V and A

Projected cost £27m. Actual cost £80m. That’s the sort of mismatch that used to cause squeals of public outcry about the use of public funded projects, with acres of print media about it … with the V&A it’s just a shrug.

Hasn’t Dundee already had a decade or more of arts-fuelled ‘restoration’. It doesn’t seem to have worked.

The building looks amazing, architecturally but there does seem too be yawning gap between society and public cultural exhibitions.

Why can’t we have an honest public debate about what works and what’s going on?

“In a society defined by inequality and poverty, spending EIGHTY MILLION POUNDS of PUBLIC MONEY on a middle-class vanity project is an ethical perversion”, argues Discontent.

What do you think?


Comments (42)

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  1. Jim Bennett says:

    £80m spent on the arts isn’t the problem. The problem is the £billions spent on “defence”.

    1. Rob Davidson says:


  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Is it worth it? Nobody knows yet. If it works as planned and helps regenerate Dundee it will have been worth it; if it gives Dundonians something to be proud of like the Glasgow Art Galleries, Peoples Palace or Kibble Palace then yes regardless of the cost it is worth it.

    The people at the bottom of the heap in Dundee are like those anywhere that are struggling to make ends meet and faced by an uncaring Westmonster attack on their lives together with harsh minimum wage or zero hours contracts. Anything that increases spending in the town by bringing in visitors and perhaps spin off businesses are of benefit.

    Take the £80 million and hand it to the poor and it will be gone in a week. With luck this will be something like a dripping roast for the city.

  3. BSA says:

    Give it a cheap label like ‘middle class vanity project’ and you can apparently indulge, like this video, in any amount of dog whistling whataboutery in regard to other deserving causes. It’s only been open a day.

  4. Stuart Fairweather says:

    ‘A new era’, so reads the full page headline of Dundee’s Evening paper on Saturday September 15th. The opening of the city’s V & A museum is announced with some fanfare. Amongst politicians and those closely associated with the project there is great excitement. But is this the full story?

    Earlier in the day there was a quiet but timely demonstration by those who wanted to draw attention to inequality and poverty. The point was not to oppose Dundonians visiting the V & A, indeed we have paid for what should be an inclusive home for art and design. Those who sung or spoke or danced at the opening events represented cultural activity in Dundee.

    But what is at issue is the myth that has been constructed alongside the building of the V&A; that either by itself, or as part of the waterfront development, it will address the economic crisis experienced daily by many. Today 40,000 Dundee citizens live in some of Scotland’s hardest hit communities. Officialdom’s own studies – the Fairness Commission, the Drugs Commission and the cost of the school day research – all point to the high levels of poverty and inequality in our city. Poverty and inequality which is all too evident on the streets of this city.

    Of course, major arts projects have their merits, although the BBC’s Will Gompertz shares the confusion expressed by many Dundonians about the design of the maze of roads and uncomplimentary buildings that surround the V &A. This alone is not the major contradiction. What is, is whilst you can be proud of your grandchild having a part in the opening events or celebrate that one of the local arts community has been interviewed, you still need to acknowledge the wider context.

    The banner displayed by protestors on the opening day drew attention to the limits of the aims of the project and the associated hospitality industry’s ability to make significant economic change. Those taking photographs as they waited in the opening day’s surprisingly thin queue appeared to get that. The role of art in society is to support people’s imaginative thinking. It’s a pity that for some the myth about what the V & A will do for Dundee appears to cloud their thinking about the impact of twenty-first century capitalism on people’s lives and to come up with truly imaginative solutions to the economic issues facing many Dundonians.

    We need to design a way of living that does not exploit or divide people and planet. To do this we need to think about work, leisure and art which rewards our involvement in it. That actually could begin a new era for Dundonians and those living elsewhere. Investing in myths of so-called ‘trickle down’ economics will never do this.

    The protesters will return a year from now to see what the claims of our politicians have come to. In the meantime activists will continue to oppose cuts locally and to campaign for a different Dundee, one which tackles the root causes of poverty and doesn’t rely on hope that private investment might, just might, find its way into some of the most impoverished communities in Scotland.

    1. Stephen Pritchard says:

      Brilliantly put Stuart.

    2. Ian Burness says:

      Good post, but just a wee comment apropos the “surpisingly thin” queue – the first couple of days are admission by (free) ticket to avoid congestion.

    3. Neil Gateley says:

      Come back in a year?? That’s pure dead mental. Give those with the vision of a completely transformed (and contrary to what the NIMBYS) are saying) a chance. This is a decades long project. Trickle down isn’t ideal but at the moment that’s how society seems to work and there appears to be no viable alternative and certainly none that the general population has the appetite for.

      The whole Waterfront project has at least given Dundee some hope and a chance. The Waterfront was a total shithole – resulting from what I can see corrupt and/or brainless politicians (not the popular myth that it wuz the planners). The planners came up with a vision to transform Dundee and our new improved (not perfect) policians bought into it. Give them some credit FFS.

      And if anyone comes up with some mega plan to sort out poverty, inequality, hatred, the 1%, extremism, climate change etc please let me know – I’m in.

    4. Colin Mackay says:

      Well said Stuart. This isn’t really the point put across by the video or article though imo. Obviously agree with your argument that to laud the building as some kind of saviour for the poor is pie in sky at best and deliberate subterfuge at worst. Attacking art and architecture like this as the video does doesn’t sit well with me though. Little is known what impact will be had across Dundee and for Dundonians, obviously there are similarities with Bilbao and there re different views to be considered there. It’s clearly a work of serious artistic merit. Is there no space to celebrate art and architecture for what it is outwith the usual politics we are trapped within? What direct harm is the building inflicting apart from the spend? Does truly impressive art and architecture not still inspire and produce the feelings across the board as it has done for centuries? Still not seen evidence of what spending was public either.

  5. Marion Dow says:

    Have the V&A but how about community facilities for the people not interested in this expensive art gallery?

  6. Willie says:

    Root causes of deprivation include lack of opportunity, lack of jobs, lack of education and training, low or no economic activity.

    The Riverside Development in Dundee with, but not limited to, attractions like the Discovery and now the new V and A play a part in the economic turn around.

    At a cost of £80.1 million the V and A construction will have supported construction jobs, which in turn will have contributed to the economy.

    Post construction, full time jobs associated with operating the museum and a fantastic attraction that will play it’s part in attracting tourists and visitors to come to Dundee.

    Dundee is turning round and this new V and A will play a part in revitalising the city.

    A university town, with first class teaching hospital, a vibrant computer programming industry, a new Riverside with quality visitors attractions and conference facilities is very much where Dundee wants to be.

    Think of the Barcelona turnaround and the picture becomes even clearer.

    1. David Allan says:

      “Dundee is turning round and this new V and A will play a part in revitalising the city”.

      The next project for the City of Dundee ! might I suggest should be support for the long overdue amalgamation of both Dundee Football Clubs.

      A new modern stadium and a single club making an impact at the top of the game. Let Scotland’s national game play it’s part in continuing to put Dundee on 21st Century map!

      1. Great idea – if the fans would support it?

        1. Dougie Blackwood says:

          Not a chance.

        2. DialMforMurdo says:

          The capital should lead the way with Hibs and Hearts uniting as Embra United…

    2. Alan says:

      Well put Willie. Apart from the possible economic impact, if you make the environment in which you live attractive and uplifting, you go some way to increasing the enthusiasm to “live”

  7. Me Bungo Pony says:

    “Middle class vanity project”!!!! Do “working class” people have no interest in culture then? Were no jobs sustained or created in the building of this ambitious project? Have no jobs been created in the staffing of it? Will others not be sustained or created by visitors to the city on the back of it? Does all this not help alleviate poverty (and therefore drug abuse) in the city while elevating Dundee’s profile and helping attract further investment? Is it not possible this knock on effect will further help alleviate poverty?

    The above video and the premise of the article, that money has been wasted here that, apparently, should have been used to spend on un-named “vanity projects” to combat drug abuse and poverty, which never seem to work in reducing it, is a false one. £Millions are spent on these issues, and rightly so, but it is not an either/or situation. The V&A will bring jobs, money, prestige and pride to the city which is among the best ways to tackle drug abuse and poverty. It is just one of a range of interlinked projects in Dundee that attempt to do just that. Shouldnt we be lauding it rather than turning it into a false “class war” issue? Just giving people money (though part of the answer) is short term, never seems to reduce the problem and leaves a lot of people resentful of, to them, a “waste of tax payer’s money”. That is a bigger threat to attempts at alleviating poverty than projects like the V&A.

    1. I think its legitimate to raise these questions given the huge amounts of money involved.

      I haven’t been yet – and the building looks amazing.

      But I’d like to see some breakdown on how many jobs are being created, what sort of jobs they are and who’s being employed.

      1. Alan says:

        Why is “who is being employed” important ?

        1. Because in order to meet the claims being made you would want those jobs to go to local people and for them to be a range of skills and salaries. That would be essential for it to make a positive impact in the local economy / community.

          1. Dougie Blackwood says:

            It would be a shame if all of the directing staff were imported from London as happens with so many of our arts projects.

          2. Willie says:

            When you’re in a hole you stop digging. The V and A is a great addition to Dundee, it has added to city and you’re coming across now as trying to defend a position made in error.

            You do good stuff,Ed and that’s why we’re all here at Bella.

            Think however of an Edinburgh devoid of parks, museums, galleries, a castle, ( and even damn it Royal Yacht) hotels, restaurants, finance jobs, insurance jobs, and universities all to be replaced by successes like 1960s Wester Hailles. Is this really the type of Pol Pot approach that you’re recommending. I don’t think so.

            Keep up the good work and please don’t disparage something that will be good for Dundee. Everyone has off days. And yes, we all rage at the injustice that stalks our communities. We should be so much more.

            As for the football stadia. Well what can one say about these two sporting deserts. Potential for use as two examples of Jurassic Park.

  8. Jo says:

    I believe the funding came from a mix of public and private sources, along with Lottery contributions, did it not?

    I’m sure the stuff on show is amazing. I’m not crazy about the building tho’. I think it’s pretty ugly.

    What I don’t understand more than anything else is how ALL of these things always start off with costings which ultimately bear no resemblance to the final hit. There’s something really very dodgy about that.

  9. Angus says:

    Was there today…

    The architecture, both inside and out, is worth the hype. I grew up in a single parent, working class scheme in Dundee and found it to be inspiring. To say it’s only for the middle class is a little condescending don’t you think?

    It’s a place for everybody in the city and the buzz around the area this weekend has been fantastic. I’ve never seen so many tourists in my hometown.

    Go and take a look before casting judgement and leave you cynicism at the door.

    The name and V and A deal aren’t my preference but then it’s only a 20 year agreement. After that I believe it should be the independence museum.

  10. Arabdame says:

    A bit patronising to suggest this is only for middle class and above. This museum is also a community space. Is this the Scottish cringe at work again?

  11. John Quinn says:

    Discontent needs to check his or her facts. First this was NOT £80 Million of public money. Dundee City Council spent £6.5 million and raised over £70 million from various sources including over £10 million of private money. Second calling this a ‘middle class vanity project’ is a zombie argument. There are 150,000 of us presently living in the city of all classes shapes and sizes and we all have rights. The overwhelming majority are embracing the future and not mumping about the past. It was blindingly obvious to anyone who was down in Slessor Gardens at the weekend that the people of Dundee are loving it. And third if Discontent is serious about addressing systemic poverty and derivation he or she should concentrate on attacking bankers’ bonuses, illegal foreign wars, Trident etc. By comparison attacking the V&A is bullying a soft target.

  12. Ian S says:

    Call me naive but this just sounds like a reason why we can’t have nice things.

    It would be good if positive developments like this can happen at the same time as improving life for residents of the city.

    I don’t see why must the two be mutually exclusive.

    Bringing visitors to the city (as this certainly will) brings its own benefits. Fresh perspectives and positive outlooks to name a couple, which is refreshing for the city as a whole.

    If the system is so broken that the very fundamentals for a good quality of life are not in place does this mean that the development of art and culture has to stop completely until these issues are fixed? I hope not.

    It would take probably generations to fix all the endemic issues.

    The chronic neglect of civic life in this country by successive governments and electorates can’t be fixed overnight and I hope we don’t have to stop doing good stuff while we wait and to my mind the kind of mindset here is creating a false division that needn’t exist. Who’s to say someone who is depressed couldn’t find solace in such a place, to give one example?

    I haven’t had the chance to visit yet but I wonder if the tickets will be free. If they are I can definitely say this is a good thing for the city. I know that £80m is a lot of money but really in terms of government expenditure and what you are getting is it really that much? Please don’t respond by telling me how many nurses wages or schools we could build with that money because I don’t believe it is a choice like that. We need to spend more money on civic society and we can, it’s just a choice the country has made not to. Bringing up things like how else the money can be spent just deflects the argument into blind alleys of ‘My cause is better than your cause’.

    Incidentally, does anyone know if the Michael Marra quoted in the video is the same as the Dundonian musician? His quote seems taken out of context here. I’d be interested to know what he thinks of this.

    1. Ian S says:

      Except of course Michael Marra died in 2012. I just checked and it is a different Michael Marra. Sorry Michael!

      1. Arabdame says:

        But it is his nephew and the whole Marra family are behind it as far as I am aware.

    2. Arabdame says:

      He would be very happy about it

  13. Alf Baird says:

    My first cynical thoughts are about what Downing Street’s top British cultural quango, V&A, is doing ‘giving’ us a museum which is all about celebrating British culture, and plonking it right bang in the heart of a Yes city? Secondly, on the cruise ship theme, as someone who has spent many years researching the international cruise ship industry, the sad fact that it is now half a century since we last built a cruise ship in Scotland, and even that was a technical and financial disaster, should suggest to even the most hardened unionist that we actually know hee-haw about cruise ship design compared to the people still building these boats and in ever greater numbers it seems (e.g. Italy, France, Germany, Finland, Netherlands etc). Prepare for many more ‘one-nation’ Britain nostalgia and myths about our ‘greatness’ courtesy of Downing Street’s V&A.

  14. SleepingDog says:

    What about its procurement policies? British museums in the past have been associated with imperial and private looting and unethical trades including (I think) endangered species. On their website, their procurement page only seems interested in value for money.

    As for cruise ships, they appear to be environmentally-disasterous showcases of hierarchical social privilege and caste-based apartheid.

    Victoria and Albert? Apex colonial criminals, blood sport animal massacrists and continental-class looters. Not a name inspiring confidence in a break with British museumship’s dark past.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      SG, I think we should soon expect also an exhibition on that British Tory icon Churchill and his spurious Dundee connection, prior to his enforced exit from the city.

      On the subject of “showcases of hierarchical social privilege and caste-based apartheid”, my first thought was Scotland’s ‘elite’ universities, where even Audit Scotland now claim the chance of Scottish students getting an ‘offer’ has further diminished, as well as this new museum perhaps. Cruise ships/cruise ferries are nowadays for the masses rather than just the ruling classes, and well regulated in terms of environment and safety. And at up to £1 billion cost/ship we are surely missing out on the ongoing global ship building boom. We would need to develop the right design skills for this, for ferries too it seems, to play in that game! V&A and its one-nation sycophants do not admit this, of course. They’re quite happy to tell us how great we and one-nation Britain are, even when its bull****; its their purpose, efter aw.

  15. bringiton says:

    I always thought that Dundee should have had a much bigger share of the oil business than it did.
    London rule meant that the Americans were allowed to do as they pleased which resulted in a concentration of resources in Aberdeen.
    At least Dundee now has something which will be around for a very long time and cheap at the price if it
    results in generating future sustainable economic activity.
    Aberdeen ???

  16. w.b. robertson says:

    Dundee deserved something to give the city a lift. Rejoice.

  17. Richard Easson says:

    When I hear the word Culture I reach for my yoghurt, but was not Dundee in the running for European City of said Culture when tumpshies rose in their angloculture to vote for Brexit and disqualify Dundee? Just returned from Dundee and the V&A, thought the exhibition space relatively small and sparse in relation to my own expectations.

  18. Rob Davidson says:

    I was there today. The building is outstanding and entry is free so that’s a great start. Anyone can go in and all sorts were there. They need to beef up the exhibitions though. It’s a bit style over substance. I didn’t get any sense of it being class biased.

    1. I don’t think anyone ever argued it was class-based in terms of its exhibits – the argument is that its such a huge expense in an impoverished city

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Editor, I am pretty sure I had some notion of class bias in mind when I likened cruise ships to “environmentally-disasterous showcases of hierarchical social privilege and caste-based apartheid”. Alf Baird assures me that cruises are now for the masses (perhaps they come with food banks as standard these days), which at least would mean that the masses could pay off their personal debt instead, which would be a relief for our independent economy.

        I don’t know about their other exhibits other than what I can see in a quick skim of their website, but if they are unchallenging of the status quo, then that is a class bias (not that I tend to put much store in class-based political theory as predictor of human behaviour).

        1. Fair enough – I think the wider critique wasn’t focused on the content of the exhibits

          1. SleepingDog says:

            You could always invite Alice Proctor to give her view on the exhibits:

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