Day four of the Dundee Live Big Interview series sees us chatting to Beth Bate, the Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts.

She’s been in charge of the Tayside institution for nearly six years having moved up from Newcastle where she ran North Run Culture

In her 11 years in charge there, Beth worked with The British Museum and developed new and emerging talent, reaching annual audiences of over 300,000.

The year prior to lockdown saw the DCA’s highest ever number of cinema visits and really impressive national and international press for exhibitions.

The centre was also responsible for a learning programme that had been delivering partnerships with schools and community groups across Dundee.

How’s your time been in charge at the DCA? Have you enjoyed it?

It’s been the most remarkable six years, getting to know DCA, the team, the city and all of our extraordinary partners.

I feel hugely privileged to really love my work, even in the toughest of times, and enjoy the responsibility we have to our audiences who visit or engage online, and the artists and communities we work with.

I always knew DCA was well-loved but it’s been a real joy to see so many people taking part in our digital activities over lockdown and then coming back to visit us once we were able to reopen.

So many people see DCA as a key part of their cultural and social life, and it’s wonderful to be able to welcome people back, as well as see the impact of our work online and embedded throughout the city.

The DCA is one of Tayside's best loved institutions.

What are the biggest challenges facing the DCA as we ease out of lockdown?

We are still facing a hugely volatile operating environment and, like all cultural organisations who rely heavily on earned income, the financial future is definitely precarious. Fundraising is more important than ever and we were so pleased to be part of the Dundee Cultural Recovery Fund, which supported five of the city’s major cultural organisations, and has been vital in offsetting some of the financial impact of the pandemic.

We also know that, while many people have been keen and able to return, there are many others for whom it feels too risky, particularly those who are disabled or clinically extremely vulnerable.

We’re committed to continuing our online work to ensure those who aren’t able to visit our building aren’t excluded in any way.

What can we expect to see in the DCA in the next 18 months?

DCA will do what we do best, celebrate culture and creativity through our four programme areas: exhibitions, cinema, print studio, and learning.

You can expect some fantastic new contemporary art shows in our gallery spaces; a vibrant and diverse programme of films; courses and art production for all artists, beginners and professionals alike, in the print studio; and a whole host of talks, events, workshops and classes both in the building, online and across the city as part of our learning work.

All of this alongside our much-loved shop being fully reopened and Jute Café Bar being busy and bustling means we’ll feel more and more like the vital cultural and social hub that so many people love. We know, now more than ever, that there is huge appetite and demand for our work and the last 18 months have given us an enormous sense of purpose and resilience.

An artist at work at the DCA.

Anything customers to the DCA need to know about whenever they're visiting?

We would like all visitors to know that we take their safety, and that of our staff, very seriously. We follow Scottish Government guidelines in all areas of the building, which includes mask wearing unless you are exempt, and we have enhanced cleaning regimes too.

Everyone can still be assured of a warm DCA welcome though, we are delighted to be welcoming people back and it shows!

How excited are you about the waterfront developments? How do you think they will enhance the area in general and the DCA in particular?

The development of the waterfront has been a constant source of excitement since I arrived in Dundee 6 years ago!

I really love how the changes being made there are so focused on people and social spaces. This was so important over lockdown when we all learnt to use civic spaces differently.

I often meet and walk with friends and family there and it’s always fun to bump into people we know, point out the sights to visitors, and look at the new projects that are unfolding.

In connection with DCA, I think the city’s focus on culture, public space and social areas is spot on, particularly as we move through the pandemic and start to consider a very different retail world and high streets.

There’s a tremendous sense of ownership of our cultural organisations and civic spaces, I love how they’re interlinked.

Dundee's waterfront including the newly-completed V&A Dundee

How do you think Dundee has coped with the additional visitors? Do you think any more could be done to enhance visitors' experience in the local area?

Overall it’s been a very positive picture and DCA has certainly benefited from the increased profile of the city over the last few years.

International visitors have understandably been slower to return more recently and a greater focus on domestic and local visits has given us a good opportunity to be able to signpost people to some of the other gems we have in the area, particularly outwith Dundee in the wider Tay area, with some of the brilliant museums in Perth and Fife, and organisations such as Hospitalfield in Arbroath.

We’re all so proud of where we live and work, and the more people know about why they should visit and stay that little bit longer the better.

What are your ambitions for the DCA in the next five years?

We have long held aspirations to expand our activity in to the lower floors of DCA, with a third cinema screen and spaces for exhibition and digital learning.

Early plans were all put on hold because of Covid but we’ll be picking these up again soon.

We believe so passionately in what we do, we know that having a greater capacity to work with audiences and deliver our work would mean even more impact.

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