Birmingham arts scene hidden under a bushel
The Art of Ideas, a three-day event taking place at Birminham Hippodrome this week, has commissioned two keynote essays. Freelance art journalist Matt Price here gives an upbeat assessment of the West Midlands visual art scene.
While there is clearly lots going on all round the region, Birmingham has become a real focal point for contemporary art with venues and organisations almost everywhere you look, from The Drum in Newtown to the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in the Jewellery Quarter, from the Barber Institute in Edgbaston to the International Project Space in Bournville.
It's also increasingly clear how important the regeneration district Eastside is becoming to the city, home not just to VIVID with its ambitious media arts programmes, but also to the photography development agency Rhubarb Rhubarb, sonic arts agency Modulate, Friction Arts, Fused magazine, Capsule, the Custard Factory and Ikon Eastside, a second space for Ikon Gallery.
The latest addition to the ever-growing cultural scene in the area is Eastside Projects, a new venue that seems to have got everybody talking.
The Eastside district has also played host to some of the city and region's many festivals and fairs, including New Art Birmingham, Supersonic, New Generation Arts, the Rhubarb Festival, Gigbeth, the 7-Inch Cinema festival, and The Event - a festival devoted to the region's artist-led community.
This community is really active and accounts for much of the energy in the region's contemporary art scene.
Again, these can be found all over the place, from Crowd6 in Smethwick to Airspace in Stoke-on-Trent. There are also groups and initiatives that spring up in different locations, creating temporary and site-specific projects, such as AAS, [insertspace], COLONY, Pub Conversations and Capital Art Projects.
The art community is very much interwoven with Birmingham's music scene, so there are events, film screenings, talks, performances and happenings taking place every week, both in the region's centres and out in the suburbs - Birmingham's villages of Balsall Heath, Moseley and Kings Heath are positively brimming with artists, musicians, writers and curators.
Artists in or from the region achieving national and international success at different stages of their careers include Richard Billingham, Simon and Tom Bloor, Ruth Claxton, Ravi Deepres, Tessa Farmer, Matt Golden, Roger Hiorns, Juneau Projects, Idris Khan, Karin Kihlberg and Reuben Henry, Heather and Ivan Morison, Kate Pemberton, George Shaw and Stuart Whipps.
Together with the amount and quality of international contemporary art on display in the region today and so much happening from artist-led to major institutional levels, it would not be exaggerating to assert that a contemporary art renaissance is quietly taking place here at the moment.
For the time being there seems to be little awareness beyond the region that this explosive transformation has been taking place.
Maybe it's time we started making a bit more noise.
* This is an excerpt from Matt Price's essay A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Gallery: Where to see art in Birmingham and the West Midlands. Matt Price is a writer and editor based in Birmingham and London.
A former managing editor of Flash Art International, Milan, deputy editor of ArtReview and publications manager at the Serpentine Gallery, he is curating an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in autumn 2008.
* The Art of Ideas consists of two panel discussions and a Future of Sound Showcase on Thursday. Guest speakers include James Yarker, director of Stan's Cafe, author Catherine O'Flynn, Turner Prize nominee Richard Billingham, and award-winning jazz alto saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch.
All three events take place at the IMI Suite at The Birmingham Hippodrome, the talks running from 6.30pm-8pm and the Future Of Sound showcase, featuring Modified Toy Orchestra, The Sancho Plan and Soweto Kinch, from 6.30pm -9pm.
Admission is by free ticket. For tickets or further information contact Arts Co on 020 7723 0285 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.