“It was tough enough getting you guys out of here in the first place”. Good point from an important man in his reclining leather chair yesterday. And now these New York and LA Brits are hawking their floppy hair and foppish, wonky grins to nab prettier ladies than they ought, and stuttering all over the Oscars. The last thing your company needs is to be responsible for another cocky Brit mincing around, milking the accent, with record levels of unemployment and enough folks chomping at the bit to do plenty for nothing.
Tough times reveal what’s needed. Creativity, resolve, and a sometimes mystical balance of fearlessness and commonsense. Who’s to say I have that any more than the American candidate?
Chances are on April 16th I’ll be boarding a flight back to the UK, to my mum’s charming and comforting semi-detached in the suburbs of Birmingham, with a nineteen-year-old mongrel, a quiet garden and a massive flat-screen television. I’ll make a dimple on her brand new couch, sending out applications for roles in boutique agencies and clientside in London town. Back to normality; perhaps a decent role that fuels my brain and might support an eventual mortgage on my first home at some point. A window box, a pet iguana, a complete Tetris-game mosaic on one wall.
That would be the common-sensical option.
Conversely, I could stay in New York; decipher and memorize deliberately obtuse Visa loopholes, strip them back two hours a night without the $350-per-hour lawyer, couch-surf with tolerant friends for four weeks, memorize TED speeches, scan Fortune magazine and Agency Spy, LinkedIn everyone I speak to, speak to everyone I link to (that’s never a problem) and spend a minimum three hours a day researching companies and individuals doing something different.
And if I find one I admire or aspire to, and that company doesn’t have a role for me, I might try to persuade them to make one, and reassure them that being from another country could help with tapping into a few markets they haven’t already, or drawing from another perspective in the boardroom, or in using the accent, (or me), to disarm or charm a few stakeholders, or in milking my enthusiasm to bolster their company’s bottom line.
Profits, goals, friends, family, relationships and career. The best stuff is rarely easy.
But writing brochures for Land Rover hasn’t helped. Neither has getting a Media company 200,000 hits in two days. Generating a glow-in-the-dark bacteria campaign makes a good talking point. Knowing the ratings of radio stations in the Tri-State area is handy, or the preferred motorbike in Queens compared to the Bronx, but it won’t get me the job. I’ve got within sniffing distance of four brilliant roles. But companies here are terrified of the V word. No, not that word. Visa.
I’ve spent hours trawling government sites, and have four decent options – two that are fool-proof, one that isn’t, two that are long term, one that’s just brilliant, but you’d still think I’ve just lit up a pipe in the middle of the interview, put my muddy feet on the desk and quoted Charlie Sheen.
Combining my experiences and observations as an outsider, from neither here nor there, but interested in everywhere, that could be useful. Having the thirst to go for bigger risks and bigger rewards, that makes a decent poker player. A British humor with an American work-ethic helps a few last-minute all-nighters. Combining the nuances of New York culture with six years in Scotland, over seven months in South Carolina, and calling both an industrial city and the mountains of the Lake District home, that helps in winning over a few awkward clients. For everything else there’s Mastercard.
The industrial city is Birmingham, which the rest of the UK makes fun of. The natives are a friendly bunch, oft described as ‘a bit thick’; a self-deprecating lot who speak like Ozzy Osborne, inhabit “a giant concrete turd”, will punch our own mothers over a football result and wade through an army of opponents for a decent pint. But we can take criticism. And to a Brummy, everyone in the room is a friend unless they tell you otherwise.
I can take Criticism. But this irrational Visa fear is just silly. It’s fixable. I want to work very hard for you. And I can. So let me. I have no support-net in New York. If I step on the wire I’m on my own. And what’s on the other end is the fun bit; the pleasure in knowing that if you look ahead, and never down, you’re a lot more sure-footed.
Looking up at skyscrapers can stop you seeing where you’re going. As much as it’s great to eavesdrop on Hasidic jewelers, El Barrio Mamas and Brownsville tough guys, to make friends with people who don’t lurch away from a smile the way a Londoner can; I’m not going to accept any old job purely to stay in this year-round nomadic carnival.
For three more weeks I’ll aim to live in a box (‘apartment’) for a thousand a month, and try to guard my wallet from every neon sign, roasted peanut smell or special offer that asks a piece of me. The pinched judgments of Fashionista pedestrians, the sleazy dates looking over my shoulder, the fact that everyone you meet has ‘issues’ and ‘it’s not something I can talk about just yet’, the gut full of chipotle, the snow, the sludge, the sirens, the smiles from strangers, the subway sweat, the gutter steam, the late night fears and tears.
I’ll do it the way a New Yorker does. I’ll greet everyone from anywhere with a smile and an open mind. I’ll be honest, and hand people the dollar-bill they dropped. I’ll work hard and play hard. I’ll push myself. I’ll push doors open for others. I’ll do more than I’m asked to, and I’ll do it fast. And I’ll be English by trying to see everything a little bit sideways, in order to see it straight. And I’ll be Brummy by taking criticism and staying resilient and friendly, however tense things get. And I’ll do it with two pieces of advice from an Englishman: “The best investment you can make is in memories”.
And I hope I’ll be a Brit allowed to do an American’s Job.
Below is a selection of published web, brochure, outdoor and press. Click on them to have a read. Concepts are in my book. Which comes with me.
You’ve always got to end with a couple of montages: CLICK ON THEM:
The Urban Dictionary is a loveable institution that captures variation in public lexicon. Here are a couple of words and phrases not used by significant numbers of individuals just yet, and they should be. Because I made them. Or me and my brother did. (If we didn’t and they’re already popular please let me know and I’ll apologise and wear a sad face for an hour or so and then make some more). Some are descendants of Butcher-family humour. Others are just a bit gross, and not for those with a gentle disposition.
Debbie McGee: Unnecessary displays of public affection (UDPA) – the unfortunate witnessing of a couple intensively inspecting each other’s tonsils, prompting slight wretching in passers by due to sheer gratuitousness. I’m all for a big hug and a kiss wherever you feel like it, and would be the last to limit public affection in any form, but this is the kind of semi-foreplay usually reserved for arrivals and departures gates at airports, after a long internship in a hostage situation, or after finding out that your partner has not been killed or maimed, but is alive and well. Not at a bus stop, or in the queue in Macdonalds.
The Debbie McGee is so called as the sight of an excessive UDPA can cause the same kind of wretching as seeing the famous entertainer Paul Daniels canoodling with his far-more-attractive wife. (An American equivalent would be doing a Katie Holmes).
Alugh – an accidental laugh in the workplace from a private text or email that is clearly non-work-related. The resulting laugh is then unconvincingly disguised into a cough or throat clearing, which fails to convince nearby colleagues.
Yap – a Ben Butcher original cultivated on the Coast-to-Coast walk with Mr Michael Fallon, this finds its prenatal origins in the dying sections of the Chas and Dave song ‘Rabbit’ (See original version here, see my version here), this refers to the sweat that accumulates in the region of the lower back and between the buttocks when walking either up a mountain or around a city or park on a hot day. It can be relieved by using ‘Yapwipes’, more commonly described as ‘Facewipes’ which can be found in all major pharmacy outlets. Mr Mark Taharka Waithe of Birmingham has a particular propensity to alugh when he thinks about Yapwipes or their purposes.
Flegl – the feeling in one’s mouth at 11am on a Saturday or Sunday, when digestive juices have been in overdrive attempting to eradicate the alcohol that entered one’s organs the preceding night. Flegl also describes the noise made when trying to utter your first sentence of the Hungover day.
Shame about your face. I didn’t make this one up. But the way in which it’s used is important. While this is in essence a phrase that refers specifically to misfortune regarding ones’ visage, I’ve tried to persuade people repeatedly that it’s common in Birmingham to say it to an individual immediately following a complement, so as not to leave the compliment hanging in the air like a sloppy wet kiss and no tissue. I’ve since discovered it’s not commonly used, and largely just by me, and that you should most importantly a) know the person well before you say it, or b) explain to the person that it’s something you do, and not be upset when they perceive you to be a complete dickhead.
Snappage. Again, not originally mine – this finds its origins in my older brother’s love of toilet humour, and the process of ‘Snapping one off’ to denote a substantial number 2. Snappage is another form of describing this, that has provided much amusement stateside. Specifically it refers to a large solid dump.
Kajunga. Another family favourite – refers to a number 2 that is closer to the form of Chocolate Milkshake. However the word refers more to the process of exit than the consistency of said deposit. The Kajunga is one that surprises its creator at both the speed and voracity of the exit process. “I did a complete Kajunga in the ladies. Mortifying”.
That’s my business. Author: Ben Butcher. Alternative answer to a dull or unwelcome question. “Have you seen my other sock?” “That’s my business”. “What do you think of Katy Perry?” “That’s my business”.
This Glossary shall be added to.
Only Great Disorder – when you can’t produce anything bad.
OGD doesn’t make you a perfectionist, which is not always great. This is a case of only pushing out gems, stuff that uplifts, inspires or positively provokes, gets copied, gets disseminated or absorbed, without inflicting, maiming or irritating. It can be popular, or cool, or both.
The Freethinking Movement spreads the best of the broadest spectrum of great music. I’m going to be less precise and do a Maddy; all types of folks with OGD: I’ll do what my father said I tend to when I write: throw a load of spam at a piece of chickenwire and seeing what drips off.
Seth Godin argues (well) that we are not mass consumers now but tribes. Where the internet was supposed to homogenize, it has separated us into segments, not by force, but by a desire to connect with people like us. It’s heretic-chic, and it’s what allows me to find folks with OGD and gorge on the produce of their talent. But because they each have this brilliant affliction, I’m not the only one cyber-stalking.
Paul Arden put it out there that all ideas are in the Ether, and our plucking of inspiration from the cloud of collective consciousness does not grant us ownership that we can wear as a medal. But we can accept an official award from proclaimed officially-important folks that may need to be shmoozed, or we can check the number of followers we have on Twitter, views on Youtube, or the balance sheet. Ayn Rand beleived if you create something good, that’s the product of your own grafting, you should be entitled to unashamedly take the credit, and in her case, profits.
Where she draws the line between making money, and personal versus collective responsibilty is the start of many angry dinner conversations. But it’s this taking of the credit in terms of honour or pride that makes and breaks a lot of talented individuals – whether they cross over to the ‘darkside’ mainstream, try to expand their audience or market by doing something that upsets the old one, sleep with too many fans and get a nasty rash, believe the hype or start putting too much stuff up their nose.
There’s an impossibly fine line between being talented but troublesome, and being a legitimate arsehole, as Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais will testify, whether condemned by others or by your own actions. But that shouldn’t stop us celebrating what’s good. For there to be winners, there don’t always necessarily have to be losers. (I wish somebody had said that to Ed Balls).
Here’s a few OGD ‘sufferers’ who consistently churn out greats. If you have more send them my way. Note: this is a ‘braindump’ and in no way exclusive – this lot came to mind immediately and will be added to.
OGD Criteria: consistently good, original output that challenges, inspires, impresses and is not repetitive or predictable.
Effective analysis of People-Power:
Style, force and energy that’s all her own
- Janelle Monae
Consistently impressive Music Videos that the band plays a major part in
- OK GO who actually prompted this entire article because they really are incapable of doing a bad video.
Always-impressive art direction
Consistently dynamic, unashamed-businessman approach to Art World
- Damien Hirst
Eccentric, genuine, energetic music that refuses to go mainstream
Powerful, poetic music that refuses to go mainstream
Use of Satire to create genuine positive change
Facial expressions that achieve greatness without effort
- Bill Murray
- Jeff Bridges
- Tom Waitts
Making every acting role utterly convincing while entirely different from the last
Consistently funny and very charming blog
- Hyperbole and a half, by the brilliant Allie Brosh
Enjoyably surreal and inspired rantage :
- The Lake District,
- 85% of Scotland,
- A boy I knew once who would be surprised I still think about him
- The swamps of Louisiana
- The Islands around Beaufort, South Carolina
- The Southern Alps of New Zealand
- The surrounding valley of Kyoto
- The Norwegian Fjords
- 60% of Italy
- The reefs surrounding Fiji
(I’ve a feeling this is a large, subjective category and can only include things I’ve seen so far but all suggestions welcome)
Challenging, conflicting, inspiring yet welcoming city:
But it can’t all be a praise malaise. OGD wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious if there weren’t also some lucky sods who’ve managed to achieve success without creating value of any sort. They have CRISS; Consistently Rubbish but Inexplicably Successful Syndrome. And we’re in the midst of a CRISis. (Apologies to anyone named Chris if I’m forcing your name to be synonymous with shit). Individuals who profit can’t be blamed if we’re happy enough to line their pockets, uttering things like “He really is crap isn’t he?” and then buying his book, but I will take this opportunity to name and shame and expect a smattering of anger from a few diehard fans.
Repetitive Narcissism and crimes against journalism:
- Piers Morgan
Dogmatic adherence to any form of conspiracy based on loosely-seized speculations that undermine the need for reasoned understanding through easy-to-remember animated videos:
- Michael Moore
Maintenance of acting career despite only being able to portray one’s self (although in some cases this self may fit a role, eg Jerry Maguire):
- Tom Cruise
- Nicholas Cage
- Michael Ciera
- Jack Black
- Anthony Hopkins
- Drew Barrymore
- Jennifer Aniston
- Keira Knightley
- Eddie Murphy
- Charlie Sheen
- Halle Berry
- Ben Stiller
- Adam Sandler
- John Travolta
- Bruce Willis
- Morgan Freeman (I know, he’s lovely, but he’s always Morgan Freeman)
- Ashton Kutcher
- Katy Holmes
- Johnny Depp (Yes he’s great but he is always Johny Depp)
- Robert Downey Jr (Also great but always Robert Downey Jr)
Maintenance of a musical career despite distinct lack of talent:
- James Blunt (although now serves as a way to criticize someone without offending your mother).
Maintenance of any career despite distinct lack of benefit to society:
- 70% of Wall Street & the City of London who expect something for nothing, fast, and bugger the rest of us.
- The Kardashians
- American Apparel
- Traffic Cops
- Katie Price / Jordan
- the Game
- The Olsen Twins
- Ed Balls
The challenge was to pick an American Business Model and apply it to a market outside the states where it’s not already. A friend suggested “bringing culture to Birmingham”, an easy jibe at my hometown, not often regarded as an inspirational hotspot.
Brooklyn Museum and the Queens Museum of Art are two dynamic, accessable ‘institutions’ that showcase plenty without intimidation. Both have a bit of everything, with enough to satiate and fascinate without brain implosion. My home town (or ‘Brum’) has a traditional art museum, but nothing so far that shouts about the wealth of groundbreaking culture 9and yes – I said ‘groundbreaking’, because it is) that comes from our ridiculed doorstep.
While researching this project I found a property magnate called ‘Mr Gray’ who owns a substantial part of the Victorian Industrial landscape of the city called Digbeth –old red-brick factories and warehouses, and many buildings I know and love.
The plan, depending on reception of this post, is to turn this into a concerted pitch to Mr Gray and his family, the city council, and the many artists who are or have been part of this city, to carve out a Birmingham Institute of Popular Culture in Digbeth. Bipco is the working title.
A few reasons why:
(If you don’t know them already, click on them – it won’t hurt)
- Led Zeppelin
- J R Tolkien Hobbit? Never heard of it.
- WH Auden Stop all the clocks
- Black Sabbath and Ozzy of course
- ELO It’s a living thing
- Duran Duran Rather wealthy now aren’t they
- Edward Elgar Composer from Worcester
- The Streets
- Tony Hancock Legend.
- UB40 Went to school with their kids and had barbeques in their backgardens. True brummies
- Fine Young Cannibals
- Joan Armatrading Love and affection
- Ruby Turner Belter
- Julie Walters impeccable comic timing and powerful poignancy
- The Moody Blues Still going. More hits than I thought
- Nick Mason Staying power
- Barbara Cartland You don’t have to write well to be an amazingly successful author
- Mr Hudson went to my school, regarded by most as a bit of a div
- Roy Wood Great website
- Jonathan Coe The Rotter’s Club & the Closed Circle
- Dexys Midnight Runners Too-ra, Loo-ra, too-ra..
- Edward Burne Jones Liked Red-heads
- Steve Winwood It’ll be in your head all day..
- Clint Mansell composer of Requiem for a Dream & Black Swan soundtracks
- Slade “Feel the noise” and the sideburns
- Neville Chamberlain thought Hitler was manageable. Hmm
- Charles Dance Archetypal villain
- Beverley Knight Talented songwriter
- Apache Indian This one’s important
- Ocean Colour Scene used to live in my Uncle Ken’s flat in Moseley til they painted the bathroom purple
- Fairport Convention talented hippies
- Frank Skinner yeah that one
- Lord Salisbury Victorian Libertarian Priminister
- Jamelia hard-working, bright singer
- Judas Priest R O C K
- The Beat Also important
And more why:
Seen as a huge, decaying industrial city separated into racial segments, Birmingham shares a lot of negatives with NYC, and not many of the positives. It gave birth to much of 70s and 80s Trojan Ska, was home to significant stages of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, 70s and 80s Glam Rock and Orchestral Folk, 90s Dance music, Middle Earth, a smattering of major Feminist novels of the 80s and the IRA pub bombings.
Birthplace and home of many of much-loved car-makes of the UK auto industry, Brum hosted the ideological fighting ground between Trade Unions and Thatcher’s Government. It’s home to Cadbury’s chocolate, more canals than venice, and a gentle, self depricating humour that belies an extroardinary resilience, kindness and friendliness. This last element is probably why it has attracted so many international communities who are happy to call the Second City second home.
I hoped time in NewYork City would increase my understanding and respect for the celebration of competing ideas, cultures and movements in one place. It has, and now I know it can be done, and well, and we have lots to celebrate.
If Birmingham is a melting pot suffering record unemployment which now drives mounting racial tensions, Arts and Media can address this locally and globally, by directing positive co-operation across groups and regions. NYC is a city that has engendered a colossal and admirable sense of identity despite many turbulent historical events and periods. So too can Brum.
New York in the 80s and 90s and Berlin in the late 70s suffered record crime stats and widespread civil unrest, thanks to crack and amphetamines, and ultimately, unemployment. Despite this, both established or maintained a rep as avante-garde destinations; pioneering a myriad of styles that are loyally iconic, despite imitations.
It’s not hard for a city that has magnetized artists for nearly two hundred years, but in Berlin’s case, it was a concerted effort by its council after reunification, to allow areas in or around previous ‘No-mans’-land’ to be taken over by artists collectives, while the council invested in brand new institutions that now form an ensemble known as ‘Museum Land’, a UNESCO world heritage site.
I was given a book called “The Rotters Club” about 70s Brum, when the auto industry was collapsing under the weight of the unions versus bureaucrats lining their pockets. In a time of widening unrest, factious groups reinforced division and hostility. Sound familiar?
Today local industries continue to be pummeled while bankers’ bonuses remain undimmed in the mighty cash-now pay-later culture riding high both in Wall Street and the City of London. Now is a good time to stem the exodus of industry and intelligent folks, and provide an asserted reason to be proud & part of a region hitherto uncelebrated.
Birmingham versus New York.
Ouch. In an area the size of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten island, the Birmingham Metropolitan area (or West Midlands Conurbation) has a population of 3,683,000, (encompassing Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley, West Bromwich and Solihull),  compared to New york’s 8.3 million.
3.6 million is not small fry. It means for every 8 New Yorkers there are nearly 4 brummies. But you won’t find New Yorkers taking a tour of Walsall canals, the forlorn 1758 Perrott’s Folly or a bus tour of the Black Country.
In the 2001 Census the Birmingham area was the second largest UK conurbation outside London, hence the name Second City. But you won’t find the strength of identity and sense of place that Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow have. And if the NY population is 2.27 times the size of Brum, shouldn’t Arts facilities and cultural resources be similar in ratio? This bit hurts:
- New York’s Broadway district (8 streets less than half a mile long) is home to forty theatres with 500 seats or more. Greater Birmingham’s got four.
- The Big Apple has atleast 40 major arts organizations. Birmingham has the acclaimed Birmingham Royal Ballet and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. So that’s two.
- Two major public art collections and two contemporary art spaces in Brum, compared to New York’s over five hundred.
The funding’s not there, but the people are. 81% of graduates of Birmingham’s Bournville Art College who end up working in arts-related roles leave the area to do so.
Birmingham can’t compete in media either. UK media is unashamedly Londoncentric, with a few regional think-tanks holding their chins, (a few very good ones, a few you never hear about) and some token gestures from the big corporations. ‘The regions’ get an hour’s daily local news split over the day, three soap operas, a few crime dramas and the odd short film at 3am. This wouold be the equivalent to Washington being the setting for Madmen, Dexter, the Sopranos, the Wire, the Daily Show, SNL, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Letterman, GLEE and the entire Hollywood Film industry, while other USA cities get CSI offshoots.
Bipco: the foundation of a permanent popular-culture centre that celebrates Birmingham’s past, present and future through its contributions to the arts and media in the last 200 years.
A start-up, Bipco (definitely a working title) would be a cultural establishment that occupies a gaping chasm in a market of 3.68 million. It will generate self-sustaining-income through venue events, merchandise and of course, the café. It will increase investment in the local economy by a) helping to attract and keep local talent through provision of another major venue and activity base, b) improving perceptions of the city as a local and national tourist attraction.
If you’re still with me please click on a few more of the links in bullets at the top.
Bipco would be a non-profit, long-term addition to the city’s landscape, supporting communities through events, workshops, outreach projects and city-wide activities.
Birmingham has traditional and modern art galleries and plenty of very decent music venues, so this will be a centre that houses a large permanent exhibition space covering a cross-section of the arts, in five main categories:
- Music and radio,
- Art and Design
- Moving image
The premises would encompass at least two spaces for performances, (with required specialist facilities) and at least one for temporary exhibitions, plus revenue generation of the shop, café and ticket-sales for selected events. “Exit through the gift shop” and all that.
Putting it in practice.
The Brooklyn Museum reflects the diversity of its neighbourhoods both in permanent and temporary collections. Collections from Africa and the Americas are a permanent resource, while the contemporary American and Feminist art sections feature local artists. Its impressive building was purpose-built, and supports a grand permanent exhibition.
The Brooklyn Museum represents the spirit of its region through a digestable, manageable selection that shows diversity and vibrance, rather than high-end specialization, and covers a broad range of topics manageably.
The Queens Art Museum’s mission statement reads; “dedicated to presenting the highest quality visual arts and educational programming […] for the residents of Queens, a uniquely diverse ethnic, cultural and international community.
The Museum does this through rotating exhibitions, community projects and engagement activities such as weekend projects with local teenagers and school children from different ethnic groups.
These projects in Queens aim to relate “to the contemporary urban life of its constituents”.
A challenge: the mindset.
The Brummy sensibility is both a strength and a weakness. Brummies are a no-nonsense, get-on-with-it, pull-yourself-together lot, and their humour is very self deprecating. We know our accent creates derision nationwide. We know Ozzy Osborne and Noddy Holder would not make respected statesmen. We can laugh at ourselves thankyouverymuch. And this is why the city produces plenty of comedians; Tony Hancock. Frank Skinner, Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood, Jasper Carrot and many others doing just that.
Unless a football derby is involved, Brummies are not likely to militantly instill pride in their kin, unlike Mancs or Glaswegians who have many more establishments and institutions to show for themselves.
An example of what we’re contending with here is the hugely popular website: Birmingham: it’s not shit www.birminghamitsnotshit.com which describes itself as “mildly sarcastic since 2002”. It’s a popular forum with a name that’s accepted with a shrug and a grin, and 9,472 fans on Facebook (at time of writing).
Successful artists tend to leave the city to establish themselves, and rarely come back. If Brummies are more likely to mock themselves than proclaim their talents (elsewhere), this could imply Bipco may not be taken seriously on home turf. We can meet that head on by not doing that through broad subject matter – easily done with a splash of colour, plenty of interactive sections, and a big fat focus on comedy, Bangra, Ska, varied events and an engaging community programme.
Bipco’s content can address ‘Brummy Cultural export’ by recognising that nothing exists in a vacuum. Bipco would need to showcase elements of popular culture in general, and with the varying ethnicities of the city, there is a wealth of this. One example would be Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian cultures, which would form part of all five categories of the museum
3 regional newspapers compare to 270 NY publications for ethnic press alone. The Midlands has the lowest UK proportion of people identifying themselves as white, with above-average Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Caribbean populations. Media specific to these groups is often not widely publicized outside of them in proportion to their sizes.
Bipco can draw on this, in the home city of much of the BBC’s Asian Network. You won’t find an Asian-centric talkshow on mainstream television, despite Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis being 1 in 20 of the UK population and 1 in 5 in Birmingham.
Nearly but not quite.
Walsall Contemporary Art gallery is a respected attraction that hosts impressive names in contemporary art, but doesn’t chiefly reflect local artists.80% of visitors (excluding school groups) are not from the surrounding area. It does however, draw income from out-of-towners effectively, and suggests there’s a danger of restricting our market if we solely promote locals, rather than looking at the wider spectrum.
The Drum: http://www.the-drum.org.uk/about-us/ is the brilliant centre for West Indian and Caribbean culture in the UK. Arguably this too doesn’t focus solely on the Midlands, but is a buzzing venue for nationwide contemporary projects. The MAC, or Midlands Arts Centre is also a respected contemporary arts venue across the board, that again, doesn’t reflect the local region’s past or present through a permanent resource.
I shouldn’t be talking about the building until we’ve discussed where the cash will come from, but the building itself will be a major part of the identity of the institution; marketability, sense of place and selling power.
The area of Digbeth is a central region regenerated 15 years ago by the development of the Custard Factory, an arts centre in the site of the former Birds Custard manufacturing premises. A large, multi-purpose space, it provided venues for nightlife, exhibitions and design & media studios. As a venue for community activities not only has it remained successful and consistently evolving, but while continuining to be home to a number of marketing agencies, it has succeeded in regenerating the area and a sense of pride.
As a result, the Old Crown, (est 1368) a nearby pub, was renovated, along with the 19th century Digbeth Institute, now a popular music venue. Modern apartment blocks were built, and Digbeth transformed from a slightly shabby area of dereliction, to the place I bring out-of-towners to to show my city off.
The area has taken a slight dip in recent years, now that suburbs like Moseley and King Heath have upped their game, but Digbeth is still brimming with historic architecture that maintains its character and says much for the city’s past. It’s ideal. both in history and proximity to the two busiest train stations and bus routes, within walking distance of the landmark Selfridges building.
Collections and Subjects in Bipco.
The fun bit. In the five main categories, each would require a permanent space, with permanent exhibition boards. Collating information and images from archives, pleas in Social Media forums, and through contacts throughout the area, it would be a labour of love to develop a collection of artifacts that would form the basis of the museum.
- 70s Glam Rock Platform platforms
- A set of 70s SKA Doc Martens
- Roy Wood’s beard
- The formaldehided headless corpse of a bat bitten by Ozzy Osborne
- A Pre-Raphaelite allegoryby Edward Burne Jones
- Dave Mason’s drumsticks
- A 1930s Rover
- Some victorian custard
- Tony Hancock’s Trilby
- Historic Cadbury wrappers
- Iconic Cadbury ads
- A Jaguar S Type
- A sculpture made of Dunlop Tyres
A Social Media (and general media) campaign could encourage requests for items, while a private bidding war went on behind closed doors, with a budget of at least 2.5 million pounds to establish a long-term collection and assets in earnest.
A simultaneous project would encourage collaboration with the three local universities, Aston, Birmingham and Birmingham City and specialist Media and Arts colleges to gather info on sections. Here an employee would establish institutional ties in collating the history of each section with experts, as well as encouraging opportunities to enlist help of students at each of the three major local universities.
Employees for this immediate stage would be: an Artifacts and Collections manager, a chief specialist in each section to liaise with educational institutions and get the facts straight, a marketing manager and copywriter who would draft the first exhibitions, press and publicity, a curatorial team, plus a team of assistants and interns to help with the sheer volume of the task.
This is where I throw a load of numbers out there and see what happens. A bit like a wet paper towel on the ceiling of the ladies’ loos.
Boom: a total of 7.7 million british pounds for initial investment. The refurbishment and renovation of a 12,000 sq metre building (the minimum space for a project this size – roughly half that of the Brooklyn museum) would cost between 3 and 4 million pounds, while 0.7 million would be required for staffing, a minimum of 0.7 million for publicity, and 2.4 million for acquisition of a permanent collection.
The building, while not being purpose- built, would require extensive renovation to house the varying specialist activities effectively and securely, from a well lit spacious gallery space to an insulated and well-powered live-music venue
Potential avenues that this would have been: the UK Arts Council, the Lottery Fund, Government grants and Advantage West Midlands. Local Corporate sponsorship would be encouraged through the naming of specific wings (in particular the café/bar area or live venue spaces) alongside a range of corporate commissioned semi-permanent or permanent pieces that reflect companies that make up the landscape of Birmingham: Cadbury’s, Land Rover, JCB, Marmite, Wing Yip..
And there’s a fly-or-fail factor with Digbeth. This part of town is owned by the Gray family. The patriarch, Bennie, is described as having ‘dynastic’ ambitions for the quarter. Commenting on a proposed $10 million expansion to the Custard Factory, the project was described as “only a fraction of Mr Gray’s ambitions for Digbeth – where he and his family own “acres and acres” of property, which one day he hopes will provide accommodation for more than 5,000 people working in the creative industries.”
“The Custard Factory is enormous,” Bennie says, “We’ve got many acres of Digbeth, and we’ve only scratched the surface of the potential for developing a place for creative enterprise.”
The family have successfully attracted big investors, so much so that at present Digbeth seems to be the only viable location for Bipco, so there’s no question they will need to be on side or a major part of the process. They’ve garnered sponsorship from Advantage West Midlands, one of the key bodies to approach for this project. If this is to be built, it needs to be either in league with the Grays, or some place else.
I going to start by pitching Bipco to government groups and corporate investors, but first and foremost, to get Bennie Gray on side, and failing that, to collate a list of Birmingham’s most affluent and/or influential residents and corporations, and set up a ‘Friends Of Bipco’ trust that would encourage initial investment, and hope the Grays would be happy as landlords.
Hopefully the end result would be something that could stem the exodus of talent to London by helping to regenerate not just the immediate area, but a sense of pride in a region with plenty to be proud about.
If you’ve read this all the way through, please, tell me your thoughts or ideas, (and definitely better names) whether I’m being realistic, idealistic, opportunistic or sadistic, and help me get this on its way.
 British urban pattern: population data” (PDF). ESPON project 1.4.3 Study on Urban Functions. European Union – European Spatial Planning Observation Network. March 2007. pp. 119–120. http://www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/Projects/ESPON2006Projects/StudiesScientificSupportProjects/UrbanFunctions/fr-1.4.3_April2007-final.pdf.