush new park and event spaces will soon be taking shape, there is little doubt about the centrepiece of the planned £1 billion transformation, particularly when you view the dramatic “fly-through” film of the completed venture.

But Dundee’s V&A museum, with a price tag of £45 million, seems to have been a long time coming without too much progress. It is seven years since the city’s link-up with the V&A was announced, touted as Scotland’s equivalent of the Bilbao Guggenheim, four years since architect Kengo Kuma’s design was chosen and two years since the Scottish Government confirmed £18m for the project.

Then, a 2015 opening was the target, but last week this officially slipped back to 2017. And, of course, the site for the museum has had to be moved inland to keep the project on budget.

But, within the next few months, the most significant cultural project in Scotland over the next few years will finally start to take shape when construction work begins.

My visit to Dundee happened to be the day after it emerged Creative Scotland is funding the V&A project to the tune of £5m, more than half the contribution from the Heritage Lottery Fund confirmed in January.

I was there to cover another big announcement, the arrival of more than 160 Roman artefacts from the British Museum for a major exhibition at the McManus Art Gallery and Museum – another serious statement of intent from the city.

I was crossing swords with Creative Scotland – before, during and after my visit to Dundee – about how its V&A award had come about, particularly as it was more than double the maximum figure it has awarded capital projects since it was formed in 2010.

While debate is still raging over why, indeed whether, its funding rules were bent or ignored, there is no disputing the cost, scale and ambition of the project means it is of national significance. And by the time the V&A opens its doors, the way the waterfront area is shaping up and the level of interest in it should give an insight as to whether the price tag was worth it.