Culture and the Arts – a new future for Birmingham

. . . at least, that’s what the leader of Birmingham City Council, Sir Albert Bore foresees. He said as much as he launched his “Arts and Culture Summit” in mid-October 2012.

Five months after he took over leadership of the council in May, Sir Albert called together this mixed gathering of the cultural great-and-good with professional and amateur arts practitioners, and ordinary residents (including this member of your Neighbourhood Forum committee).

As a bonus, we were amongst the first to experience the new Bramall Music Building on the University of Birmingham campus. This is a splendid venue boasting a range of rooms from a smart 450-seater concert hall on downwards in scale. This building adds to the existing range of performance venues –  Symphony Hall, Town Hall, the renovated REP and its new mid-sized theatre, etc.

Sir Albert’s vision is that the cultural sector should make a major contribution to tackling inequality and deprivation in the city, as well as providing major economic underpinning, over the next 10-20 years. The subsequent speakers, admirably managed by Mary Rhodes of BBC Midlands Today, included Ruth MacKenzie (director of the Cultural Olympiad), senior people from the Arts Council and the British Council, Graham Vick (artistic Director, Birmingham Opera Company, – a true iconoclast, as those who have ever seen any of their productions will testify), and Darren Henley (CEO Classic FM, who has produced two defining reports on cultural education for the Government). There were also speakers from Lyon, Rotterdam and Chicago describing their different approaches to exploiting culture in the development and advancement of their respective cities. The set piece speeches were interspersed with small-scale discussion workshops on a range of topics  (examples “Local Identity”, “Young People’s Skills”, “Access to Finance”).

These two days were very upbeat about Birmingham and its opportunities. Their impact was severely dampened a couple of weeks later by the City Council’s announcement of the serious worsening of its financial predicament. Not that the Council itself promised much during the meeting. An underlying theme was how cultural sector players had to be enterprising in everything, not only in artistic creativity but also in finding resources.

David Foster