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It’s been a packed past week visiting organisations and exhibitions, learning more about what work is being done with communities in Birmingham. Beyond the large higher-profile institutions of the city centre (IKON’s Autumn Almanac; BMAG’s new interactive History Galleries), I’ve been off to:

Aston (The Drum; Envision programme launch at Aston Villa Football Club);

Perry Bar (Birmingham City University, with a presentation from Project Pigeon);

Balsall Heath (Ort’s first birthday at Old Print Works);

…And also to Manchester to see research-through-exhibition-making (Sustainable Stories, the CUBE). The Mistra – Urban Futures and SURF Centre / University of Salford exhibition mobilised community researchers to help map the stories of residents in Greater Manchester around the theme of Sustainability in cities. These researchers were also active in the space of the exhibition documenting the stories of visitors and embodying the project’s partnership between grass-roots localism and academia.

Back talking about Birmingham, I wanted to pick up on just a couple of the brilliant intermediary activities happening here:

Meeting with Jonathan Morley from The Drum gave great insights into arts programming in the cultural landscape beyond the city centre. Originally set up with assistance from Probation Services and awarded core funding from the Arts Council and the City Council for the past decade, The Drum acts as a cultural intermediary fostering a sense of place and place-making in the local area of Aston; however for future sustainability it must also attract those audiences who attend city-centre events. With a remit to represent South Asian and Black arts, The Drum needs to connect with local communities and wider communities; to meet commercial targets and deliver artist development aims with a cutting-edge program.  Examples of impressive work with and within communities include Simmer Down Festival (reaching over 8,000 revellers) and the Arts Champion Scheme. The Drum also runs Birmingham’s annual Black History Month in partnership with Birmingham City Council.

Divergently, Project Pigeon revealed more-than-human geographies of cultural intermediation. The arts organisation run by Alexandra Lockett maintains a pigeon loft in Digbeth with 50 birds. Starting with allotments as a form of curating culture, Alexandra’s practice evolved to working with pigeons and pigeon-fanciers using all kinds of platforms and artistic mediums (pigeon stamps and syndicates, writing classes, performances, plays, exhibitions, oral histories). In her talk at BCU, Alexandra documented the under-represented world of pigeon-fancying in Birmingham, drawing its inter-cultural, cross-generational relations. Brummie pigeon fanciers from Chinese communities were shown alongside the white male fancier that has typified representations of the sub-culture. Through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Project Pigeon Achive is in the process of being developed and will be integrated into the Birmingham Library Archive in Autumn 2013.

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