Initially set up as a blog that was ran in their spare time, Gillian Easson and another co-founder started Creative Dundee in 2008. Now almost seven years on from their first blog post, Creative Dundee has become an integral part of the city's creative infrastructure.
In this Connecting feature, Gillian gives us an overview of what work they do, how the initial idea has grown and how Creative Dundee continues to be an influential catalyst for the increase in the profile of Dundee.
Creativity and culture are of course central to Dundee’s future, but the truth is that the city has an incredibly strong creative past. Over the last six decades, festivals, exhibitions, events and organisations initiated and led by creatives and collectives have been as critical to Dundee’s art scene, as the offer of the cultural institutions. Dundee has a grass-roots ‘get on and make it happen yourself’ attitude, but its story and many chapters haven’t always been well told.
Our aspirations are simple - to make sure that artists and creatives of all disciplines can base, grow and sustain their practice, in and around Dundee - by amplifying this out and connecting those outside, in.
Having worked on creative support programmes in the past and freelancing part time outside of Creative Dundee, I know how difficult it can be to get your product, service, practice out there; the challenges of staying motivated; and the battle to keep on top things outside of your own practice. Creative support needs to reflect current and emerging ways of working - and I believe that peer networks and effective communications are key.
Dundee has a challenge in terms of talent retention and attraction, it also has a relatively low number of visiting tourists compared to other Scottish cities (I’m still surprised and delighted when I see people standing scanning a map!). This will change fast and we’re doing everything we can to play our part in this, with our limited resource.
The Ekos review, Mapping Three City Networks, highlighted the Networks ability to improve innovation and collaboration across sectors. For a city like Dundee, which has one of the largest public sector workforces in Scotland; has a world-class life sciences reputation; and an impressive digital track record, we see collisions between sectors as a huge opportunity for creatives, and even more critically for Dundee and its wider communities.
We have a strong digital presence, acting as an amplifier to showcase creative talent, activities and events across the city and beyond. Our web analytics show that traffic comes from all over the world, and after Dundee, London is the next highest visiting city. Perhaps it’s no surprise given that we have a fairly transient young creative population who attend our two Universities and college, which have excellent creative courses on offer. It’s great to see this national and international interest, although I occasionally wonder how many online visitors are reluctant leavers who still think (or are told) that the only option is to head south to build good careers.
Events are run to connect and inspire, such as Pecha Kucha Nights, which have regular audiences of 200-300 people attending, with an extra 10,000 viewing videos online afterwards. The energy at each event is incredible and there is no end to the impressive array of talent who speak at each of the quarterly events. With no keynote speeches everyone is on a level playing field, irrespective of their career status - enabling people to find out what’s happening on their own doorstep in a really accessible way.
We’ve always been open in our approach - we crowdsourced the first creative city guide; we ran an open call to show films, animations and music videos on a massive screen in City Square during the Commonwealth Games; and we crowdsourced close to 4,000 views and ideas from citizens on the city’s cultural future, through We Dundee, as part of Dundee’s bid to be UK City of Culture.
Creative Dundee is very much about ‘citizen up’ approaches and how everyone can help shape their own places. The highlights for us have been working in partnership with a huge number of organisations and most critically the grassroots innovators, creatives and collectives, without whom Creative Dundee just wouldn’t exist.
Cities around the world are asserting themselves as cultural hubs in different ways - building vast creative incubators, innovation districts, cultural clusters and playable cities (more on the creative ways cities are redefining themselves here). But, I feel that the value of networking and collaboration across sectors is still not well understood. This is a real strength that Scotland can bring to the global table, from the work of the Creative City Networks, to the many emerging creative place networks - urban and rural across Scotland.
The Ekos review gave us affirmation, referencing Creative Dundee as an influential catalyst for the increase in the profile of Dundee; bridging the gap between the community and the public sector; playing a role in the retention of talent within the city; and enabling community empowerment and a sense of pride in the city.
Bridging these gaps across the city requires effective relationships and advocates who can work across worlds to identify and interpret needs and opportunities to others - and then actually deliver.
As Dundee grows, so too do our cultural and creative sectors. We will continue to contribute to making Dundee an even greater place to live, work and visit; and increasing Scotland’s wider cultural profile. In order to do this well, we all need to understand, support and value each other a little better - from the grass-roots, to the nationals, and the incredibly rich mix in-between and beyond.