As the first UNESCO City of Design in the UK, Dundee offers an eclectic choice of arts and culture, alongside Angus and Perthshire. From visual arts and award-winning industrial heritage through to music, theatre and dance, the city has built its regeneration on art and design.
A trip to the theatre
Philanthropy has played a large part in its cultural history, with the impressive Caird Hall, which stands at the south end of the City Square hosting everything from symphony orchestras to rock bands and touring comedy and theatre. A gift to the city from jute baron James Caird, it opened in 1923 and is still an impressive city landmark.
The city also offers theatre at Dundee Rep in Tay Square, with the only remaining repertory ensemble in the UK producing new work and revivals, with touring shows completing the programme.
A day spent in Broughty Ferry can be completed with a visit to the Gardyne Theatre, which can be found on the short drive between the city centre and the seaside suburb. Again, there is a mixed programme of theatre, dance, music and comedy.
Back in the city centre the Whitehall Theatre, just a short walk up Hawkhill, is the city’s variety theatre, with touring productions of tribute acts, crooners, hypnotists, and children’s shows. The city’s museums provide a similarly wide choice.
The V&A at Dundee, which opened in September 2018, is Scotland’s first design museum and has transformed the cultural life of the city. Apart from the massive Scottish Design Galleries, with rare pieces such as the complete Oak Room by Charles Rennie Mackintosh there will be visiting exhibitions. The building itself is a wonder, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and sits on the River Tay. This complements the magnificent McManus, a Neo-Gothic architectural wonder which houses galleries and a museum with visiting exhibitions alongside its own collections of painting, sculpture, and excellent social history galleries.
The city offers theatre at Dundee Rep in Tay Square, with the only remaining repertory ensemble in the UK producing new work and revivals
For contemporary art, take a stroll through the city centre from McManus and visit Dundee Contemporary Arts, a centre with bright, light gallery space as well as cinema, print workshops and the buzzy Jute Café Bar. More new work is on show in West Henderson’s Wynd at the WASPS studio in Meadow Mill, with a gallery showing a selection of work by the artists who have their studios in the converted jute mill, just across the road from the award-winning Verdant Works charting the city’s jute history in fascinating detail.
Just walking the streets of Dundee is enough to encounter some exciting street art, however. Throughout the city there are more than 120 artworks, but the best known in the city centre begin with the huge bronze of comic characters Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx, as a tribute to the city publishers DC Thomson who created, among many others, the iconic comics The Beano and The Dandy. Have a coffee and a browse through some comics and magazines in the stylish and spacious foyer to DC Thomson, designed to be open to the public with sofas and chairs.
The city has also taken part in a new street arts movement, bringing rundown locations to life. In Open/Close, Dundee’s first ever street art trail brings old doors back to life throughout the city centre and in an area just outside the city centre called Stobswell. Currently there are 18 artworked doors by 18 different local artists in the city centre and 20 more on the Stobswell trail. Also, sitting outside The McManus with his trusty pea-shooter pointed at a statue of Robert Burns, is Oor Wullie, the rascal who has appeared in his own Sunday Post comic for 80 years.
On the Nethergate at Seabraes, watch out for some small fellows having a bit of a climb on the street furniture. These are the Lemmings, a tribute to another generation of creativity in Dundee, the flourishing computer games industry that has produced such iconic titles. In the middle are the Penguins hopping along the wall of the City Churches, a recognition of the Dundee links to Antarctic expeditions of the RRS Discovery, which can be visited at Discovery Point.
For contemporary art, take a stroll through the city centre from McManus and visit Dundee Contemporary Arts, a centre with bright, light gallery space as well as cinema
Galleries and museums
The city’s university also has a selection of museums, in the Tower Foyer & Lamb Galleries, the Cooper Gallery, the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum and Tayside Medical History Museum. These all offer an insight to the city’s contribution across the arts, medical research and science. Just 20 minutes from Dundee by train, Perth has an impressive arts offering for a city of its size. Perth offers a programme of pantomime, Shakespeare, contemporary drama and comedy productions.
Perth Concert Hall still offers one of the most exciting music and comedy programmes in the country with a choice of festivals in its airy auditorium. Wandering through Perth’s leafy streets near the River Tay and South Inch parkland, an unusual structure is home to The Fergusson Gallery. The watertower exterior is a Perth landmark and the interior has not only the work of John Duncan Fergusson, one of the Scottish Colourists, but also his wife Margaret Morris, a celebrated modern dancer.
There are photographs, sketchbooks and even costumes to bring the fascinating lives of these two creative pioneers together. Into Perthshire, the beautiful village of Birnam has a thriving hub of entertainment at the Birnam Arts Centre. As well as art exhibitions, it has a full programme of workshops where the whole family can learn new crafts. In the evening the centre hosts a packed programme of music, theatre, comedy, and talks.
Birnam also has one of the area’s great literary connections, which can be explored here at The Beatrix Potter Exhibition. The Peter Rabbit author spent her childhood holidays here and there’s no doubt that the rural location and local wildlife were a huge inspiration to her cast of characters. Culture comes in many forms and it seems social history is becoming a huge draw for locals and visitors. Near the beautiful village of Comrie (worth a visit in itself) there is the Cultybraggan Camp, which is the UK’s final remaining high security Prisoner of War Camp from the Second World War.
Across the 13.8 hectares there are around 80 Nissen huts, the sports fields, a firing range and the last nuclear bunker built in the UK. Guided tours are run, from the Heritage Centre, on the first Sunday of every month from May to September, with the first at 11am and the final tour leaving at 3pm, but self-guided visits can be made from 10am to 4pm daily. In the popular holiday town of Pitlochry, the Festival Theatre has a long and distinguished reputation. Its reputation was built on drama and comedy through summer seasons, but now it’s one of the most important touring venues for music and comedy as well as theatre of all genres, including world premieres.
The city’s university also has a selection of museums, in the Tower Foyer & Lamb Galleries, the Cooper Gallery, the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum and Tayside Medical History Museum