A Birmingham art gallery has become the first casualty of funding cuts. Donna Bowater reports.
For more than five years, Ikon Eastside has been the stage for some of the most cutting edge and innovative new art in Birmingham.
Based on conservative estimates, 100,000 people have been through the doors of the disused warehouse in Digbeth and into a theatre of visual and audio installations.
Some of the city’s best-loved alternative festivals have used the space including Flatpack, Supersonic and the International Dance Festival.
But in April the success story of Birmingham’s arts scene will play out its swan-song with a three-day music festival after losing its £200,000-a-year funding.
What hurts the most, according to Ikon director Jonathan Watkins, is that the money was not pulled from a dwindling, two-bit project but from a thriving platform for young artists.
“This is the cruel irony of it – our audiences were doubling, tripling,” he said.
“Ikon Eastside was a strong factor in the equation.
‘‘It wasn’t like killing something on its last legs – that can’t be further from the truth. The evidence is there that the numbers were increasing dramatically. We had around us this growing arts scene and we were mutually benefiting from that.”
Among the exhibitions to have filled the Fazeley Street venue was the memorable indoor meadow by Jacques Nimki, featuring a lawn of wild plants inside the once-derelict building.
Ikon Eastside has also hosted artists from Argentina, India and Mexico and featured the films of Andy Warhol. Mr Watkins said he was most proud of the community that the gallery spawned.
He said: “The idea was that Ikon Eastside was a kind of magnet that would draw others in, it would be a catalyst for an active arts scene.
“A lot of people leave art school and what do they do? Where do they go?
“I think the most important thing about Ikon Eastside was the social space it provided and the fact that it was collaborative.
“For the first time, Birmingham is starting to feel that it has got something to offer.”
But the drop in funding means the Ikon group will lose the equivalent of three staff positions as well as the resources to put on the same number of events.
“Staff reduction is one thing. There are people who are leaving Ikon that we can’t replace,” he added.
“And we can’t carry on being as productive as we have been because we don’t have the funds.
“The entire arts budget for the whole country is one per cent of the NHS. Bankers’ bonus budgets could fund all the arts in Birmingham without them noticing.
“By cutting at the level of Ikon Eastside, it is affecting the young people who are coming up and graduating and thinking where do I go?
“People are ignoring what the arts do provide. It’s something that enhances the quality of life and it’s what makes Birmingham.”
The gallery will hold its last event, a Rites of Spring music festival, from April 7-9, featuring Turner Prize winner Martin Creed, Modified Toy Orchestra and Epic45.
The venue is open from Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from 11am to 6pm and entry is free.
Ikon’s flagship Brindleyplace gallery remains open as normal and a feasibility study into a new art museum called Ikon Two will not be affected by the cuts.