Place, space and art

There are only a few days remaining for Birmingham City Council's Public Art Strategy 2015-2019 consultation,, which is asking how we use art to help shape Birmingham but how we also pay for new art and in turn look after it.

The strategy vision is outlined below:

Birmingham City Council want an improved public art portfolio across the city, in local neighbourhoods and within the city centre that can be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike, and further add to Birmingham’s reputation as a top cultural destination, bringing people together to celebrate our heritage and be part of our future. This means ensuring our existing public art is well looked after, as well as improving the conditions for adequately funded new art commissioning and collaborative place-based creative practice.

In May 2013 I reported on the Civic Society led debate,, which followed their own ambition to commission a piece of public art for Birmingham to be unveiled in 2018.

Robert Colbourne has written an interesting reflection, Backwards and Forwards: Public Art and Strategic Thinking in Birmingham in2015, on this current consultation following the stakeholder consultation event that took place in December 2014.  This is the second online public consultation and the strategy will be amended reflecting the feedback before being taken to Birmingham City Council Cabinet in June 2015 with a Public Realm Strategy consultation due to take place over Summer / Autumn 2015.

I was fortunate to attend the stakeholder event in December and came to it enthused by the offer of a strategy but also struck by the scope of art, how could we translate something so elusive to 'pin down' to a strategy that could encourage art and help sustain it financially.  Colbourne talks in his reflection on this strategy undermining the work of artists over the last 25 years to 'build upon "Context and Collaboration".  How do we also reconcile the work of the artist as an 'agent of change' and not just art as having value.

The opening of the stakeholder event saw attendees present an image of a 'successful public artwork', many from within Birmingham and others as examples from across the world.  While some brought images of artworks such as sculptures or buildings instantly recognisable, my own choice was Tess Jaray's Centenary Square design, soon to be replaced by a redesign of the square,  Colbourne asks, noting the forthcoming redesign, "Is it too late for artists with a renewed vision, to be intelligently and influentially involved as they were last time? Should we not all, by now, be otherwise currently engaged in the reaffirmation and future development of an-art-of-making places public?",[3].pdf

This consultation then has a great chance to discuss the role of art in a city whose coat of arms features both art and industry and to which both are integrally linked to the spirit and aesthetic of it's history.

“Much of Birmingham’s ‘industry’ teetered between what would be defined as industry and art, and manufacturers of finer goods and early graphic design struggled for hundreds of years to be recognised as artists.”, Jenni Dixon – 'Bits of Brummagem and Manufacturing Artists' [unpublished] 2015, as cited in[3].pdf

The strategy has six objectives:

Commissioning Practices for Public Art
Funding New Public Art
Facilitating Changes to Birmingham’s Public Art Portfolio
Supporting Artists and a Collaborative Public Art Ecology
Maintaining Public Art
Promoting Public Art

The strategy also sets out to acknowledge and support public art that can:

strengthen Birmingham’s communities and place-shaping
enable Birmingham residents (including young people) to experience creativity, and have the opportunity to develop as creators, participants, audiences and leaders in the cultural field
improve Birmingham’s reputation as a desirable and sustainable location where people and businesses want to be
enhance Birmingham’s cultural offer for residents and visitors
enhance the quality of the public realm, including parks and public open spaces
recognise and create key events, personalities and moments in Birmingham

Reproduced from:

The consultation is welcoming all contributions.  To give your views or comment on the strategy visit:


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