Helga Henry, managing director of Fierce Earth the arts production company, looks at how to make Birmingham ‘funky’.
When you take that City Break, in the UK or abroad, what do you remember about it? Was it the architecture, the transport links or a branch of H & M, Zara or Benetton so common in a faceless mall?
Or do you remember the little square you happened upon where you caught a jazz concert; the side street full of quirky designer shops; or your excitement as you witnessed the kind of public spectacle that had you reaching for your camera – outdoor theatre, a magnificent procession, even a firework display?
My guess is that, although we appreciate infrastructure and amenities, our lasting and most vivid impressions of cities are actually formed by the cultural and creative life that we chance upon there.
In an increasingly homogeneous urban landscape, what stands out? I’d say it was the authentic, the quirky, the unexpected and the astonishing. The jaw-dropping, “stop-you-in-your-tracks” moments of art, design and culture.
But then I would say that wouldn’t I? I’ve recently taken the helm at Fierce Earth, an arts production company that has, for the last 11 years, endeavoured to stimulate the region’s cultural life and economy with astonishing moments of contemporary art.
You may wonder where you start with such an ambitious agenda. And while I’m not generally one for the easy aphorisms of smiley lifestyle gurus, Anthony Robbins sums up our approach quite neatly: “Quality questions create a quality life”.
We dream up questions that help make Birmingham a Funky Town; a vibrant and exciting place in which to live, work and do business.
Questions like “What happens when you cross Birmingham Royal Ballet with a Routemaster double decker bus?” You get “Ballet on the Buses”, a project for the annual Fierce! festival that had a mythical lost troupe of Russian circus artists wander the City on a bus, performing an impromptu ballet – in Wellington boots – on the pavements of Birmingham.
And then there was “How can we create a fantastic celebration with young people at its heart?” Let them create a community feast. On a local allotment where they grew the food from seeds, having cleared the land and learned about food miles. Let them make bowls with a ceramicist and tint tablecloths from vegetable dyes. Young chefs served 200 people soup from watering cans and cleared dishes in wheelbarrows at May Lane allotments, creating an outdoor classroom that is still used today.
There are loads more. “What happens when you put a giant nest 30 metres up on the side of the Rotunda for 7 days and create a 24 hour piece of theatre about a man’s attempt to live as a bird?”
And we’re not the only ones asking questions. To quote one-hit-wonder Funky Town, we want to create a place that “keeps me movin’, keeps me groovin’ with some energy” So I’d also like to acknowledge just some of the other people who keep Birmingham movin’ and grovin’: Capsule, with their astonishing experimental music, 7 inch cinema – film and animation in a pub, independent design shops like Disorder and People in Kings Heath, Bass Festival’s urban art and street sounds, Rhubarb-Rhubarb’s international photography events, Stan’s Café’s extraordinary theatre, Rosie Kay’s innovative dance.
Many of these exciting organisations have been ably assisted by Business Link in the West Midlands, as it recognises the important role we now play in the region’s changing economy.
Answer James Yarker’s recent plea in this column. See stuff! Take a risk. Explore. Who knows? The next City Break you enjoy could be in your home town, so why not check out www.createdinbirmingham.com for a taste of what’s happening.