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Scottish city looks to culture to reinvent its future

The River Tay was once the lifeblood of Dundee, Scotland. But the nation's fourth-largest city is now in the middle of a reinvention. With $1.2 billion in investments, Dundee is hoping to draw tourists and business by becoming a center for arts and culture. One recent addition is the V&A Dundee, a museum highlighting Scotland's contributions to design. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Dundee, Scotland, a coastal city of 150,000, is in the middle of a re-invention its citizens hope will make it a major center for the arts. It may be too soon for comparisons to Europe's many cultural capitals, but if a new museum is any indication, Dundee might be well on its way.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    It's not like any other building in town. The first outpost of London's famed Victoria and Albert Museum sits on the edge of the river Tay in Dundee, Scotland. You can almost see the hull of a ship in the building's design: a nod to the city's maritime past.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    More than 2,400 panels of layered concrete hang from the exterior of the V&A Dundee Museum, as it's known here. World renowned architect, Kengo Kuma says his design inspiration came from Scotland's iconic cliffs.

  • Philip Long:

    Those cliff forms around Scotland's coastline are, such an important quality of this, of this country.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Philip Long is the director of V&A Dundee. He oversaw the museum through the three and a half years it took to build, at a cost of more than $100 million.

  • Philip Long:

    A great deal of that time was just in constructing this extraordinary external form. It's characterised by these leaning twisting forms that put enormous pressures, physical pressures on the building's structure. It's cast in concrete in situ and that itself was a very complex process.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Inside, oak panels line the walls. And then there's the open space. It's meant to be part museum, part meetup site, and part living room of sorts for the city.

    The goal of V&A Dundee is to present the breadth of Scotland's design history and ongoing innovation under one roof. So within the museum two main galleries carry a mix of objects.

  • Meredith More:

    It's reputed that the first shot fired in the American War of Independence was made with a Scottish pistol.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Curator, Meredith More, took us on a tour of the permanent galleries.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So how much of Scottish design plays into a sense of identity for the people here?

  • Meredith More:

    So this set of galleries is really the first display that's really looking at Scottish design in particular, rather than Scottish history or Scottish art. And obviously, we were keen to think about what is unique about Scottish design and whether there's aspects about our geography or our natural resources or our history and political alliances that have sort of impacted on the particular design disciplines that have become successful here.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There are once-daring pieces.Take this 1930s swimsuit manufactured by the famed Speedo company. Speedo was founded by a Scotsman living in Australia. No sleeves meant swimsuits like these were banned on some beaches for being too revealing.

    The galleries also showcase locally made furniture.

    What's this throne doing here?

  • Meredith More:

    So this is a chair made in Orkney, which is one of the northern islands of Scotland. And the islanders would make furniture from anything that they could find; so, mostly driftwood and straw. So this chair, you can see, it has a straw back, which is actually shaped in a hood shape to protect the sitter from drafts. And it also includes a drawer which was commonly used for keeping your bible in.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The river Tay, once carried the city's main export – processed jute – to the rest of the world. Manufacturing the jute plant into textile employed close to half of Dundonians at one point. But by the early 1900s, Dundee could not compete with cheaper jute textiles from countries like India and started losing its edge. The city has since struggled to regain that economic strength.

    Now local officials are hoping the V&A will be a major part of its revitalization. John Alexander heads the Dundee City Council.

  • John Alexander:

    Whilst it's a small institution itself, it has around 80 employees, the difference it's making to bringing that vibrancy back to a city that, for many years had lost, I suppose, it's way cannot be discounted. It is significant. And it is something that we're really proud of.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The council and local partners worked for years to bring V&A to Dundee. In fact, Alexander was a child when discussions began on just how to reinvigorate this struggling city.

  • John Alexander:

    You do need to speculate to accumulate and you need to invest in opportunities for your peoples.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This public garden we walked through is just one part of a one point two billion dollar waterfront regeneration investment. This 600 acre area is part of a 30 year plan to build and improve commercial and cultural sites with the hope of attracting tourists and businesses. And 18 years in there is new housing, a renovated train station, additional mixed using buildings for retail, offices, and hotels, and new attractions like the V&A Museum.

  • John Alexander:

    The V&A, is perhaps a good example of that aspiration, and what we're set to deliver hopefully over the next ten, 20 years in using culture and regeneration as a way of reinvigorating both the economy, but also the social side of the city as well.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How is it working so far? Well, Alexander points to a ten percent increase in hotel stays as one positive sign. And six months after its opening the museum has already welcomed more than half a million visitors, far exceeding expectations.

    That popularity has spurred some to compare the V&A Dundee to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain – a cultural institution that helped turn the declining Spanish port city into a world famous tourist destination.

  • Philip Long:

    I think it's of course a comparison that anybody has to be very careful, especially my business because of the Guggenheim and Bilbao has been so successful. But let's not forget that cultural developments in cities have always been a really really important part of the life of a city. So I hope it's a project which is very much been taken to the heart of people here in Dundee but hopefully also is attracting interest from around the world and the ability of this place to do exciting and bold things even though it's a city that's faced many difficulties in the past.

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