Why is the emphasis always on the problem, rather than actually acting upon a very obvious, and already active, solution?
October 2012 saw Birmingham City Council host its first ever Art Summit. Cultural organization from all over Birmingham, covering a vast array of creative outputs and agendas came together in the same room.
Though the summit was huge and there was a lot of information put forward and speakers from around the world attended, and a plethora of facts, figures and examples of people who do it better presented, the two day conference can be summarised, actually, quite efficiently.
Birmingham is honest with itself: it suffers from low self-esteem and there is need for more crossover partnership work to expose new funding streams and opportunities in and out of the region/country, especially in terms of finding cash to make projects happen.
What I found quite interesting about this summit was that this activity is already underway in the city. Small organizations and independent art facilitators have partnered to realise and work through Birmingham’s so-called ‘creative sector problems.’
Projects like Aedas Presents, which combines a local independent curator and the largest global architect firms Birmingham office. These two partners have, since 2010, realized an 18 month contemporary art exhibition programme in the Aedas studio; they have sold works, commissioned new pieces and given early career and recent graduate artists their first solo show opportunity. The team have partnered with Birmingham City University on several projects, worked with second year fine art students through offering internships and crossed over audiences from the arts and business sectors.
Aedas Presents are also ever growing. Their next project will be hosted in the Grade II Listed Municipal Bank building in Birmingham. Continuing their relationship with me, an independent curator, this project is also being partnered by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Birmingham Architects Associations (BAA), the Birmingham City Council (BCC) and the new Library of Birmingham.
This is an example of the arts and business sectors already working together to produce a high class, important contemporary arts exhibition in a building of great Birmingham (and UK) heritage. This project, Thrift Radiates Happiness, aims to shout about Birmingham as a city and highlight its incredible history and importance to the country as a whole. It also stands up and exclaims that a group of people saw the problem with Birmingham and came together to provide the solution. Thrift Radiates Happiness is more than an exhibition in a great building; it’s showcasing Birmingham’s potential and proving that arts and business sectors can work together.
Another project currently making waves in Birmingham is FRAME_Birmingham, a project led by artist/curator, Elly Clarke. Clarke moved to Birmingham two years ago from Berlin. She instantly saw what Birmingham was missing and went about shaking things up in the creative and business sectors in Birmingham. FRAME_ works on a simple concept – art in places you already go to. Clarke has broken down the barrier of trying to get people into art venues; she is taking the art directly to new audiences. 40+ international artists in 30+ venues for 3 months around Birmingham city centre, the venues include coffee shops, hotels, churches, clothes shops, nail bars and more. Accessing these venues was done on a face-to-face, walk in method. Elly and her (very) small team would walk into venues, tell them about the project and leave (most of the time) with that venue agreeing and wanting to be part of the project.
All the works in the project are for sale and for no more than £750. This project is being partnered by mac birmingham and the Arts Council initiated ‘Own Art’ scheme and has literally blown the doors off art institutions and the process of how you see and buy contemporary art works.
It is easy to throw around phrases like ‘new models for selling art’ or ‘re-thinking a commercial art scene’ but what Elly Clarke has done is make it simple, “splendid art in places you already go.” Birmingham and people that visit it love to shop. Clarke has put art in those venues. Simple.
Both FRAME_ and Thrift Radiates Happiness are examples of cross partnership activity already happening in the city of Birmingham. Independent curators are already working in partnership with the corporate world, and are doing so successfully and with pride and passion. The questions and problems that arose from the Birmingham Art Summit are outdated and unrealistic when you look at the grass routes projects. The questions, therefore, should be – why are the larger institutions and organizations with the bigger voices (and marketing budgets) not also partaking in this activity? Why are they not working alongside the independent curators and facilitators to help shout about the possibilities Birmingham has? And why is the emphasis always on the problem, rather than actually acting upon a very obvious, and already active, solution?