Buzz, swagger and pride were three recurrent terms used by speakers at the Arts and Culture Summit 2012 to communicate their vision for the future cultural landscape of Birmingham. A lack of confidence was identified in comparison to London and Manchester, and arts professionals were called upon to lead the way in shouting ‘a bit louder’ about the rich cultural offering of Birmingham.
The benefits of culture were widely recognised by Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council, in his keynote speech. Beyond economy, Bore discussed health and wellbeing, cohesive and enjoyable environments, and emphasised the need for opportunities for young people. In a potential strategy also picked up by Ruth Mackenzie, OBE, Director of Cultural Olympiad, the importance of the growth of the digital economy and its intersections with art was presented. Young people have been disproportionately disadvantaged by the economic downturn, and the digital economy was positioned as an area of the creative industries where young people could ‘fill the technological jobs we can’t yet imagine.’ According to Bore, the youngest and most diverse have the lowest uptake of engagement with the arts in Birmingham, therefore the offer needs to be made more relevant while continuing to develop tourist figures to the city (£33.5 million in 2011). ‘What will keep visitors coming?’ And (predictably) ‘what will encourage businesses to relocate?’
The important restructuring of Birmingham City Council was highlighted with Mark Barrow now responsible for culture as Strategic Director of Development and Culture. Barrow outlined the Big City Plan including the HS2 Gateway and Birmingham Library which will include an exhibition space (investment around £133million). The ‘grim beyond grim’ (Ruth Mackenzie) local government budget detailed by Jon Warlow, Director of Finances, Birmingham City Council, presented stark realities for the cultural and creative industries which has been picked up elsewhere (Twitter #brumarts and flatpackfestival.org/blog/a-view-from-the-summit/.
Andy Phillips from MarketingBirmingham, presented some findings from a recent report, snappily entitled, Research for Creative City: key issues and challenges for the cultural and creative industries in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP area. Phillips identified 38,000 jobs in 6,000 organisations. Selected recommendations include a space to network (crucial to SMEs and sole traders) and coaching on leadership, management and fundraising skills. Other news is that Finance Birmingham is keen to promote its role in offering microfinance and loans to sustainable new businesses in the creative industries.
While finance and economy dominated discussion, the central importance of the artwork itself was maintained. To end, then, two quotes on the value of art in Birmingham:
‘Use culture as a motor for aspiration and vision’ (Ruth Mackenzie)
‘Art is the divine mystery of creation’
(Graham Vicks, Artistic Director of Birmingham Opera Company)