I wrote in September that Birmingham felt as if it was going through some kind of renaissance. It seems as if there is also the promise of growth in the creative sector also, with some news appearing that the BBC hopes to turn Birmingham into a ‘digital innovation’ hub (whatever that is). Here’s some people talking about it on a politics show:
Not everyone has taken it well, especially Simon Woods, who wrote a piece in the local paper, which you can read here. Personally, I’m not that surprised, as Simon points out, there is a legacy of this behaviour in the region. It reminds me of Matthew Boulton not being able to assay silver in Birmingham until they’d lobbied Parliament despite opposition from London silversmiths. And it is part of a much larger narrative that is Birmingham as a second city to London’s dominance, which appears in most mainstream media (here’s a piece about house prices in Moseley, and how they’ll be great value when Birmingham becomes a suburb of London with the HS2 train).
Why does this bother people so much? Well, I believe the answer lies in SImon Woods’ article. It is about self-representation. Birmingham is constantly represented in the eyes of others. It is the importance of self-representation that meant countries like Ireland didn’t dissolve their film board when the austerity kicked in, like the UK did. The Irish have a long history of being represented in the eyes of British and American cinema, but they want their own, and rightly so.
All of this leads to the important question, what does Birmingham represent? Because without this answer, it is difficult to imagine anyone else being able to support it. It’s representation in the eyes of others is perhaps a) hotbed of terrorism, b) post-industrial shithole, c) transport nightmare.
Personally I love being here (and I’m not from here) because it is a truly multi-cultural space. Whilst London is multi-cultural, it isn’t particularly friendly, whereas I find we share all the common spaces across the different races, especially the markets. But our local filmmakers don’t fight for this. One example is that we don’t have a common space for filmmakers to meet in the same way that London has the BFI or Dublin has the IFI. Without this common space, we are reduced to holding our meetings in pubs, which automatically exclude sections of our society (those who don’t want to drink, those who can’t hear with the music, those who can’t get up stairs etc). The 72 Project is similarly guilty of this – I’m always championing the Spotted Dog. But this is in the absence of a designated space. The spaces that are designated (e.g; Midlands Arts Centre, Lighthouse) aren’t central to the city either, which means that everything remains disparate and disunited.
I believe, until we have this space, the creative industries in the region will always punch below their weight, because we’ll constantly lack the concentrated focus of one unified, shared push for representation.