Roger Shannon introduces a series of debates on the future of Digbeth as a focus for Birmingham's media industries...

Birmingham's Eastside is one of the most exciting new cultural environments in the UK, and an area that for me has strong professional resonances.

It was there, long before the compass of change turned to the East, that I co-produced my first feature film in 1985, turning the Digbeth Institute into a film studio for three months, and enabling the cult movie Out of Order (directed by Jonnie Turpie) to come to screen life, and in the late 1980's I shepherded the first trio of media companies into The Bond on Fazeley Street.

Even now I can still recall the cheesy phrase - "shaken, not stirred by our move" - which accompanied the relocation of Independents Birmingham, the Birmingham International Film/Television Festival and the Media Development Agency to that wonderful icon of regeneration that The Bond represents.

Eastside is now designated the city's cultural and learning quarter, and an urban make-over of image, character and identity has been steadily making progress in recent years.

"Media is the new manufacturing" is the mantra of the day, and Eastside, like media-savvy Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff, hums with this invocation.

But now, in the aftermath of the collapse of several eagerly anticipated iconic initiatives, what are the challenges in Eastside facing the cultural policy makers and the creative industries ?

With the potential in mind of what Eastside could become, and the recognition that the pulse needed to quicken, my company swish, in association with colleague Steve Harding, began contributing to the discussion of Eastside's future.

One thing we clocked was the contrast between the Millennium Point end of (Upper) Eastside, where new-build (and the glittering promise of a new Richard Rogers library) would iconically prevail, and the Custard Factory/Fazeley Street end of (Lower) Eastside where low-rise, multi-period architecture would organically remain.

We punningly coined the term Lower Eastside to give this emerging area a distinct international reference point. The Lower East Side - we all know (or think we know) the area and its character from numerous narratives of New York. Some edgy, some sleazy, some BoHo, some NoGo. Yet, the words have a resonance, suggesting a sense of place, a set of images, a narrative of stories, an album of songs.

This excercise in word-playing nomenclature has a provocative purpose, hypothetically and freely associating Birmingham's designated cultural and learning quarter with another city's cultural demi-monde.

This dialogue of cultural envisioning, we believe, helps to create a new identity, stimulating not just change, but also the acceptance and recognition of change.

We can clearly see how distinctive micro-cultures help to promote a creative area and give it a unique identity from our experience of music (Merseybeat, Madchester, Bristol's Trip Hop, Birmingham's Bhangra), of contemporary art (Brit Art Hoxton), of film-making (Glasgow's Shallow Grave, Edinburgh's Trainspotting, Liverpool's Letter To Brezhnev), and of screenwriting (the north west school of Coronation Street and Brookside - Paul Abbot, Jimmy McGovern, Frank Cottrell Boyce, etc).

Identifying also the significant role that higher education now plays in such contexts, we coined the term Creative Campus to describe how a creative milieu feeds on new ideas, new talents and new participants.

Education at FE and HE level is an important route for new waves of creative talent to embark on, as distinctive courses attract young people to the city. Linking the creative economy to educational institutions in shared partnerships and incubation type initiatives

introduces to undergraduates and postgraduates the specific distinctiveness of the city's creativity, its business context, and the grammar and dialect of the local creative vernacular.

To pursue some of these issues, swish is mounting, in April, May and June, a series of three related events in Birmingham - the Lower Eastside Dialogues - which bring together a host of national and international figures to debate, discuss and freely develop new ideas on key issues for the Eastside quarter.

Exploring themes of Culture and Regeneration, a Creative Campus in Eastside and a Film Centre in Lower Eastside, the dialogues are designed to keep Eastside at the forefront of creative and learning environments and push the boundaries of what can be aspired to in Birmingham's newly-emerging cultural quarter.

Amongst the speakers are two of Birmingham's leading innovative and creative architects - Glenn Howells and Bob Ghosh - whose respective companies are engaged on projects in Eastside, while from outside the city the dialogues welcome Eddie Berg, the artistic director of the BFI's proposed National Centre for the Moving Image (and founder of FACT in Liverpool), the legendary film producer Nik Powell, chairman of the European Film Academy and Director of the National Film and Television School, and Dr Franco Bianchini, an acknowledged international expert in cities and creativity, and director of De Montford University's Centre for Cultural Planning.

Leading representatives from the city's HE, television, film and radio sectors will also be contributing to this market place of ideas. All three dialogues take place in Lower East-side itself, at The Bond, Maverick Television/Progress Works and the Custard Factory.

With these events we hope to see a range of dialogues emerge between many of the diverse components of Eastside. It is of course also a dialogue between the area's past and its emerging future, between Lower Eastside and Upper Eastside, and between Birmingham and other cities.

The first Dialogue - on Culture and Regeneration - takes place tonight at The Bond (7pm).

Contact for information on this and the subsequent two Dialogues in May and June.

* Roger Shannon was the founder/director of the Birmingham International Film & TV Festival and is a previous head of production at the British Film Institute. He now runs his own independent company, Swish Productions.