More than two decades ago, a group of people had a bold idea for Dundee – to create an arts centre where locals could gather and experience a world of culture on their doorstep.
You could be forgiven for thinking that was the V&A, standing proudly on the city’s Waterfront – but Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) was ahead of the curve.
And 20 years on from its opening in March 1999, the DCA is going from strength to strength.
Beth Bate, director of the DCA since 2016, says the centre was at the root of a revolution that has helped to change the world’s perception of Dundee.
She said: “The team at the city council has always been very careful to credit the DCA in terms of the cultural development of the city.
“It was one of the first major milestones in that and it helped to put Dundee on the map.
“But it also gave people a cafe and a pub where they could meet up – it’s a place of vital importance for Dundonians.”
When it opened, the £9 million DCA was hailed by one expert as “one of the best new buildings to be found in Europe”.
It was designed by Richard Murphy, whose CV also boasts Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, and from the start welcomed artists and works from across the world to Dundee.
Its cinema hosted everything from Hollywood blockbusters to new independent releases not found at the multiplexes.
However, the DCA was also unique because it gave creatives somewhere they could work, with a dedicated print studio and a new visual research centre for University of Dundee students.
With the city council, an independent board of trustees and academics on board, it set a tone of partnership that would be copied by many projects to come – and proved naysayers wrong.
Beth, pictured, added: “We’ve got a lovely video of a very young-looking Mike Galloway (Dundee’s former city development chief) talking about the importance of the DCA and the ambition of a project like it and the partnership that brought it to fruition – the kind of working that gave us the V&A.
“There were people who didn’t think having a contemporary arts centre would work in a place like Dundee. But we are still here and it has been a tremendous pleasure for Dundonians and the staff here to prove those people wrong.”
These days, the DCA remains a key fixture of Dundee’s Nethergate, and the exterior of the building has recently enjoyed a fresh lick of paint and a rebrand that makes the most of the bold, chunky DCA logo.
About 390,000 people pass through its doors every year, coming in to enjoy the exhibitions, to watch a film or have a coffee.
Whatever way people enjoy the DCA, the main thing for Beth and her team – some of whom have been there since 1999 – is that it’s happening at all.
She added: “The development of cultural projects at the turn of the millenium, that nationwide shift towards making sure people have the right to access high quality art, was as strong in Dundee as it was in Edinburgh or Glasgow.”