We’re now coming towards the end of the Governance workpackage (led by Beth Perry, SURF, Salford Uni). One of the final research exercises the team is undertaking is an innovative diary-keeping exercise with 10 participants in each city (Birmingham and Manchester). These participants have been selected because they offer a unique perspective on working in the urban creative economy: whether as a consultant, artist or education programmer (and in some cases juggling two or more jobs at once). The diary-keeping exercise is intended as a way in which we can better understand the day-to-day activities of creative workers, and give space for critical reflection on barriers – or support – that impacts upon work with the most diverse communities. The exercise is now in its final week and we’re looking forward to starting on visual and textual analysis of the diaries.
The new year will see the project segue into the Communities workpackage, led by Paul Long (BCU). In each city we’ll be focusing on a particular area as a way of exploring in-depth the layering and dimensions of community engagement with cultural and creative activity. One of our key methods for investigating manifestations of culture from a ‘grass-roots’ perspective will be 40 guided interviews with local residents in particular urban neighbourhoods. Balsall Heath is the area selected in Birmingham. It’s a compelling case study, lying 2.5 miles beyond the city centre with a population of around 15,000 recording themselves as 60% of Asian origin, 24% white and 10% black in the 2011 census. While Balsall Heath is well-known for once being the locale of a red-light district, in more recent years the neighbourhood has become a testing ground for national pilots and creative and cultural ‘interventions’, including the Balsall Heath Biennale. Also less well-known is the fact that Balsall Heath was the centre for the Birmingham Surrealist Movement in the 1930s-1950s. It’s therefore a fascinating place that brings to the fore complex issues of cultural value and transmission in a diverse city.