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Dundee Design Festival 2024 creative director on her ‘role of a lifetime’

In her first Courier interview, Dr Stacey Hunter explains why Dundee can host the world's most sustainable design festival as Dundee UNESCO City of Design celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Dundee Design Festival creative director Dr Stacey Hunter. Image: Eoin Carey
Dundee Design Festival creative director Dr Stacey Hunter. Image: Eoin Carey

When Dr Stacey Hunter applied for her “role of a lifetime” as creative director of Dundee Design Festival, her pitch was that the event should reposition itself as THE national festival for contemporary design in Scotland.

Dr Hunter feels 2024 is the “perfect time” to put on a big festival that celebrates the 10th anniversary of Dundee’s UNESCO City of Design status and the work UNESCO has been doing with its partners including V&A Dundee, Creative Dundee and the city’s universities.

But in her first Courier interview since being appointed last year, the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design graduate has revealed that she’s also very excited about the venue for this, the fifth Dundee Design Festival.

Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc is the ideal venue for Dundee Design Festival, says creative director. Image: Grant Anderson

Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc sits on the site of Dundee’s former Michelin Tyre factory at Baldovie, which closed in June 2020.

Powered by a mixture of sustainable and clean energy, she describes the venue as the perfect festival partner with over 10,000 square metres of space.

It will allow Dundee Design Festival to bring together the work of over 100 designers under one roof when it’s held from September 23 to 29.

Dundee Design Festival creative director was ‘blown away’ by Michelin venue

“The theme of ‘Multiplicity’ came first,” said Stacey.

“It allows you to show the breadth and depth of design across loads of different touch points.

“But the all under one roof thing is key – and that’s where Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc comes in.

“If you want to really accurately show multiplicity across a national design festival, you need a lot of space to do that. You need a lot of people. You need a lot of designers.

“So when the notion of Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc came to me and I went to have a site visit, I was blown away.

“The whole thing of this site being redeveloped and formerly being the Michelin Tyre factory – a really iconic design brand.

“For that site to be situated where it is and with great transport links. To be powered by windmills on the site that produce clean energy. To be powered by sustainable energy that comes from the recycling plant next door. It’s just incredible!”

Who is Dundee Design Festival creative director Dr Stacey Hunter?

Born in Kilmarnock, Stacey Hunter was very young when the family emigrated to Canada.

She has fond memories of her childhood in Montreal and Toronto. The family moved back to East Kilbride when she was at primary school.

After leaving school in Newton Mearns, Stacey moved to Dundee to study jewellery and metal work at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

Dundee Design Festival creative director Dr Stacey Hunter. Image: Grant Anderson

Describing it as a “great time”, she moved to Hamburg for a year after graduating and then moved back to Glasgow.

She got a job at The Lighthouse, the centre for design and architecture in Scotland under the leadership of the “inspirational” late Dundonian Stuart MacDonald.

It gave her the opportunity to experience design festivals around the world.

But it also got her thinking about sustainability and their environmental impact.

While in Venice launching a book with one of her colleagues, she was struck by the waste associated with erecting temporary structures. It left a “bad taste” in her mouth.

Dundee Design Festival creative director Dr Stacey Hunter. Image: Eoin Carey

It inspired her to do a masters’ degree at Edinburgh University which combined architecture, urbanism and human geography.

She went on to do a PhD critiquing ‘new urbanism’, imported from North America.

However, by the time she finished her research in 2015, she was “dying” to get back into curatorial.

Dundee Design Festival creative director first attended as a visitor in 2016

Taking the view that she’s a better curator than designer, she established Local Heroes – a curatorial studio that connects audiences with contemporary Scottish design and craft.

She also did some guest lecturing in the design department of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and worked on other Dundee projects.

When she visited the first Dundee Design Festival at Courier publisher DC Thomson’s West Ward Works in 2016, it was as a visitor with her partner – now husband – Martin Baillie who had designed a limited edition ‘Dundee bank note’, which was dispensed from NCR cash machines.

DC Thomson building, (West Ward), Guthrie Street, Dundee, hosted the first Dundee Design Festival in 2016.

Eight years on, and that’s all led to this point where she feels she’s got a bit of a “unique birds eye view” of the design scene in Scotland.

“When I saw the Dundee Design Festival job advertised, I spent two weeks on my application,” she said.

“I’d have been gutted if someone else pipped me to the post. I felt I knew a lot about how things worked in Dundee.

“So when I pitched for the job, my angle was Dundee isn’t the place where the most designers reside – that’s probably Glasgow for loads of different reasons to do with capitalism and workshop space.

“But Dundee has really positioned itself as a centre for design excellence – and it’s not down to one organisation or one group of people.

The Dundee Design Festival 2019.

“It’s to do with the combination of an excellent art and design school in the form of DJCAD and an excellent university that specialises in really interesting design courses at Abertay.

“Obviously V&A Dundee which is now a national centre of design, and of course the UNESCO designation.

“All of those things come together and you create a really unique leadership role for the city.”

Hyper-Local international exhibition is a highlight of Dundee Design Festival 2024

Stacey said the full programme for the Dundee Design Festival 2024 will be announced on June 13.

But the general aim will encourage conviviality as visitors move through the space, ensuring a “unique” experience.

Invited designers will create installations themed on multiplicity. These will have “participatory aspects” to them.

Set of vinyl records pressed at Third Man Press in Detroit: Image: Chris and Michelle Gerard.

Highlights will include an international exhibition called Hyper-Local. This will feature an exhibition of everyday items from some of the other UNESCO international design cities – Bilbao, Cebu, Detroit, Graz, Kortrijk, Nagoya, Querétaro, Wuhan and Dundee.

The aim is to tell a story about each city from materials, and craftsmanship, to industrial design, technology and culture.

“We did an open call with the entire UNESCO Design Cities network which is 49 cities,” she said.

“People put themselves forward and we whittled it down to nine cities. We’ve worked together to narrow down six objects from each city region that tells a story about design from that place.

Jute, Jam and Journalism jumper designed by Donna Wilson of Dundee. Image: Donna Wilson

“So it might be something like a piece of design that you use to cook a dish in that region. It might be a piece of lighting design, a piece of craft.

“But for me it’s the UNESCO values made real. The UNESCO project is about international friendship and collaboration.

“The way things are in the world at the moment, it can be quite disheartening. So we wanted to do something and work in collaboration with our network to produce something that was hopeful and optimistic and really manifests those values.”

Collaborative culture in Dundee puts the city ahead of the game

Stacey said they’ve had a “massive head start” on being able to construct that exhibition.

V&A Dundee have allowed them to re-use structures from the Tartan exhibition and Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc have given them early access for storage.

“That’s what I love about working in Dundee,” she said.

“That everything is achievable through a couple of phone calls, a couple of emails – people rally together.

Dundee Design Festival is aiming to be the world’s most sustainable design festival. Image: Grant Anderson

“There isn’t that sort of bureaucracy that you sometimes find working in the public sector.

“It’s sort of the opposite of that. I think Annie Marrs (who heads up Dundee’s UNESCO City of Design) is the lynchpin. She knows everyone.

Annie Marrs of UNESCO City of Design Dundee. Image: UNESCO City of Design Dundee.

“There’s a lot of goodwill to the UNESCO team in the city. It’s allowed me to be more ambitious than I’ve ever been able to before.

“When we first arrived at Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc we were a bit like deer in the headlights because of the sheer scale of the space.

“What we quickly realised as a team is that this is a real chance for us to make a difference and do a design festival differently.”