Helga Henry: Assessing the city’s culture
Feb 11 2010 By Helga Henry
As part of Birmingham’s bid to become the UK’s first City of Culture, Fierce has been hard at work on www.canvasbirmingham.com.
We are literally canvassing the people of the city to find out what cultural activities they take part in.
Ah yes, you say, but what does “culture” mean?
On the website we invite people to reflect on what they do in their spare time, always bearing in mind that “culture means different things to different people.”
It is the breadth and variety of the concept that makes the contemplation of culture so rewarding.
The EU in its work on the Capital of Culture defines culture as “arts, literature and shared lifestyle”.
It is not merely the fine arts but also our shared symbolic thought and social learning, our shared attitudes and goals, that connect a group of people or in this case, a city.
So the obvious next question is - what are the shared symbols and social constructs of Birmingham? What are the shared attitudes and goals of today’s Brummie?
One commonly-shared attitude inside the city is that it is a hidden gem – that its qualities are obscured by a stereotypical image now two centuries old.
Another is that we are, on average, reticent to shout about the many great things that go on in the city. These of course are attitudes we can change.
I’m not blind to the problems in this region: we have been hit hard by the current crisis.
Skills, productivity and employment rates are among the lowest in the country.
But creativity and innovation are in the city’s DNA - and this is the real legacy of the nineteenth century, our trust fund.
This is where central heating (Soho House) and Bird’s Custard (in Digbeth) were invented.
This is where we invented - alright, isolated – oxygen (in Sparkhill).
Applying the creativity that is in our genes to beat the current economic challenges could truly be a shared goal that makes Birmingham a City of Culture in the most important sense – whether we win the title or not.
* Helga Henry is general manager of Fierce Earth and chair of Creative Republic.