We’re here in the What is a Museum
display in The McManus and the reason we’re here is to talk about this very
interesting little sculpture here behind me which is a small scale model or
maquette for a sculpture in High Street made by
Alastair Smart. The reason I want to talk about this is it’s a really good example of a really important project called the Dundee Public Art Programme. Dundee has had public art for many many years and surrounding this building there are various fine examples of Victorian statues but it’s really in the 1980s that the city adopted a much more revolutionary approach to public art and
that took place in the Blackness area which had been the most strongly
industrial part of the city huge number of jute mills based there and of course
one by one that all closed down the area was really derelict businesses were
leaving people were moving out and the government initiated a major project
they designated as Scotland’s first industrial improvement area with huge
amount of money to spend on it improving the area for new businesses. The reason that art became involved in that wasthanks to a lady called Liz Kemp who was Assistant Curator of Arts here in this building and she was really keen on the idea of taking art out into the community and this basically was a really revolutionary approach to public art. Rather than just plonking down some
sculptures or painting some murals the artists were actually working in
collaboration with the planners with the architects with the engineers with the
businesses and with the local residents to create this holistic approach to
improving the area as part of the wider economic regeneration of the city. This marked the beginning of the local council investing in culture LED regeneration so if you think of all the things that happened in the city since then, the Seagate gallery the Discovery coming back to the city,
the DCA Verdant Works and on to more recent things, the regeneration of this building of course and the V&A, all of that
really began with that pioneering public art programme in Blackness and one of the artists involved in that was Alastair Smart who created this maquette. Smart was born in 1937 he studied at Gray’s in Aberdeen and he came to Dundee to teach sculpture at Duncan of Jordanstone, was here for nearly 30 years hugely popular, much-loved tutor and for the Blackness programme
he created a wonderful sculpture featuring giant whale’s teeth inscribed
with kind of scrimshaw like decoration showing various scenes from Dundee’s
history. Now the Blackness project was so successful that it was then extended to become the Dundee City Public Art Programme The very first citywide program
of public art in Scotland, one of the key areas that the tackled was Murraygate,
this was the first part of the city centre to be pedestrianised and they
created various artworks around there but really the kind of signature piece
was to be a large-scale sculpture of a dragon. Now dragons play an important
role in Dundee there are two dragons in the city’s coat of arms and Alastair
Smart one the Commission to design this sculpture he came up with this maquette but then very sadly at a very early age of just 55 he died. Much missed figure, real tragedy but thankfully one of his former students to Tony Morrow, with the
support of Alastair’s family, then took on the commission and he took the
sculpture through we’ll go and have a look at it now. And this is the final version so this is
what Tony came up with as you’ll see there’s a few changes to the design, he’s made the wings a bit bigger he sort of given him more of a snout, a
bit of a slightly more evil look about him but otherwise it’s the same basic design that Alastair came up with. It was eventually installed further
down the road actually on Murraygate in 1992 it ended up getting moved across
the other side of Commercial Street here to the high street two years after that
and of course it’s become one of the most popular sculptures in Dundee, we
regularly see kids climbing on it and that kind of thing and in fact interestingly there are various other pieces of public art that depict dragons
around the city all of which have grown up because of the popularity of this one. So this is just one of many pieces of public art around the city, there’s over 500 now sculptures murals mosaics and various other things and currently in the Lamb Gallery at the University of Dundee we have an exhibition called Art
for All which tells this extraordinary story with lots of behind the scenes
photos design sketches models and various other things that really bring
this extraordinary story to light and that’s all until 26th of October and
very much hope that you’ll come along and see it.