Creative City Fallout

Maybe “fallout” is a little strong but I like the feel of the phrase. Birmingham’s Creative City initiative was launched on Tuesday and since I wrote it off (1,800 views on that post, btw) it would be churlish not to do a follow-up. I do have some thoughts which I hope to get down once I’ve got this week’s work done so in the meanwhile here are the thoughts of others.

First off, it would be churlish not to link to Birmingham City Council’s summary of the announcement.

Bringing together partners from the public and private sector, Creative City is one of the first major initiatives of the LEP which aims to increase the area’s economic output (GVA) by 30% (£8.25 billion) and create 100,000 private sector jobs by 2020.

Chris Unitt did a nice Created in Birmingham roundup of the event with audio and links and an attempt to understand what it is they’re aiming for.

So this was really the launch of an idea. In the way that Manchester has Media City and London has Tech City, Birmingham (if it wants it) could claim the title of Creative City.

Thing is, the designations of those other two seem to have been built on much stronger foundations (a strong BBC presence and an already burgeoning tech scene, respectively). All we seem to have at the moment is ideas, visions (like this one for a Museum Quarter), pledges and plans with comparatively little substance. Maybe’s it’s just early days, but if the intention of this event was to make people excited about the possibilities on offer then I don’t think it worked.

Maybe the more substantial conversations are all taking place behind closed doors this afternoon – but then I got the sense from others that therein lies the problem. Chatting to people afterwards actually left me kinda depressed by it all.

Stef Lewandowski gives a long and historical perspective on How We Got Here, being someone who helped put the “creative” agenda into the minds of politicians.

We win. Apparently.

We’ve got what we wanted – the ‘suits’ have taken on what we’ve all been saying and are serious. A bit too serious. And that’s the problem. Gone was our creativity, our soul, our delivery, our ownership of this concept. In its place we have powerpoint. We have people giving speeches in which they “welcome the Minister’s comments”.

I guess we got what we always wanted here, and there’s no use being upset at the lack of style or inspiration in the delivery. Or rather – that was one of my first thoughts.

In actual fact my other was “Fuck you”. To give that context, go and have a read of what Pete Ashton said. It’s a good rant.

When I say “fuck you”, what I’m getting at is that a lot of the interesting stuff in Birmingham tends to happen in spite of those with a remit to support it. A Birmingham “fuck you” in this context is more like “Fuck you – I’m doing it anyway”. I call it in-spite-of-ness and the city has it in bucketloads. It’s had to. The minister for culture being flown in to help launch the idea of a creative city as if its a new thing should expect such a reaction. As should all of the team behind their powerpoint launch.

James Yarker at Stans Cafe recounted his asking of a question at the launch event.

By name-checking Stan’s Cafe he gave me permission to stand up and ask the obvious unasked question: “Thank you for the name check, please could you explain why, if you value us so highly, are you cutting our £10,000 revenue funding by 100%?”

After thanking me for the question (cue laughter), the Councillor explained how superfast broadband was going to help us out. To be honest I didn’t follow his logic but that was probably me being slow. Fortunately Councillor Mullaney came to my aid, gamely explaining how things were much better for us all than they had been before our funding got wiped out. Now it all made sense.

There seem to be two ways of playing this political game: The James Yarker way (clambering out of the trenches, shouting “charge” and bodysurfing the barbed wire) or the Jonathan Watkins way (curating art for the Tory Party Conference). Well, time will tell whose tactics are more effective.

Jame’s a referring to Jonathan Watkins of Ikon who announced more detailed plans for a second contemporary art gallery in the Curzon Square “museum district”, something he and his team have been working on for years now. This got a lot of chatter on the Twitters and it certainly looks terrific. But it’s still just a proposal. From what I can tell nothing has been inked. I really hope it happens but there’s every chance it might not. That’s why Jonathan is playing the game he plays so very well. He knows exactly what he’s doing and exactly how to get what he needs from the process. The rest of us should be so lucky. The PDF of the brochure can be found here.

Elsewhere:

The Birmingham Mail obligingly reprints a press release, notable for the lone comment from a train nerd asking about a train museum. Bless.

Digbeth Is Good notes the scale of the Curzon Square development.

Discussion on the Re-Stirred forum where our Minister of Fun prefers to engage in debate.

Philip Parkin did a report.

Disclaimer: Chris is a friend and peer, Stef is a friend who pretty much threw me into this circus in 2007, James is someone I admire, Ikon are a client.

2 thoughts on “Creative City Fallout

  1. Simon Howes

    It all sounds interesting. Did they just talk about the arts, I see the likes of Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund were at the announcement.

    What was said about film, broadcast, music and not forgetting the computer games industry? Were people there from these industries? These account for most of the creative sector in the region. Art installations, photographic museums or paintings are not ALL of the creative industry.

    Just asking. :)

  2. John Kirriemuir

    As I know nearly nothing about art, what it is, what artists do (despite somehow I keep ending up living with them), and was so ignorant that (confession) I wandered around Digbeth one hungry lunchtime looking for Stan’s Cafe, the comments have been illuminating. Little pieces in the jigsaw of what the heck the local scene is.

    One thing’s for definite. If anyone did a guide to the Birmingham Art Scene, then at least four very angry people would claim it was biased, wrong, and misrepresentative :-)

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