Open/Close breathes life Into Dundee’s forgotten doorways

It’s an exciting time for Dundee. With the imminent opening of the new V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, the long-neglected city is seeing heightened interest from culture watchers at home and abroad. But that interest is inevitably focused on the waterfront area, whose £1 billion redevelopment project includes the museum. A new street art trail named Open/Close Dundee, which was launched last year by Russell Pepper, aims to spread that love around the rest of the city.

“People are excited about what’s happening down there,” says Pepper of the V&A waterfront development, but “other areas might feel like they’re left out”. Pepper says he wants the project to take advantage of the fact that there are going to be a lot more visitors to Dundee and encourage them to visit other parts of the city. “Explore them, and see what else Dundee has to offer — to see the real Dundee as opposed to the nice, shiny brand-new waterfront.”

Since last summer, Open/Close has created a trail of 18 painted doors in the city centre’s closes (the local word for alleyways) and wynds (narrow lanes), each one painted by a local artist. Pepper says the project focused on these unloved places because they wanted “to do something to improve the urban environment of Dundee”.

Painting the town

Each of the 18 painted doors is in an alleyway that not many people use, says Pepper, or use only as a shortcut to get from A to B. “The majority of people just don’t go down those areas, they are just not inviting, really.” But as the dark alleys are being brightened with a lick of paint, that is all changing.

“I’ve done tours where there’s been people in their 60s and 70s, from Dundee, lived here they’re whole life, and they say “Oh, I’ve never been down here, ever.” That’s the kind of areas I’m talking about. [Open/Close is] opening up the city, making it more inviting and encouraging people to explore and notice what’s around them”

A quick trip from Hotel Indigo Dundee

Open/Close runs walking tours on the first Saturday every month on a donation basis. But if you can’t make the tour, you can see a map on the website, or purchase one from various locations including the McManus and Dundee Contemporary Arts. Even if you don’t have time for the full trail, you’ll find several pieces within a five-minute walk of Hotel Indigo Dundee.

“From Hotel Indigo, down the hill towards the city centre, there’s Sugarhouse Wynd, a street with three really nice pieces on it. And then there’s a legal wall on Mary Ann Lane, just beside the bus station; we’re not curating artworks there, just letting artists do whatever they want , so it will be ever-evolving. On the other side of Princes Street from Hotel Indigo, there’s Upper Dens Works. If you go through the garden and up some stairs, there’s a large bit of grass with some archways at the very back of it. Under each archway there’s a door and we’ve done each of those doors”.

You can also get a crash course in Dundonian culture from a few of the works that specifically reference the city’s character.

“There’s one funny one on the corner of Lyon Street and Den’s Road”, says Pepper. “It’s got some classic Dundee things like a pie and a roundabout” (Dundonians say “circle” instead of “roundabout” and pronounce pie as “peh”).

Still adding to the collection

Open/Close is now in the second stage of its project, working on 20 individual artworks in the Stobswell community, about a 15-minute walk from the city centre. These pieces differ slightly from those on the original trail. “Pretty much all the ones in the city centre are fire escapes. In Stobswell we are doing more shopfronts and walls that are visible from the main streets because the architecture there is different, they don’t really have alleyways and closes.”

Still, Pepper hopes to one day go even bigger. “We’d like to bring it to other areas of Dundee (and) we’d like to move into larger murals”.

But how will they find the suitable canvases for these larger works? Just by walking around, he says, “seeing what looks good. Finding out who owns the building and seeing if they are up for it”.

Artist Jen Collins with her art

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