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ALISTAIR HEATHER: Dundee street art can lead us to brighter days

Street art is transforming neglected corners right across Dundee.
Street art is transforming neglected corners right across Dundee.

Flat, grey days make my eyes cry for colour.

My Italian partner was haein a wee grouse about the dreich day outside too.

So, to spice up her life, I took her to Stobbie.

There’s a couple of walking tour routes round Stobswell that link up bright murals.

And on a spring day in Dundee when the sun stutters on its rise, the haar sails up the Tay and low clouds trap the city in a perpetual gloaming, roaming the street art is the best chance you’ll have of seeing sharp colour.

The current most magnificent work is on Cardean Street.

An entire gable end of some housing association flats is devoted to a vibrant reimagining of a closie stair.

I really like it. The hail area is a bitty grey, cars parked aa ower the shop at odd angles and the constant audio of a busy road in the air.

And I like it cause it actually doesnae look its best for the ‘public’.

Dundee street art – an insiders’ eye view

Doon fae street view it’s obscured by trees, walls and traffic. So to find a better angle of it, I went up into the stair of one o the blocks and keeked oot at it fae the second floor window.

The change of perspective really brought the work to life. I like that this is art for the folk who actually stay here.

A local’s eye view of the Cardean Street mural in Dundee.

It livens up views fae your kitchen windae, or gies yer eye a bright distraction on your road to the bus.

Stobbie is baith the venue and the audience for quality art.

I think that’s class.

Hilltoon heroine is still improving the city

Ethel Moorhead is remembered doon a lanie, by some bins, on the outside wall of a bookies.

Whether it’s what she would’ve wanted, it’s hard to say.

Ethel was a painter and suffragete who volunteered much time to assisting women with health and social problems in the hilltoon.

Her sister Alice was a big part of the Dundee Women’s Hospital that ran for decades providing care for women by female doctors at a low cost.

Ian’s barbers gets a cracking view of Ethel. So I stuck ma heid in and asked Ian if he knew who the wifie on the wall was.

He wasnae sure, but reckoned “she was ane o thae emancipators. Mibbie the woman that through hersel under the horse… I thought it was the boy fae 10CC at first.”

The Ethel Moorhead mural, seen from across the road in Ian’s barber shop.

I googled Ethel while I was stood wi Ian and read off a couple of details fae her life. Her role in the women’s hospital and stuff.

He wasnae that bothered, so I left him to it.

But Ethel’s cool anyway, and her painting jazzes up the side street if nothing else.

Will this put Stobswell on the tourist map?

There’s a map currently in production that’ll highlight all the spots you can walk to in Dundee that have street art, on doorways, on gable ends etc.

The idea is to make Stobie and elsewhere into a destination. A place you’ll come to daunder aboot and see art, nip in to the cafes, relax in the parks.

Folk that stay there now will have a reason to get oot on foot and see their streets through new eyes. At the very least it’ll brighten up their peripheries.

It wouldnae be a trip to Stobie wioot a harsh dose of reality, however.

On Craigie Street a big rotten factory hulks over the scene malignantly.

The deserted factory on Craigie Street, Dundee.

It’s all boarded up windows and rusted up security fencing.

The pavement is closed off but up against the wall of the old factory is a line of tiny gardens, with ornaments and wee plants.

Except they’re fenced off too.

Rotten rooftops are a menace for residents

A passing old boy explained the mystery.

The factory had looked an absolute tip for the longest time.

The residents were sick to the back teeth complaining about it.

Bairns play in the street here and the hail thing looked a midden.

So the factory cleaned up its exterior and made this little garden space for folk that bide on the road to make their own.

The resident’s ‘gardens’, now out of bounds for safety reasons.

Each little plot was personalised with figures, planters, splashes of colour. And all of it is now fenced off.

“Slates have been blawin aff the roof,” the old boy explained.

“They’ve been comin doon an smashin in the street here, so they’ve pit the fence up.”

He went on to point out that with the recent high winds, the flying, shattering slates have been falling well beyond the fence and smashing in the front gardens of families homes.

Street art is only part of the picture for improving Dundee

The nice little garden plots look a bit daft now, fenced off.

And this illustrates perfectly that beautifying the outside of buildings is good, genuinely good but there does need to be serious work going on behind these facades.

It’s no acceptable in this day and age that bairns have to dodge deadly flying slates fae collapsing factories as they tend their little flowerbeds.

The paintwork can help, though.

If it can re-engage us with our urban environment, and remind us that change is possible.

We can look at the rotten parts of decayed streets here and think “aye, we can change this for the better.”

And at the very least, these pieces of urban street art mak Dundee a bonnier place to be.

And that’s already a win.

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