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Digital Dundee – why we deserve to be UK City of Culture

25 October 2013

Clare Brennan and Ronnie Forbes
Clare with Dundee-based artist Ronnie Forbes, in front of one of her paintings, 3 Birds

Dundee is in the running to be crowned UK City of Culture 2017 in November. Here Clare Brennan, Curator of Abertay University’s Hannah Maclure Centre art gallery, shares her thoughts on why Dundee should take the title.

“I love Dundee and its incredible creative scene – I’ve grown up here, studied here and am proud to have built a career in Dundee as a visual artist, Teaching Fellow at Abertay University and Curator of both the Hannah Maclure Centre and the NEoN Digital Arts Festival.

“As a Dundonian it’s easy to say Dundee should win UK City of Culture 2017, but there are some incredibly unique things about this northern city that mark it out as culturally special.

We Dundee word cloud
A word cloud of the community submissions to

“Many people still don’t know that Grand Theft Auto first came from Dundee, and along with the huge global hit Lemmings was created by former Abertay student Dave Jones in tiny offices on the Perth Road.

“That incredible digital creativity back in the 1990s has grown and grown, and today Dundee has dozens of computer game companies – and many are working with cultural organisations and creating bold new digital arts projects that are unlike anything anywhere else in the world.

Quartic Llama is just one such company – their 100,000 Lux performance at last year’s NEoN Festival transformed the LED lights on the side of Abertay University into a light show, condensing a month’s mathematical data from the Sun into nine startling beautiful minutes, accompanied with generative audio by local sound artist Raz Ullah.

“And this year Quartic Llama worked in partnership to produce Other, the National Theatre of Scotland’s first ever game. It’s an intense audio horror adventure, which uses the iPhone’s satellite navigation to guide you around Dundee’s real streets – but revealing a hidden, unknown Dundee in the sounds you uncover on your journey.

“It was produced to support the UK stage premiere of cult vampire love story Let the Right One In at Dundee Rep and is a very challenging piece of personal, digital theatre. Again, only in Dundee could such a project have been possible.

“Another incredible Dundee company is YoYo Games, which makes GameMaker – a software tool that allows children and complete beginners the ability to create their own computer games with no technical knowledge. It’s been downloaded over five million times and has unlocked huge amounts of digital creativity, encouraging people to learn how to create something for themselves – a key theme of Dundee’s bid to be City of Culture 2017.

“Dundee’s digital uniqueness can also be seen in Abertay’s Dare to be Digital game design competition which attracts students from all over the world to Dundee each summer to fight for a unique BAFTA, and in the upcoming programme for our NEoN Digital Arts Festival, which I’m proud to have been a part of for five years.

NEoN Festival - Wet Sounds
A previous Wet Sounds performance in Helsinki 

“We’ll be bringing members of the community together to create audio which is then played underwater in our Olympia swimming pool for the Wet Sounds performance, discussing digital museums with the V&A at Dundee team and V&A Game Designer in Residence Sophia George, and showcasing the city-wide multicultural and cross-generational film project Wha’s Dundee.

“And for our finale, Forever Falling Nowhere, we’re taking inspiration from the Scottish invention of the kaleidoscope and reclaiming an industrial space to mix live dancers from Smallpetitklein, digital animation, projection mapping and audio-reactive visuals.

Smallpetitklein dancers
Dancers from Smallpetitklein training

“What Dundee does so well is bringing together our different communities to openly explore how we can all create new cultural experiences. And experiences which are open to everyone, and invite you in – even if you feel the arts and culture aren’t for you.

“Of course Dundee faces some serious challenges, with many of our more disadvantaged communities not engaging directly with the cultural activities already on offer.

“But this is part of what becoming UK City of Culture will allow – the programme of activity to build up to 2017, during the year itself, and after 2017 has an incredibly clear focus on benefiting everyone.

City of Culture flag on Broughty Ferry beach
City of Culture flag planted on Broughty Ferry beach by Smallpetitklein 

“Culture matters. It always has done and it always will, and recent Scottish Government research found that – even when you remove the effect of factors like income and background – being engaged in the arts and cultural activities improves people’s lives and sense of wellbeing.

“In the outreach work I’ve done with Abertay University and NEoN I’ve seen this first hand – taking part in cultural activities can change people’s perspectives and radically rewrite what they think is possible.

New V&A image - night.jpg
The vision for V&A at Dundee, beside RRS Discovery 

“The ambitions for Dundee are already changing our city for the future, with the £1 billion Waterfront redevelopment and the incredible V&A at Dundee project. Winning the title of UK City of Culture 2017 would only add to that momentum and bring more people into this process as new artists, audiences and creators.

“Dundee is truly at a tipping point – with the support of the judging panel, this November could be the moment that culture reaches right across our beautiful city, and sparks changes, creativity and confidence that will raise the voices of all our communities.

“Those voices can echo along the banks of the River Tay for generations to come, bringing the city together and welcoming visitors from around the world to join us.”

For more information about Dundee’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2017, please visit the WeDundee community website.

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