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A Space to celebrate the flowering of a new city;FE Focus

ARRIVING AT work this morning was like stepping into summer. The sun has got his hat on. My plants on the window-sill have burgeoned, and beyond the window, the sweep of the Tay has transformed itself from a miserable gun-metal grey to a balmy Mediterranean blue.

Dundee has suddenly found a new, sure-footed confidence and is basking in a blaze of good publicity. Medicine, the arts, industry, education - we are on a roll. We can't put a foot wrong.

The spanking new Centre for the Contemporary Arts is the latest feather in Dundee's bonnet. Yet writing good copy about the city seems awkward for journalists. Why give up the habit of a lifetime and abandon all those pithy epithets you have up your sleeve?

So praise has been tempered in some quarters by the suggestion that the centre is a plug-in, peripheral to the community and destined to be peopled by the arty set.

It gives a nice edge to an article, but such a view ignores the tradition of community drama, dance and artwork in the city and ignores the seedbed of the colleges and universities. DCCA, as it's chummily known, is part of a huge organic development now bearing exotic fruit. The arts in Dundee have always been inclusive and built on our own traditions. Telling the story of our collective history of jute and whaling and heavy industry helped us understand who we had been and provided a starting point for forging a future identity, too. A future that can now embrace Oor Wullie and Andy Warhol.

As a college, we have had to reflect and nurture the changes. And sometimes even lead the way. Suddenly here, too, we are seeing spectacular results. As one of my students put it the other day: "Have you driven past the J huts? Well they're not there any more."

The J huts, prefabricated, and well past their sell-by date, were notorious for their isolation from the main building and for unruly classes. You learnt a lot of very hard lessons in the J huts - and occasionally the students learnt something too.

Every year, the buildings were sentenced to demolition and every year they were reprieved. Not until the dust actually settled did anyone actually believe their demise.

The ground will house the Space, a performance training and conference centre. Among other things, the Space will be home to a three-year course in contemporary dance. For the first time dancers can complete their professional training to degree level in Scotland.

Marie's son Jamie hopes to be one of them. Marie was one of my students during her business admin course. Formidably efficient, she completed her HND while running the family business and managing her son's budding career as a disco dance champion, ferrying him all over the country for competitions and drumming up sponsorship.

Long after she completed her unit, she kept me posted on Jamie's progress, chasing after me in the corridor with the latest photograph of her son holding yet another cup. She's no pushy mum, though. If she was, she'd much rather have pushed him into accountancy.

She acknowledges dance is in his blood and though her hopes of an accountant in the family are fading fast, she is satisfied that college will see him embark on a career for which he will be professionally trained.

"Times change," she said, sounding a wee bit bewildered. "Opportunities change."

The emergence of the Space from a heap of rubble is proof of that change. There will be some for whom our Kingsway campus has remained Kingsway Tech, the domain of frequently reluctant pre-apprentices facing an uncertain future in declining industries, just as there are some who think Dundee synonymous with urban decline and crumbling concrete shopping malls. As a college, indeed as a city, we have never been very good at talking ourselves up so others have frequently talked us down.

If our detractors haven't seen the changes coming they are in for some surprises. It will all seem like a miraculous transformation from monochrome to Technicolor and they'll guess they're not in Kansas any more. But as an overnight sensation, we have had a long and thorough training.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunication at Dundee College.

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