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30th July 2019 Lorraine Flood

Arts and culture in Dundee, Angus and Perthshire

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.

Dundee Rep Theatre

Watch a performance at the Dundee Rep Theatre

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

Contemporary art

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.

DCA Gallery

Be inspired by a visit to Dundee Contemporary Arts

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

Festivals

This is an area of festivals, so there’s no doubt that whenever you choose to visit there will be a special event to visit, from the literary Winter Words at the start of the year to the dazzling Enchanted Forest in autumn, which brings the Perthshire forest alive with light and sound. The county towns of Angus are also artistically alive, with small studios, galleries, and venues, a valuable part of their communities. The coastal town of Arbroath is home to the beautiful Hospitalfield House. The impressive building with its Arts and Crafts interiors is situated overlooking the North Sea and runs an extensive programme of arts events and workshops.

Even for those who are not attracted by the work on show, the interiors make Hospitalfield worth a visit. Arbroath is also home to the Webster Theatre, a traditional variety destination that specialises in touring music shows and popular theatre.

Musical instruments held in the air

There’s always a festival or special event on the go here!

No cultural tour of Angus could leave out the Wee Red Toun of Kirriemuir, the name given in recognition of the warm red stone that forms so many of the buildings around the pretty town square. This is the home of Peter Pan, well his creator anyway – the author JM Barrie. His childhood home can be visited alongside a fascinating museum.

Barrie’s Kirriemuir continues up what is called Kirrie Hill where the Cricket Pavilion and Camera Obscura that the author gifted to his home town are located. His grave is also in the cemetery nearby. There is also a superb adventure playground based on Neverland and a series of mosaics depicting the book’s characters by local artist Maureen Crosbie working with schoolchildren from the town.

This is an area of festivals, so there’s no doubt that whenever you choose to visit there will be a special event to visit

Small town culture

Heavy metal fans will feel emotional when they get to the top of Bellies Brae, where there is a bronze statue of AC/DC singer Bon Scott, who lived in Kirriemuir until the age of six. Heading north and over to the coast, the town of Montrose has an interesting cultural history. In fact, in the 1920s it was something of a hotbed of free thought and rather bohemian. With a cast of characters such as poets Violet Jacob and Hugh McDiarmid, painter Edward Baird, and sculptor William Lamb, there are many places to explore including the William Lamb Studio, which can be found off the High Street.

Scottish Highlands

These beautiful little Scottish towns boast spectacular scenery that has inspired many an artiste

The pretty town of Brechin also has a surprising social history gem at its heart. The Brechin Town House Museum is a multi-faceted destination, with not only work by hometown artist David Waterson but a model of the town as it was in the 1820s and a wide collection of objects and material that have come from not only official archives but from local people.

Heading further back in the history of Angus, the advanced culture of the Picts who inhabited this area can be seen not only at Arbroath Abbey but at the St Vigeans Pictish Museum, which has more than 30 ancient stones elaborately decorated by the Picts. Access to this hidden treasure can be arranged by the staff at Arbroath Abbey. The Abbey itself must be seen to appreciate the importance of this small coastal town in Scotland’s history and culture, with a visitor centre telling its fascinating story in a way that will captivate the whole family.


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Image credits: ©Alan Richardson/Pix-AR.co.uk; Alexander Potapov/Igeltier/Zap Ichigo/Adobe Stock; Bill Mackie/Khara Woods/Unsplash; Dundee City Council; Shutterstock.com

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