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Scottish Art Unlocked: Beth Bate, Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts

By Beth Bate, 19.08.2020
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DCA Director Beth Bate. Image by Alberto Bernasconi.

As we draw nearer to DCA’s reopening on 4th September, our plans come sharply into focus. Social distancing, PPE and face coverings, ticketing for our free exhibitions and learning spaces, new cleaning schedules, reduced capacities, a longer-term move to many staff working from home, risk assessments drawn up, amended, amended again… All of this against a backdrop of shifting guidelines, the risk of future lockdowns, understandable public anxiety. The one thing we know is that the model of how we support DCA, our staff and our artists, through fundraising and the entrepreneurial generation of income, has totally changed. The world we are reopening to is very uncertain.

Dundee Contemporary Arts

Organisations like DCA, which comprises art galleries, cinemas, a print studio, learning spaces, a shop, a café bar and offsite and online creative activity, form part of a dynamic cultural ecology that connects across creative industries, education, health and wellbeing, place-making, tourism, employment and the economy. Most importantly we provide civic spaces for audiences, local or visiting, to explore, connect, think and relax through cultural and creative experiences, often for free. These spaces, which we also take online and out into the community, are more important than ever as we have all had to reconsider our relationships with each other, with home and work, with our towns, cities and rural areas.

We’re pleased to be able to announce our upcoming exhibitions at DCA with Stuart Whipps and Emma Talbot. As current guidelines mean pressing pause on a public programme within DCA, we have secured funding to present work online, providing paid opportunities for artists with talks, tours, events, screenings, writing commissions, and schools and community workshops, all hosted digitally.

At the heart of our work and the sector’s, are artists. In 2018-19, visual arts RFOs supported over 26,000 artists, through exhibitions, commissions, residencies, community and engagement projects, performances and events. Beyond the RFO network, this number is even greater. Add to this the artists who create work using Scotland’s unique network of production facilities, and the creative practitioners who support their practice by working at art institutions (at DCA we count artists, writers, poets, makers and performers amongst our staff), and the interconnectedness of this precarious ecology is apparent.

That ecology is now in crisis. A recent survey by the Scottish Contemporary Art Network showed that artists face an average anticipated loss of £25,000 by March 2021. For organisations, the outlook is just as concerning, with some facing a cliff edge as early as November and others fearing for their future beyond 18 months. We face a chronic, urgent issue if we lose the artistic talent that is the very reason for the existence of our sector and the institutions that nurture and showcase this talent.

Stuart Whipps, If Wishes Were Thrushes, Beggars Would Eat Birds. © The Artist

These organisations are innovative, responsive charities, businesses and civic organisations, effectively led and prudently operated. Urgent stabilisation is needed for visual arts organisations. Immediate funding is required for artists to sustain their livelihoods. With appropriate investment, we can contribute to the desperately needed recovery of both our local and national communities and economies at a time when new ideas and outward looking approaches are absolutely essential, while helping to protect the visual arts for the future.

You can read the Scottish Contemporay Art Network’s statement on the recent arts funding announcements here.