V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, will open to the public September 15th. Director Philip Long explains the part the new museum will play in the city’s remarkable re-development.
Philip Long has been in charge of the V&A Dundee since 2011. His appointment as director came when the museum was still in the early planning stages.
Prior to joining the V&A, Long was senior curator of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. He studied visual arts, specialising in sculpture, and had a wide interest in painting, photography, design and their history. After completing a postgraduate course in museum and gallery studies, Long worked for several public galleries.
Dundee and a remarkable series of events
“I became involved in V&A Dundee because I heard about the extraordinary possibility of a V&A in Scotland,” he told Blooloop. “Given my own interests, I was very excited about getting involved in this and helping to make it happen.”
Dundee was never meant to have a V&A museum. It was not shortlisted as a potential location, Long said. Instead, it took a “remarkable series of events” to get to where we are today.
“The very first conversations about V&A Dundee were the result of a close relationship between the museum and the University of Dundee,” he said. “The two institutions have worked together for many years. Largely due to the university’s wonderful Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.
“The suggestion that Dundee would be a perfect city in which to open a new V&A sparked a remarkable series of events that have led us to where we are today.”
The idea for the museum first came around in 2007. The V&A teamed with Dundee City Council, Scottish Enterprise and Dundee and Abertay universities for the project.
“An ambition was set out for a design museum that would help change the understanding of design in this country. And that would also play a part in Dundee’s remarkable re-development,” Long said.
Creating a new V&A
Once the location was decided, an architectural competition was held to find a design for the building. Kuma’s design was chosen in 2010 but the project suffered delays and construction did not start until 2015.
The original budget for the V&A Dundee was £45m ($60m) but with the delays costs ballooned to nearly double.
Viewing the museum shortly before construction completed, Kuma told the BBC: “The realisation of the strong façade is great. We were able to express the dynamic scale of the interior, too – just as we had planned.”
The design, which sees the building jutting over the River Tay, was inspired by the cliffs of Scotland’s north-east coast.
He added: “I hope as well that people from Dundee will use it as an everyday part of their city. That they will go there to enjoy the building with its surrounding public space. And find a harmonious relationship between the museum, the riverside, the city and themselves.”
While work on the building was ongoing, Long concentrated on other elements.
“At the same time, a team was established to plan and get ready for opening the new museum,” he said. “Putting into place its exhibitions, displays and learning programmes – all the things that will make it a vital cultural institution.”
Same V&A, different experience
One of the challenges of setting up the museum was finding a way to differentiate it from its sister-sites in London while still maintaining the V&A ethos.
“As well as being a V&A, the museum is a partnership between Dundee City Council, two universities and Scottish Enterprise. This means it has a deep-rooted connection to the local community. And of course, its setting is also unique. V&A Dundee stands at the centre of the Dundee waterfront, jutting out into the beautiful River Tay,” Long said.
The focus of the museum will also differentiate it from the other V&A locations.
“As a design museum, our focus is the impact design has on everyone,” he said. “Our building will hold exhibitions developed by our team here in Dundee, in partnership with our colleagues in London. And with other institutions from around the world.
“It will also be home to our permanent galleries, telling the largely unknown international story of Scottish design, and a team dedicated to promoting design through learning.”
The Scottish Design Galleries are rooted in the aspiration to educate the public to the country’s history of design creativity. Long believes that learning more about the history will help inspire future creativity.
“Design has a crucial role in shaping and making better the world we live in,” he said. “It is a fantastic way of applying our creativity. We want the Scottish Design Galleries to help people understand the processes that lie behind design. How designers from Scotland have had an impact on the world. How design shapes our society and how it expresses our imagination.”
Long and his team have faced numerous other challenges throughout the development process but have worked through them all. They are now looking forward to the opening on 15 September, but that will come with its own tests.
Long said: “There is a great deal of excitement and expectation of what the new museum can achieve. So a challenge to look forward to is meeting those expectations. That is something we are determined to do.”
To mark the launch of the V&A, Dundee is hosting a two-day festival celebrating design, music and performance. The 3D Festival will pay homage to Dundee, design and the city’s spirit of discovery. It will take place in Slessor Gardens on Dundee waterfront with the new museum as the backdrop.
The festival will open on the eve of the V&A Dundee’s official opening. It will launch with a one-off outdoor performance involving music, design and dance. The following day will feature family activities, hands-on design workshops, music and creative collaborations on the main stage. Up to 20,000 people are expected to attend.
The opening will mark a tremendous success for Long and his team but the work will just be getting started. He has lofty, life-changing aspirations for what the museum can achieve.
“Through experiencing the work of designers, I want to help people understand how important design and creativity is to us all,” Long said. “Vital will be making opportunities for people – especially young people – that might change their lives.
“People can excel in so many ways that may not always be through the conventional education system. But by seeing great design and getting involved in design and creativity they may find ways to transform their future.”
With such goals, the V&A Dundee won’t simply be relying on visitor numbers as a measure of success. While that is important, Long will also be looking at other signs for how well the museum is doing.
“I also want to be able to walk through the galleries and spaces of the museum and see people being excited and inspired, talking together about that experience.”
The V&A Dundee will open on 15 September 2018. All images © V&A Dundee unless otherwise stated.