A landmark Birmingham building should be returned to use for the people of the city, a historian has claimed.
The city’s magnificent old Municipal Bank, in Broad Street, will be the base for an art show called Thrift Radiates Happiness – an inscription found carved across a beam in the building.
But over the past decade the Grade II-listed bank has stood largely unused apart from the occasional art exhibition or use as a drama film set.
Now the temporary reopening of the building this week has sparked calls for it to be put back to permanent use by Birmingham historian Professor Carl Chinn.
He said: “It is a wonderful building and a fantastic example of a British classical design. It is also very important historically by providing such an important facility for the working class of Birmingham.
“For any Brummie of my age or greater their first bank account was with the old Municipal Bank.
“It was a bank which did exactly what it set out to do when it was begun by the Mayor of Birmingham Neville Chamberlain – to offer an opportunity for the working class of Birmingham to save their farthings, twopenny and threepenny bits.
“I think that it is good that it is being used again. As a significant and important Birmingham building it should be open to the people of our city. If it isn’t used regularly there is the risk that they fall into disrepair and go to rack and ruin.
“Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to find a good use for this building for the people of Birmingham.”
The Birmingham Municipal Bank was created in 1916 after a suggestion by Mr Chamberlain – most of the income made from it was to be used for financing the First World War.
By the end of 1917, 30,000 city residents had signed up and it moved to its Broad Street base in 1933.
By 1950 the bank had 66 branches but in 1976 it ceased to come under control of Birmingham City Council, becoming a Trustee Savings Bank and was finally privatised in 1995, joining Lloyds TSB.
Show curator Charlie Levine said she chose the Municipal Bank because of the historical importance to the city and described it as “perfect in all its perfections and imperfections”.
Ms Levine said: “Artists, curators or arts organisations do not need a lot for pop-up projects like this, just access and the ability to open these incredible spaces to the public and bring in artists who can respond to and highlight how great they are.”
The exhibition, which focuses on finance and investment, features work from Birmingham City University graduate Julie Tsang, who has been making a series of architectural studies of the Municipal Bank, and Turner-nominated Spartacus Chetwynd.
Pete James, Head of Photographs at the Library of Birmingham, said: “We are delighted to have been able to support Charlie Levine’s curation of Thrift Radiates Happiness. It’s a really ambitious exhibition, which will give the public an opportunity to discover a fascinating disused building, as well as to explore an artistic response to concepts of finance and investment.”
A spokesman for Birmingham City Council said the authority was considering the long term future of the building and a decision is expected later this year, but would not be drawn on what plans were in the pipeline.
As part of the exhibition, visitors can ‘invest’ £2, for which they will receive a limited edition print by artists and practitioners including Mecanoo, the architects of the Library of Birmingham, Turner Prize-nominated Spartacus Chetwynd as well as Julie Tsang.
l The exhibition is open to the public on March 15-17 from noon-6pm.