Dundee Contemporary Arts, celebrating its 10th birthday last week, is a hugely important venue for Scotland and one which raises questions about the cultural infrastructure we need now, the role of creative hubs and the strategic funding of such venues. DCA’s sister venues include the cross art form and media venues in England including Cornerhouse in Manchester and Watershed in Birmingham.
These venues are held up as examplars of cultural centres for the 21st century in the age of ‘clicks not bricks’ . As creative hubs, the venues demonstrate a capacity for enabling creative experiences for today’s creative cities. Tom Fleming’s 2008 report Crossing Boundaries The role of cross-art-form and media venues in the age of ‘clicks’ not ‘bricks’ for the UK Film Council ACE and AHRC summarised “As place-based centres of excellence in this field they are well-positioned to build a leading role as generators of activity; connectors between content producers, consumers and technologists; and pioneers in the education work around digital literacy”
As intermediaries, these venues broker creative experiences, both by commissioning and by collaborating. They typically have cinemas, art exhibition space, cafes and are fully engaged in digital creativity.
They typically have been catalysts in cultural regeneration. Individual creative hubs will have regional partners, artistic specialisms and diverse activities and facilities. All of them are innovators and driven to support artists and creative practitioners develop their work. All of them provide an environment for collaboration, boundary breaking and the mash up of ideas.
And all make a major contribution to the creative identity of their city or city region. DCA is no exception to this.
The challenge in the current economic climate is how to ensure that our cultural infrastructure is fit for the times we live in. The success of cultural centres such as DCA will be determined as much by the resources it has, the broader role it undertakes and the networks it connects with as by its artistic and community vision, building and coffee.
In the current economic climate, there is almost certainly going to be less public subsidy available to the arts and creative enterprises. Critical to our success will be the targeted investment of public money to support infrastructure and to support artists. The infrastructure must include key creative hubs which have a multiplying cultural, social and economic value to their city/region. That might mean gatekeepers and strategic agencies prioritising 21st century cultural centres over those of the 20th century.
Further, DCA, like all cultural venues, is faced with the imbalance of its economy, as the costs of running the building increasingly displace the amount available to fund artists, art and creative enterprises. The role of the artist and creative practicioner is the most important in all of this discussion about creative experiences and creative hubs and must be enabled to succeed.