Regeneration through Culture

In September the V&A Dundee, the first dedicated museum of design in the UK outside of London, opened in Dundee. It is at the heart of the £1bn Dundee waterfront regeneration and is undoubtedly the most visible demonstration of the city’s regeneration through culture.

Deindustrialisation had a huge impact on Dundee. Many of its traditional workplaces closed down leading to economic decline, high unemployment and all the social and health problems that go along with these issues. The 1980s and 90s were very difficult for Dundee, but it is a resilient city, and over the last 20 years has focused on culture-led regeneration. Taking a long term, strategic approach, with partners working together - the city has developed a vibrant creative and cultural sector, which has delivered economic and social benefits. Some key cultural organisations and venues that are at the heart of Dundee’s cultural development include, Dundee Contemporary Arts, the Rep Theatre, Discovery Point and Verdant Works as well as Dundee’s wider cultural heritage such as DC Thompson. Central to this focus on culture as a means for regeneration is that it must be inclusive. It must be city-wide and involve everybody, even those who are least likely to engage with culture and arts and it must deliver economic growth and social benefits.

There are other examples in Scotland and the UK where culture has been an effective vehicle for tackling economic and social exclusion. Culture-led regeneration is an important area of ekosgen’s work. We regularly undertake studies assessing the social and economic impacts and evidencing the benefits of investment in culture. Key outcomes from culture-led regeneration include boosting economic growth, delivering social benefits and developing opportunities in the Creative Industries.

Hull, the 2017 UK City of Culture is a fantastic example of how an award, and investment in culture, can turn a city around. The UK City of Culture award aims to provide cities with a focus and impetus to deliver new developments in culture that can have a much wider effect, in terms of attracting visitors and new businesses as well as altering perceptions and giving locals new opportunities. Anecdotally many people in Hull have commented on the changes in the cultural facilities available and the general feel of the city since its successful campaign. It is estimated that the award has attracted £220 million of investment and created 800 jobs in Hull. It has also contributed to an increase in annual visitors from 4.75 million in 2013 to over six million in 2017, with the value of tourism in Hull estimated to have increased by £15 million from 2016 to 2017.

Paisley has also recognised how culture and creative industries can contribute to regeneration. The town has a long history of design including the textiles industry and of course the paisley pattern. It also has an impressive performing arts pedigree, a museum with a globally significant collection and a thriving arts community. Centuries of design excellence is evident in the fabric of Paisley through its historic town centre and other architecturally significant buildings, for example mill buildings from its industrial past. It has an impressive concentration of listed buildings and is increasingly a destination for culture and arts tourism. Whilst it was not awarded the 2021 City of Culture, the campaign gained significant attention .The team behind the proposal has underlined its on-going commitment to continuing the legacy of the bid, which has already boosted the city’s reputation and increased visitor numbers.

The experience and achievements of the Guggenheim Bilbao is something for the V&A to aim for. The Guggenheim opened with a similar regeneration focus as the V&A, in a city that had experienced many of the same problems, and arguably was not the first place that people might think of for such an iconic institution. Similarly to the V&A, the building is a significant and admired example of contemporary architecture, designed to complement its waterfront position, and the development showed incredible ambition. The Guggenheim Bilbao opened in 1997 and has achieved an annual visitor rate of approximately 1 million – far exceeding original targets of 400,000. It has been credited with an increase in annual tourists to Bilbao from 20,000 to 1.75 million.

It is clear then that the scale of the opportunity for the V&A cannot be underestimated. With an already strong cultural sector in the city, the V&A is an anchor that will attract visitors and encourage them to stay, explore and access everything that Dundee has to offer. As well as visitors, the V&A will also take part in significant outreach activities in local communities as a key part of its work. This had already started prior to the venue opening, with the V&A’s education outreach programme having engaged with an estimated 100,000 people by March 2018. There are certainly exciting times ahead for Dundee as the city seeks to reap the significant rewards from its commitment to, and investment in, culture.