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Art Night Blog – Alistair Heather

Hello newcomer, or long-time-no-seer, or homecomer to Dundee. 

I’m Ally. I stay in the city, and write a regular column for the Courier newspaper about the life and times of the place. The good people of Art Night asked if could offer you a couple suggestions for your day in the city, to make the most of your Art Night trip. Here’s my list, and I’ll look forward to seeing you in June 🙂 

First of all, Dundee is the right city for Art Night. 

It is small enough that the ten commissions in public spaces around the city can be the talk of the steamie for weeks ahead of the event. Every one of the commissions takes place in normal, accessible spaces. And Art Night will be big enough to leave an impact on them.

Just one example: The Keiller Centre is familiar to Dundonians is an old 70’s shopping centre that’s evolved over time. In the 80s it boasted shops like Snazzy, a clothes shop, next to a butchers and an ice cream place that did Dundee FC & Dundee United flavours of ice cream. In my time it mostly sold bongs and spiky neck chains for goths. Now, it’s largely empty of shops. A clean, quiet urban opportunity awaiting its next life. 

A cheap, accessible arts space is an absolutely perfect rebirth for Keiller, an idea being pushed by Kathryn Rattray already, and Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s zine making project (accompanying her wider project a new art-video game at Arthurstone Library) will help continue to transform what Dundonians imagine the Keiller as being used for.

Great stuff. I cannae wait. 

For you cheery cherubs coming to Dundee for Art Night, here are my recommendations:

1. My brothers doughnut van

In January 2020 my brother Chris and my sister in law Melodie quit their jobs and launched a wedding catering business… then lockdown started. Skint and worried, they pivoted and turned their catering vans into a coffee and doughnut hub, which stayed open throughout covid and put smiles on faces at a bleak time. Now the wee van, next to the V&A, is a total fixture, and does outstanding coffee, and phenomenal doughnuts with nutella, or biscoff, or rose sugar or whatever. Get down there and enjoy it. @HeatherStreetFood on instagram.

2. The statues

There is way more to Dundee than 1980s decline and 2020s cultural revival. It is one of Scotland’s ancient cities with layers of history and pockets full of fascinating chat. Much of this is ephemeral, locked up in the stories of citizens who worked in the whaling industry, who fought for the Swedish king, who started the first women-only trade union. 

Around the town are sprinkled bonnie wee bronze statues that hint at these stories and layers of Dundee experience. 

The polar bear statue here is great. There’s a pub called the Arctic Bar in the middle of town, so called because the sailors who worked in the Arctic drank in there between stints at sea. Anyway, one guy comes back fae the Arctic with a young polar bear to show his pals in the pub. As you do. Halfway up the road fae the ship to the pub, the bear went mental, broke into the shop next to the statue and chased the merchant out before smashing the place up. 

The statue celebrates this excellent moment in our city’s history. 

There’s not much in the way of old architecture around here because from its founding, Dundee “saw repeated sackings of the town and much bloodshed at the hands of the English”, as the Encyclopedia Britannica puts it. But the statues recall the many echoing voices of past Dundee, whose tales are our cathedrals. Keep an eye out for them.

3. Speak to people

“Dundonians are Glaswegians who can listen” is how a pal described the funny, friendly folk here. It’s true enough: it is dead easy to get into a chat with a stranger, share some stories and a laugh. David in the picture was having a fag outside Caws near the Wellgate. He was happy to endorse my recommendation, that any newcomer to our city should just get a blether with folk around them. He launched into a story about how his drunk pal once crossed a bar to start a fight with a former footballer he’d spotted, but ended up befriending the guy and he and with the ex pro sat drinking away happily all night instead. It’s easy to make friends here, and the folk are class.

4. Bike Hire

This isnae a big city. The easiest way to bop about fae venue to venue will definitely be bike. Down by the V&A and train station is the Dundee Cycle Hub, which hires out cycles for a fiver a half day. Cycling between venues, cafes, and along the waterfront is a great way to explore Scotland’s sunniest city.

5. Jim’s Delhi Club in Stobswell

One of the venues is in the Baxter Park Pavillion, amidst the lush greens and trees of Baxter Park itself. My top food tip here is go via Jim’s Delhi Club on Albert Street is four minutes on foot from the paths and benches of the park, and serves delicious local homemade food with an Indian feel. Only open 12-4, walk in only and always absolute hoachin.

Art Night