Recently I heard Michael Kaiser, the inspirational arts manager say, about working for a ballet company in Kansas, it benefited from many donors who did not particularly like ballet.
But they gave, sometimes generously, because “they thought their city deserved the ballet”.
That’s the USA, where art funding relies almost entirely on the largesse of the populace and philanthropists.
Here though, where support comes through taxation, the same question arises: what types of culture do we as Birmingham citizens deserve?
Do we think we live in a city that ought to have a ballet company, symphony orchestra, opera, world-class galleries and an independent arts scene? Fortunately we do, though not purely due to luck.
Twenty-five years ago, the Council made some bold decisions about where to spend their money: creating the CBSO’s home at Symphony Hall, building prestigious conference facilities and “buying” a ballet company (re-locating Sadlers’ Wells to create Birmingham Royal Ballet).
The re-furbished Hippodrome provided a natural English base for Welsh National Opera, and Birmingham Opera Company were supported to deliver unforgettable performance in unusual settings.
Birmingham’s large cultural institutions had “arrived”.
Should we now make equally bold decisions about our independent culture?
Not by “importing” organisations from elsewhere but by creating an infrastructure in which companies like Fierce Earth, Capsule, Stan’s Café and our many independent creative companies can thrive?
Recently the spectacular Cent Quatre centre was opened in Paris.
A former coffin factory, it is now a vast cultural centre, bearing the scars of its spooky past but boasting a number of light airy studios where artists and creative companies work rent-free for up to one year, paid for by the city council.
Elsewhere there’s the former electricity substation in Berlin, RadialSystem, and two former abbatoirs - Zone Attive in Rome and the extraordinary Mattadero in Madrid.
These are lively spaces, reclaimed from their industrial origins, in which independent creative companies are actively helping to re-generate the area and its people.
It is not folly to propose this major investment amidst the nation’s fiscal and economic woes – it is essential. Birmingham’s previous vision was conceived in the midst of the recession in the late 70s when the city was reeling from the automotive industry decline.
So, creating a civic arts hub – a suitably bold and progressive move in these stormy economic times?
* Helga Henry is general manager of Fierce Earth and chair of Creative Republic