My advice to Birmingham…for what its worth

I was asked to write a piece for Night times Newspaper this week in response to Birmingham City Council and their Big City Plan – they wanted to hear from what our ideas and thoughts were about Digbeth. Here is the piece for you to read:

Capsule is an award-winning organisation based in Digbeth and have developed our creative business over the past 10 years in this area. We produce and curate the Supersonic Festival which is currently housed within the Custard Factory as well as partnering with other arts organisations in the area including Eastside Projects, Vivid and Ikon Eastside. The festival takes place over 3 days in July, attracting an audience of 5000 people, 80 % of which come from outside the region and 6% are international visitors coming from as far as Japan, Australia and the USA. Supersonic attracts the highest calibre of leftfield/experimental artists to the UK, whilst offering unique collaborations and performances. We have gained an excellent reputation including such accolades as being named ‘Festival of the Year’ by Plan B Magazine up against such festivals as Sonar in Barcelona, and receiving £350,000 value of press for Supersonic 2008, and in turn for Digbeth and the City.  Our audience stay in hotels, eat and shop in the area as well as engage with other creative activity that takes place in the city.
Capsule on average produce and promote an additional 25 live events a year again bringing to the city some of the most exciting international acts as well as supporting regional talent.

Currently our success has happened in spite of the city rather than because of it,  just think what could be achieved if we worked together.  Travelling frequently to other cities these are some suggestions to make Digbeth blossom as a cultural quarter:

  • Why do people get on planes and trains to come to Supersonic – because we offer them a totally unique experience of the highest quality.  There is a real opportunity to acknowledge what makes Birmingham a unique city and invest in independent and niche activity.  Steer clear of a homogenised approach – learn from those that do it well and have a track record.
  • Lets learn from other cities like Berlin, Glasgow and Manchester and take risks with our empty buildings – an opportunity to invest in content to be housed in these empty spaces to animate the area, lets not be so precious i.e. noise restrictions – creativity is often loud and messy lets embrace and celebrate this.
  • Encourage more creative companies to have the opportunity to be able to buy their own buildings rather than be tied to short-term leases.
  • Create flexible spaces that can house a variety of activity which changes from week to week, this will keep the area vibrant.
  • Don’t just invest in a couple of landlords this creates a monopoly.
  • Lets get the basics right – look at infrastructure: cash points, post offices, signage, and streetlights.
  • Think about the visitors experience as well as what its like to work in this area, lets make it the highest quality experience – currently feels like quite an intimidating, unfriendly area.
  • Creative quarters need to grow organically, invest in supporting growth rather than imposing structured ideas of what you think creativity should be.
  • Remember areas develop over time not over night.

FYI in a similar vein – Great piece written recently by Jon Bounds of Birmingham’s Not Shit on the idea of a creative director for Birmingham – and the best put analogy I’ve read/heard for how Birmingham get things wrong – “I want to stop being embarrassed by Birmingham, like in the way you’re embarrassed by dad dancing.”, “it’s like it’s organised by the PTA”, “no-one wants to say anything because they [the organisers] are so nice”.