V&A Dundee

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Open/Close Dundee: Community

Adding colour and style to our streets and winding alleyways, Open/Close Dundee has provided vibrancy, drama and a reason to explore some of the less-visited areas of the city. Russell Pepper, the person behind the project, explores community involvement and what’s next.

In the previous article, I wrote about the process involved in bringing the painted doors to life across Dundee. You can read it here. But now that Dundee has this growing street art trail, so what? Why is this project important for a city like ours?

Having artworks in the street, especially in areas which may be often overlooked, can help give people who live there more of a sense of pride in their area and might also help foster community. People might be encouraged to walk to work if there are artworks along the way, and they may take specific detours down alleyways to discover other pieces.

I hope it helps people rediscover their city. I’ve had a fair few folk on tours who are Dundee born and bred but had never been down half the alleyways in the city centre. Street art isn’t going to save the world or anything (I don’t want to over-egg it) but little things like this can help to make peoples’ lives just a little bit brighter.

Dundee has long lamented the fact that whilst we have a brilliant art school in the city, so many artists and designers study here and then up-sticks to Glasgow, Edinburgh or further afield. Lack of opportunity is often cited as a reason for this, so projects like Open/Close create a bit more opportunity and help add to the ever-growing list of reasons for people to stay.

The first “large” mural was completed last year and was an incredible community effort. It was funded through my first foray into crowdfunding, which I’m pleased to say was successful: we raised over £3,000 from over 100 donors! I’m so grateful. In fact, it’s almost unbelievable. We also had help from incredibly dedicated volunteers who turned every day to help make it happen, and the local businesses were really supportive in letting us use their toilets, giving the artists cups of tea, etc. Everyone really helped to make it come together!

A large gable end mural in Dundee. It depicts a woman against a pale pink background, sitting down with words and phrases around here alluding to trauma, struggle and overcoming them.
A large gable end mural in Dundee. It depicts a woman against a pale pink background, sitting down with words and phrases around here alluding to trauma, struggle and overcoming them.
A large gable end mural in Dundee. It depicts a woman against a pale pink background, sitting down with words and phrases around here alluding to trauma, struggle and overcoming them.
  • The gable end piece down Tay Street Lane by Kirsty Whiten and The Fandangoe Kid. (Photo by David P. Scott)

  • The gable end piece down Tay Street Lane by Kirsty Whiten and The Fandangoe Kid. (Photo by David P. Scott)

  • The gable end piece down Tay Street Lane by Kirsty Whiten and The Fandangoe Kid. (Photo by David P. Scott)

The artists were Kirsty Whiten and The Fandangoe Kid, who collaborated on the work. It’s based on personal loss and grief: instead of letting it define who you are, try to find strength through your experiences. The two artists have very different styles and the piece really looks unique. It’s not your usual mural. You can find it down Tay Street Lane on a gable end wall.

There are also two new large murals. One is in Cardean Street and was finished just the other week. Fraser Gray and Martin McGuinnes (the pair responsible for the amazing piece under the Tay Road Bridge) have painted a five-storey tenement gable end, which I’m extremely excited about! It’s been quite a journey getting this done. It’s taken almost two years to get to this point. The piece is specific to Stobswell and is based around the theme of “home”. It came out of a local community consultation.

A large gable end mural in Dundee. It's colourful and shows the interior of a home, with a focus on a staircase and the outline of someone walking up it.
A large gable end mural in Dundee. It's colourful and shows the interior of a home, with a focus on a staircase and the outline of someone walking up it. This photo shows the mural in progress.
A large gable end mural in Dundee. It's colourful and shows the interior of a home, with a focus on a staircase and the outline of someone walking up it. This photo shows the mural in progress.
A large gable end mural in Dundee. It's colourful and shows the interior of a home, with a focus on a staircase and the outline of someone walking up it. This photo shows the mural in progress with the artists up in a cherry picker.
A large gable end mural in Dundee. It's colourful and shows the interior of a home, with a focus on a staircase and the outline of someone walking up it. This photo shows the mural in progress with the artists up in a cherry picker.
A large gable end mural in Dundee. It's colourful and shows the interior of a home, with a focus on a staircase and the outline of someone walking up it. This photo shows the mural in progress with a ladder up against the wall.
A large gable end mural in Dundee. It's colourful and shows the interior of a home, with a focus on a staircase and the outline of someone walking up it. This photo shows a close-up.
  • The gable end piece in Cardean Street by Fraser Gray and Martin McGuinnes.

  • The gable end piece in Cardean Street by Fraser Gray and Martin McGuinnes in progress.

  • The gable end piece in Cardean Street by Fraser Gray and Martin McGuinnes in progress.

  • The gable end piece in Cardean Street by Fraser Gray and Martin McGuinnes in progress.

  • The gable end piece in Cardean Street by Fraser Gray and Martin McGuinnes in progress.

  • The gable end piece in Cardean Street by Fraser Gray and Martin McGuinnes in progress.

  • The gable end piece in Cardean Street by Fraser Gray and Martin McGuinnes.

The second mural is still in its’ infancy but we’re investigating walls in the Hilltown area and looking to work with community groups there to help define the content. There’s enough funding to create a large gable end wall, and the artist will be Zoe Gibson whose work is incredibly fun, vibrant and colourful. Perfect for large-scale!

There’s loads more still to come for Open/Close. A funding application is in to create 20 new artworks throughout the city centre. The aim is that you won’t be able to walk down a single alleyway or close without encountering a piece.

I’m really chuffed that the project has not only engaged local communities but inspired them to reach out to us and get involved. The community in Stobswell were the ones whose idea it was to bring Open/Close to the area. We were holding an artists’ market to celebrate the city centre trail launch when Colin Clement (chair of the Stobswell Forum) asked me if Stobswell could have a trail too. The group was instrumental in organising funding, finding doors, talking to businesses and judging submissions. Pretty much everything!

It’s fantastic to have this kind of local support. It means the community has ownership of the project too. Like when a couple of doors were vandalised, the Forum found funding to fix them. It’s exactly this kind of ownership of the city that Open/Close is trying to foster, and I hope we can keep working with groups across Dundee to make this happen even more.

Russell Pepper is the director of Open/Close, a community interest company with the goal of supporting artists, communities and creativity in Dundee by creating artworks and installations throughout the city.

Photography by Kathryn Rattray (unless otherwise stated).