Design as a catalyst for hope and change

Leonie Bell declares the V&A Dundee a beacon for cultural growth in Dundee and a global voice for design and culture, urging the world to seize the current crises as the most significant creative opportunity in human history for a sustainable and fair revolution.

A person standing in front of a building
Leonie Bell, Director, V&A Dundee

Creativity is as old as time and as new as our next breath. Humans have been and will always be creative – history and present times show that we can nurture it so it thrives for all, and we can also use it destructively. Creativity is a fundamental, not ornamental, part of humanity, shaping us and the world we live in. It is also integral across disciplines from science and technology to education, economy, health, politics and policy.

How a society values creativity, culture and imagination – through its artists, its creative people, its commitment to innovation, craft and traditions – is an insight into its wider values, priorities and progress. Creativity brings meaning, delight, joy, solace and can enact social change, realise equality, help make sense of the world, develop empathy, encourage knowledge and curiosity, as well as overcome challenges.

“How a society values creativity, culture and imagination is an insight into its wider values, priorities and progress.”

We hope that at V&A Dundee we are telling a relevant story of the transformation that creativity enables. We love design – in many ways it’s one of the most accessible forms of creativity. Design shapes all aspects of our lives – it should help and not hinder. Design is more than things and systems, it’s also a set of critical skills that have a vital role in helping us overcome today’s complex and entangled challenges.

Design can be extraordinary, and it can be brilliantly ordinary, sometimes taking our breath away and sometimes hidden within our daily lives. At V&A Dundee we celebrate the everyday, the ordinary and the extraordinary, and see access to good design as a human and civic right.

For us, being civic is part of our understanding of creativity and culture. It’s about being relevant and connected to place and people, providing a place of joy and learning; a place to convene diverse debate and to gather; a public space open to everyone; a place which gives meaning and provides safety, delight, inspiration and belonging; and a place of work, business and participation.

“Committed to the ongoing transformation of Dundee”

The energy of this still very young organisation is an emblem of the change and confidence that springs from culture and from a strong partnership committed to the ongoing transformation of Dundee, a small city of around 150,000 people with enormous ambition, and some deep challenges.

We are playing a pivotal role in tandem with others in enhancing the city’s identity, cultural growth and reputation as a creative centre away from larger cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Manchester. From Dundee, the museum is emerging as a major cultural voice for design and culture, generating joy for audiences and championing design and designers, catalysing opportunities, and sparking new ideas, energy, relationships and work. We are collaborating locally, nationally and internationally to create cultural experiences for and with audiences to experience design of international scale and quality that did not exist before.

For us, transforming through creativity and culture is about striving to be both an exceptional and everyday museum for locals and visitors; a valued, loved and inspiring creative and civic organisation; and a place for designers and other professionals to convene and gather at an international centre of design by the River Tay.

“One of the greatest resources that we have if we are to be innovative, greener, fairer and kinder.”

We know we still have so much more to do. We are always learning, adapting and responding. We want to keep growing creatively, being generous with the platform and brand that we have, deepening our social impact and scaling up our design learning and community programmes to contribute to the wellbeing and outcomes of people in Dundee, and to work nationally to position good design as both a right and as one of the greatest resources that we have if we are to be innovative, greener, fairer and kinder, and to harness the potency of technology and nature for people and planet.

The world is experiencing an intersection and accumulation of crises that should be the greatest creative opportunity in human history. We owe it to the planet and to each other to harness hope and this enormous creative opportunity, which is probably our best – and last – chance to power a sustainable, creative and fair revolution for a better future.

Leonie Bell, Director, V&A Dundee.

This article originally appeared in ReSourcE winter 2023.

The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.

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