Necessary Viewing.

12 years a slave was the last thing I thought about before I went to sleep last night, and the first thing this morning, and ran intermittently through my dreams too.

The amount of water that leaves your face is not, perhaps, an official measure of the power of a movie, and it’s  obvious this is not a Feel-Good flick, but it is beautifully acted, scripted and edited, wholly worthwhile and will stay with me as long as I have a functioning memory.

In a spate of popular recent films that address slavery and the not-too-distant and very real, brutal racial divide in modern US History; Lincoln, the Butler, Django; this is one that tells a hundred stories well. It weaves about 20 different perspectives of both colours, told by brilliant acting; villains that can’t sleep at night, heroes wracked by guilt, somehow everything I love about the power of the characters in ‘The Wire’ (a measuring stick of brilliant drama, dialogue and 360˚ characters and I’m only 2 seasons in) and manages to squeeze it into 2 and a half hours.

A good villain is a human one, fully believable and frighteningly undestandable, and Michael Fassbender’s slave owner is as emotionally charged and flawed as Ralph Fiennes’  Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, as coolly sinister as Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa (a film Fassbender was also in) but effectively frames what incredible newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is put through so beautifully it hurts, very much.

That Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character can carry the whole thing, like a coach loaded with works of art, is what makes him the perfect lead, letting every part shine on its own merits without dimming his own star. That’s a skill on the stage I’ve often seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, but to see it coming through on film is always a harder treat to find. His face can say a million things without saying a word.

As with Apocalypto, Saving Private Ryan, Irreversible, and so many of the best films of the last 50 years, 12 Years a Slave deals with the lowest, most brutal points of human nature, our tribal need to justify our place in the pile by brutal force, and the mind games that play with both victim and brute, and how far that can (and does) go.

Lupita Nyong'o, one of the rising stars of 12 Years a Slave

Lupita Nyong’o, one of the rising stars of 12 Years a Slave

Now let me ramble. I don’t know where to start on a discussion of slavery. That the same nation I’m proud of being a part of for its part in the Enlightenment, Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, much of Modern Music, the founding of much of what we call Modern Democracy and a society that is in more parts ‘accountable’ or ‘measurable’, but along the way, responsible for so many darker parts of subjugating, trading and debasing other human beings on several continents. Whether money was the motivator, and trade and power the instigators, Michael Fassbender’s role is the face of it, the hand that held the whip, not some Disney Villain with Jeremy Iron’s or Alan Rickman’s thespian sarcasm, but a man who persuaded himself to do this in the name of what he believed in.

Cut to the real world, and the man who brought about an end to slavery, a Brit too, William Wilberforce – and whether it was the Portugese, or the African kings they traded with who sold them their vanquished, whoever started it, 450 years of it, the millions it affected and brutalised are a deserving subject that’s very tough to stare at in the face, but should be.

Cut to a hidden part of real life, and in ‘modern times’, where the new whips are a bottle of acid thrown in the face, and we still have brutality against our own species, now more often on basis of sex, or paid forms of modern slavery, if we know or suspect it’s going on, what do we do about it? Regardless of who started it, and who will end it, it’s great to see a film that addresses the nature of slavery. Films are not truth, but the most brilliant tool for opening minds.

Go see 12 Years a Slave, but don’t expect it to be easy.


Sri Lankings. Do all roads lead to Beijing?

Got back from a trip to Sri Lanka with a pal who works for a mining company in West Africa. We saw this captivating little nation through very different eyes, but found many of the same things, and learned a few too. Travelling helps that. I’m not one for listing travelling as a hobby- don’t travel for travel’s sake -it will not guarantee you will be more interesting. Travel to learn things that will better you and who you go with, to see stuff, that doesn’t have to go on Facebook. But I think I learned things on this trip, and now I’m blogging about them.

Sri Lanka Graphic Montage

Dubai takes perspective and stuffs it in the padding of a champagne-sipping Ukrainian model’s bra. But for every Terstosterphoney, overpaid sleazebollock gyrating with a 21 year old while the wife is at home, there’s  a talented, discerning individual here because of the economy. I’ve found a heap of them I care about very much. The greasy hormonoids across chandeliered neon rooms were things I expected, but I’m still getting sucked into the vortex.

My maid only comes once a week, I don’t have an SUV, I have to share my five residence swimming pools with other plebs, it’s at least 6 minutes walk to the nearest decent bit of beach, I don’t go on enough boats, and I’ve not had a decent rare fillet steak in at least a month. Poor me.

This time last year, the deflated mattress in Brooklyn next to the crusty cat’s bum wasn’t so bad, nor the collapsable ceiling, aggressive Haitians in the stairwell and immortal bed bugs (justified by staying with my soul mate, rocking up a Brooklyn-shaped talent-fest as I write this, Theresa Caffrey).

In New York, London, Birmingham or Edinburgh, millions commute at least an hour every day, to share eight hours in a collection of allocated spaces with people we don’t always like or understand. Most of us spend two thirds of each day justifying ourselves through emails, invoices, estimates, documents that will possibly help in compiling other documents, gchat, texting, Facebook when nobody’s looking…  Then we go back, to the train, bus or expressway for an hour home-bound, to the bar, or to the sofa, for American impact-drama and dinner with a label that tells us it’s healthy, authentic or 30% off.

In Dubai, lower that productivity by 30%, reduce commute-time by 70%, increase job security by 40% and sunshine by 80%, and lower inspiration and gigs by 60%. Add a smattering of food imported from opposite parts of the planet, accepted in-grained racism in all directions, and the most beautiful hotels you’ve ever seen, and you’ve got your gig.

Dubai doesn’t give a household-pet-monkey about infrastructure but they’ve got the basics to justify the Sensational-Destination bits. Africa, based on the experiences of my friend and my sister’s time there setting up this brilliant community-based travel company, doesn’t do infrastucture either – you know, roads, power, supplies, that kind of shit, but – Dubai has money, Africa has resources. So does Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, child in car

And Sri Lanka has work ethic – not work like sitting at a desk making spread sheets, work like making things, growing things, refining things, carving, welding, weaving, making things. And not just because people need to pay the bills, or feed mouths. Cycling 8 miles at 3am with a cart of bananas is to put the children through higher education, to get your son his engineering degree, to get him to work abroad where his skills will be needed by people who don’t study engineering anymore, like Europe, or Australia, or the Middle East, or the USA, where we study Marketing, English Literature, Media Studies, Philosophy, Religion or Fine Art. Sri Lankans are bright, proud, and things are moving fast.

And they have China, as Africa has too. The new expressways and tinted vans with Mandarin on make it quietly visible. Every Sri Lankan will say that “China is our big friend”. And when China makes a highway that reduces an 7 hour trip to 2 hours, what’s wrong with that? So why do I have a dodgy feeling about it?

Sri Lanka was flagged up and traded up by the Dutch 450 years ago, extorted and exported to buggery by the British, and now it’s China’s turn to buy up the Pineapples, Rubber, Tea, Cashews and more. They’re not visibly implanting a religion or dictator, or enforcing communism, and Catholics, Buddhists and Muslims live together with a distinct sense of Sri Lankan culture and pride, whether in their appearance, homes, or  auto-embellishments, you can’t tell what kind of god someone believes in unless you ask him. But China’s quiet helping hand will have a vested interest that will arise if trouble does. Which hopefully may not be soon.

Despite some very sludgy Tamil-shaped goings-on in recent years, Sri Lanka is the authentic, multi-cultural island of bright, earnest, hard-working friendliness that Singapore markets itself as, (instead of the weird plastic anti-soul themepark Singapore is).

I don’t know. I know ‘Neo Colonialism’ is a buzzword that describes something very real, and steadily raping African and Asian resources and nations. I know the gold in Dubai’s Gold Souk comes from a sinister chain of very unsavoury people, that starts with a young mother with a pick axe and baby on her back in an un-reinforced ditch in an unofficial mine in the Ivory Coast, who along with thousands of others has to run for her life when it rains.

I know that Sri Lankans sell to where the markets are, that they govern themselves, that post-Tsunami they’re hard-working, resilient people in a very beautiful country, and I hope they stay that way. It’s a lovely country in the middle of some big changes, but it has the resources, the people, and the strength to hold its own.


The Setting:
Beirut. Capital of Lebanon. A fuzzy, laughing, pock-marked electric oasis, ensconced in the Arabian wedge of the Meditteranean. Garlic, booze, concrete, olives, amorous eyes, hormones on steroids and cigarettes in every hand, cornered between angry nations pointing rockets and fingers at each other.

The Cast:
Seven Brits – alcoholism, nihilism, Borat & Partridge quotes, mutual piss-taking, self deprecation, limited understanding of exchange rates, cheerful and willing abandon at regular intervals.

Three Aussies – construction, management & mining consultants with a vent for hedonism, females and the pursuit of happiness.

Two Filipinas, immaculately turned out, all-seeing, all observing, not about to take any shit. Off anybody.

One Palestinian/Lebanese – the only member to actually understand often less-than-favourable comments from locals. Tolerant, thoughtful counterbalance to everyone else. Loveable.

One South African – Ladykiller, ladles of charm and no problem being the butt of jokes because he always gets the girl (although he doesn’t know what Savoury means or who Bill Murray is).

One Scottish-Indian, bright-eyed, loved up, up for everything, owner of the most inimitable accent I will ever hear.

The ensemble headed to Beirut last weekend for a 30th bash. Memory loss. Fearlessness. Intermittent Aspergers. Regular premature Alzheimers. Puke. Bidets. Abused curtains. Lots of laughing.

The Scene.
Flydubai took us to the city where the Arabs go to party, where Roman ruins dance between the ghosts of old wars and potentially imminent ones on streets peppered with smiles, stares, shwarmas, cigarettes, hugs, handshakes and a smoky warmth wherever you end up.

Biblical stone broods beside bullet-addled bricks, and 70s highrises cuddle up to Maronite churches, while Byzantine columns sleep between cacaphonic pylons. Decent Graffiti frames Hesbollah posters. 60s Mercs cut up brand new Porches. And men, men everywhere – soldiers on corners, old men on chairs, flatcaps and leather jackets, on steps, in doorways, outside shops, fifteen for every lady, with unabashed stares at unchaperoned women, hands forever scratching itchy bollocks (apparently it’s because it’s common to shave your pubes in Lebanon, but the ladies didn’t seem to have the same problem).

One street is old Berlin in summer, the next is Havana in Winter. The manic roads and crumbling history are Athens, with streetfaces of downtown Memphis or Barcelona. Plenty feels like downtown Marseille or Lille in the mid 80s, or like the 80s in general, only everyone’s off their faces, wants to be your friend, to show you the very best of their country and drives like a complete mental. Rear view mirrors are for ornamental purposes, as are lanes, pavements, traffic lights and zebra crossings.

The Plot.
Ha. Not really. Started with good intentions, but there were no illusions that the plot was going to be devised or found on this trip.

At 5am, 1.5 hours before the flight, I met my roomie for the first time, a stunner a long way from the home counties with a clever media job, in a pile of drunken bags and stuffs on the roadside. We’d both separately decided that as it wasn’t a school night, it was fine to travel to Lebanon on NO sleep and extended inebriation. On the plane, one of the Aussies thoughtfully warned a Lebanese man that we might be doing “terrible things to your country”. He was wrong. As much as Brits and Aussies are a royal pain in the arse on a global scale, anything we thought was unacceptable or just plain silly was fine with Lebanon. The locals’ primary concern was that we love the place, and we did.

Jihad Salon pour homme - We'll blow you away

We hired a coach and saw some sites. A million years of stalactites, (or an incredible, drippy Jim Henson/Terry Gilliam set at Jeitta’s Grotto), the serenely chilled RomanChristian Byblos, with fishermen chilling in the sunset on a 4000 year old port, giant angry marshmallows or rocky fingers swearing out of the bay at the Corniche, electric bars and happy drunks staggering across Jemayze. But mostly we ate, drank, ran, danced, wobbled, sang, questioned scam artists, lather-rinse-repeat as needed.

We met Hamdan, the checker player with the most incredible moustache any of us will ever see, the scamster arsewipes at BO18 who took a chunk of our money for a table guarded by overweight overzealous bouncers in bad suits & attitudes, then charged the entire bill again to the Aussie Birthday Boy’s card once we’d left. The larger than life ponytailed soulsinger Alex Nashef in Bar Louis. The kind taxi driver who didn’t get offended when we observed the thickness of Rafik Hariri’s eyebrows. Reem, the barmaid who kept pouring us ‘surprise’ shots and cocktails. Local ladies with lashings of eyeliner, piles of cleavage and plenty of soul. The Finnish girls who scammed us into paying their Bar tab. Wolf whistling soldiers. Bemused hotel staff. Amused pizza boys who could see a chunky profit a mile off. Everyone you looked at was looking back.

 The Script. (Names *****ed) 

“I knew it was time to go when I asked that man to drag me around the floor by my feet”

“Reception said they’ve run out of beer – they didn’t sound very apologetic about it”

“I think I’ve got chocolate cake in my ear”

“Promise you won’t make me leave this room or do anything today or I’ll have a panic attack”

“What’s the conversion for dollars into Lebo thingies again?”

5pm on BBM “Is anyone up yet?”

“A good midget porn title? ‘It’s alright, they’re not children'”

“He is genuine ********* face” (Borat quote in response to very Borat-sounding coach driver)

“If nothing else my kids’ll have good manners.” – “J****’s kids’ll probably have ***** ********”

“Who’s that dude staggering across the street down there? Oh, it’s D***. D***! We’re here!”

End Credits:

“When I was 27, it was a very good year…” I got back to the UK last night after 13 months in New York.

This is the last year condensed, hopefully to reduce the possibility of boring people witless. Not all, just good bits, silly bits and bits that won’t offend my mother.

A selection of this years shots

What was fun:

Obama 1 and actual Obama in a police cortege past Bloomingdales. Debating speeding fines with intellectually-challenged cops in Tennessee. Debating found subway-signs with emotionally-challenged cops in the West Village. Two-stepping with cowboys in an Austin Honkey Tonk.  “You’re British? Hey, do you know Derek?” The back of Tom Jones’ head as he sang in the Good Morning America studio. The back of Reeba Macintyre’s head. The front of Pharrel Williams’ head winking at my friend’s head. Playing piano in the Peabody in Memphis. The Halloween Parade up 6th. Nerdy pointing at the Ghostbusters Fire Station. Rum in handbags to ‘beat the system’. Independence Day airborne explosives. The Rivington roof. The Empire roof. Friends’ roofs, strangers’ roofs. Glamming it up at Gansevoort and the Ritz Carlton Penthouse. Rooftop films.

Punk moshers restrained by security in a circus tent. Comedy shows good and bad. Couples storming out of comedy shows.  The Daily Show studio & resulting crush on Jon Stewart. Subway crazies doing press-ups to didgeridoos. The Knicks and Amir Khan at MSG. The Mets. 20,000 yoga fans in Central Park before thunderous rain stole everyone’s Chi (videos 1 and 2 – the second one is amusing).  Lady comics discussing beef curtains. Drawing on walls of the Rivington Hotel. Scribbling on tables of the Ear Inn. Drawing on peoples’ faces. Sweaty, brilliant rockabilly clubs in Ashville. Rapping on a Lower East rooftop.

What was seen:

The daily view from floor 44; Midtown to Staten and past, (slightly dull video here). Jersey 8th floor over Target and Modells. From the stage in Nashville. The Adirondacks. The Q train over the bridge. (another exceptionally-dull video here) The Shenandoah driveway. Swamps with Cajuns asking “How y’all are!” (less dull video here) Lake Placid. The Combahee and Cuckold’s Creek. West Virginia dirt roads. Philly Phountains. Washington esplanades. Madam’s Organ in Adam’s Morgan. East to the three bridges from Floor 24 in Tribeca.

What was strange:

Oyster stuffing. The US synchronized swim team in a tank outside my office (a better video here). A soprano-opera-singing Harlem shuffler. Wiping off a friend’s puke at the Brooklyn bowl. Rollerblading with lovers of neon-lycra in the park. Seeing the man with the parrot on his head and rainbow beard 12 times. Marching school bands alongside IRA sympathizers at the Saint Paddy’s parade. A glum Alan Rickman not enjoying Jamaican food at Miss Lily’s, in the same room as a glum Michael Stipe. Hooters, Memphis. The life-size blue whale in the Natural History Museum and hungover siestas under its belly. The Dakota and peoples’ fascination with the death spot of an extraordinary man who lives on.

Zombies in Times Square (the best video here). Flash-mob Santas. Harrah’s frantic batchelor-fest pool party in Atlantic City (less amazing video). The not-very-dangerous Brooklyn ‘Danger Party’. The Russell-Brand/Jamie-Lee-Curtis table dancer with a megaphone in Hogs & Heffers. Meatpacking. Red Rush Zack and ‘promoters’ herding young female out-of-towners to Amnesia, the Green Room or the Hamptons for free booze and the charms of men who should know better.

Who was seen: Celebs:

Discussing volcanic ash with a stranded Chris Moyles. A giggling Kiefer Sutherland in the West Village. An in-depth discussion about stealing chairs from hotels with the Kings of Leon and Ashley Greene in a tiny bar. Talking baseball, Led Zepellin & Birmingham with Bill Murray in Charleston Airport after he’d signed my passport. A fiercely-beautiful Diane Kruger in crimson, and shiny-orange Clare Danes on Fashion’s Night Out. A befuddled Julian Lennon and illusive Jack White at the self-conscious Kenmare. Russell Brand filming Arthur everywhere. Lou Reed at the Mermade Parade and in Central Park. Chasing Jonah Hill across the lobby once he spotted he’d been spotted. A friendly, chatty David Byrne in the queue for Joan as Police Woman. A smoky, boozy Don Hill at smoky-boozy Don Hills.

Who became friends:

The yellow afro with huge heart and huge spirit. The baptist-brick-shithouse journalist with a giant brain. A jewish Ming-Dynasty descendant and panda enthusiast. A quadruplet House DJ. The happiest, brightest couple in the world without making you feel sick. The Armenian tech-fiend with a 100 faces and voices. The Tazmanian-Devil Russian who can sniff out a party miles away. The chatty PA from Queens who smiles through tough times. The soft-spoken surfer figuring himself out. His viking friend, the poet behind the lens. The loveable curmudeon with questionable hygiene. The MC with a fancy toothbrush collection and penchant for shoe-theft. A lebanese diplomat with a crown of curls and dynamite smile. The platinum man-eater pleasure-seeker. The owl-like creative who sees all. The jack-the-lad with secrets. The Glaswegian who loves Marc Jacobs and Vodka. My Greek Pocahontas in neon and lipstick. The dapper neuroscientists who understand mice. The jewelry designer with Mesmer-eyes and squidgy toe. Serbian and Croatian tablestompers in the Poconose and Astoria. The uncertain mastermind with a bow and a bike. A Memphis Cowboy with handwritten business cards. The future of the Tanzanian economy and African Girl-Power. The Polish whirlwind. An Australian popstar. The Norwegian-Imelda Marcos with a pharmacy in her work-drawer. The lobbyist. The bright-eyed jewish grandma with kindness for all. The blue-eyed painter that gets under your skin after five minutes. The never-a-victim BMXer with big hugs. The cherubic Aussie with a vicious tongue. The thoughtful singer full of regret. The Kung-Fu-professor with a fridge full of film and mad-tasty cooking. Cricket-Commentator Action Man.

What was free:

Free mischief & swimming in Asheville Jewish Community center at 4 am. Free handouts in Times Sq and Rockefeller: flip flops, mustard, Shredded Wheat, Mickey Mouse hats. Ketchup and sugar sachets stuffed into empty Mountbatten pockets. Free hugs from strangers. Plants from Corporate flowerbed clearouts. Free Naughty by Nature, Slick Rick, Ohio Players, Salt n Pepa, George Clinton and Busta at Wingate field. Free fear facing the fierce crowds at a Barney’s sample sale. Free Mustang ride to Montauk. Free songs on the subway. Free NERD in Times sq. Free Janelle Monae in Bryant Park. Free praise at a Baptist Church in Bedsty. Boots, perfume and shampoo from a kind colleague. Free night out in Atlantic City courtesy of Perez Hilton and a press pass to see Kelis, La Roux and Natasha Beddingfield camp it up. Free eavesdropping everywhere.

What was heard:

Gospel in Austin. Cajun and Hillbilly in New Orleans. My favourite street-music (and favourite video here). Dub-Reggae at the Blue Nile. Hucklebuck in Charlottesville. Dizzy Gillespie’s band at the Blue Note (great secret video here). Powerballads on the Interstate. En Vogue at BB King’s.

The Black Keys, Hot Chip & a Lennon Tribute in Central Park.  The Philarmonic in the park. The Whose-Line-is-it-anyway folks at Webster Hall. Elton at MSG. Very decent Jazz at Lincoln Center. A flawless Aloe Blacc at Poisson Rouge. Lee Fields, Noah & the Whale, the Budos Band & Tom Green at Bowery. Joan As Policewoman at Mercury Lounge. Snoop, Tribe, KRS1 & a terrible Lauryn Hill on Governor’s Island. The Heartbreaking Apollo Talent showcase. Filming of ‘America’s Got Talent’ (ironic title).

What was eaten:

Grits in Harlem. Devilled eggs at the Spotted Pig. Family Thanksgiving in Houston. Pho noodles in Korea town. Many chicken wings. Many energy drinks. Tourist-schnitzels at Katz’s. Ravioli in Piccolinos with a former chairman of the NYSE. Cakes with a CNBC presenter. South African stew in Fort Greene. Sonic Cherry-Lime-ade.  Bloody Marys & Oysters at City Lobster. Soho meatballs at 3am. Tuna-steak burgers in Bloomingdales. The best fillet EVER at Ted’s Montana Grill. Rabbit at brasserie Ruhlmann. Not-that-bad free hotdogs in Rudy’s. Venezuelan, Argentinian, Armenian, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Iranian. Corn Dogs on Coney. A Diner in Montauk. And in Amityville. And in Franklin West Virginia. Sugary buns in New Orleans. Southern Breakfast in Beaufort. Mamoun’s Falafels. Chipotle. Red Lobster. Popeye’s. Applejack’s.  

What was a little hormonal:

An unnecessary six-month crush. A slow sweet-eyed sailor who understood ‘Two thirds” of what I said. Cartoon-sundays with pasta and Marlboros from a Tribeca balcony. An Indianan techno DJ who left my coat & bag at the table and followed me to the bathroom queue to land on my face (not seen again). A Bostonian Ego doubling as a 41 year old gallery owner and throwback civil war soldier. Two dates that turned out to be gay. The nice-but-dull designer from Minnesota. Don’t tell the man buying you dinner that he’s ‘predatory’. Don’t turn up with an unexplained lovebite (curling tongs!). Don’t agree to date a man because he has a cool dog. Don’t accept offers of marriage that would upset your mother. Don’t play with peoples’ hearts.

I can be sad it’s over, or grateful I made the most of it. Whether I end up in Dubai or London, the last 13 months means New York will have my heart, for the people in it, and the feeling of always travelling without moving.

I didnt do this one but wish i knew who did

Go ahead: Make me.

Working motivation versus ‘Emerging Adulthood’

Boredom is expensive.

A good friend and his colleague each spend an average 2 hours a day on private emails, Facebook, Youtube, chat or Twitter, over the 8 hour working day. Between them, that’s 20 hours non-productivity a week. Over a year, if they’re on $35K salaries,  this costs their company at least $17,500 – $336 a week, (having fun with my calculator today).

Boredom or apathy are regular fixtures of the working week for many. But what creates this daily vegetative yeahwhateverness? It’s not just that my friend is chairman of the bored. Social Media is an element of our routine we’re at least enthused by. Click-click socialising still grows exponentially even after 10 years of global habit, marketing us to our peers in an editable way that’s cheaper than saving up for a nicer car.

A career isn’t for life anymore. And neither are relationships for many. It’d be nice to have a mortgage, but now there’s resilience in having a hobby for six months. We want adventures. We want our friends to see them. We want to look Artistic-Instagramtastic and be very wittily-cleverer on Twitter. We want to work for a year then travel round Thailand/India/Australia/New Zealand/Canada… We’re going to buy a Benelli, put a hammock in the living room, get into Zuccini-growing, beer-brewing, puppy-rearing, navel gazing, belly-button fiddling and have a very, very good time, that will somehow, at some point, involve setting down. Or if we have semi-settled, the year away is still a possibility, and the weekend bingey-benders are a reality.

We think in clicks, quote in tweets and wikipedia on the smart phone means we don’t need to remember anything. Which may lead us to be sitting in a giant dollop of buzzing apathy that doesn’t really feel like it. Are we, or am I, so obsessed with having adventures and indeterminately clicking my way through life that long-term is just that phrase mum keeps going on about, and I can drink into oblivion each weekend?

Who cares?

Ambition is common, and in emerging countries where higher education is not so much a right as a privilege, you won’t find as many students studying Philosophy, Psychology, Fine Art (yeah that’s my Masters right there) Religion, Media Studies, Marketing or Journalism. Chances are these are not what our parents studied, and their parents probably worked instead of studying. These subjects won’t guarantee us a career in this thorny, eye-gauging global market, and few people tell 19 year olds quite how insanely useful work experience and placements actually are.

With a daily sensory fantasia on screen, on demand, on smart-phones and in headphones, millions in their 20s and 30s in North America, Europe and Australasia may be a wee bit discombobulated about what the hell we’re supposed to care about when it comes to careers. I get two or three buddies every week Facebook stat using – “What degree should I do” or “Should I move to Australia/Canada?”

A quietly growing languid phlegmatism in the workplace is the growing norm.  It could be institutional – larger corporations can be veritable hives of the stuff. It could be the weekly hangovers and come-downs and resulting systematic uploads. It could be the employment climate – that we’re all sitting still because we’re scared, and that’s making us unhappy but powerless, not helped by every film celebrating the fighters, movers, shakers, boys with tigers, music and literature telling us to chase our desires, and the end of old-world ideas. Diesel says be stupid. Perfume brands say ‘Never settle’. Compare sites say ‘See what’s out there’. Move jobs, or just click on the funny site with the cats falling over. Who cares, anyway?


Get on with it.

Good point. Motivation. Separate that word from nonsenical selfhelp books written by Gurus with questionable personal lives, and it’s the “force that energizes behavior, gives direction, and underlies the tendency to persist”[1] . It’s internal. It can’t be measured or given a one-size-fits-all. That would be as likely as bottling up pure intelligence and giving samples to the people that stand right night to the airport luggage carousel so nobody can see their bags without following suit. (Possibly the same people who find their bearings at the top of escalators or infront of subway exits – I’m ranting now aren’t I).

11 hour days go by a lot quicker with a degree of responsibility, challenge or sense of achievement. Creativity 100% of the time would be a pure loony bin, but just 10% can keep employees happy. An artist spends hours stretching and priming canvasses, cleaning brushes and palettes, then figuring out who to sell to and what level of epic bullshittery he needs to say to fit the required Bollocksian-Theorization quota, then apply it. A successful professional artist, the paradigm of creativity by profession, realistically spends 10% of his time being truly creative, and the rest, doing the above. An Advertising Creative, if he wants to respond to the brief properly and do what he’s supposed to, probably does the same. They are not singing and dancing at their desks all day while you’re plodding through spreadsheets. But 10% of the ‘fun stuff’, the insight bit, the how-do-we-make-this-better bit, the recognising-a-good-point-someone-else-made bits, justifies all the prep, the outselling and the justification. When there’s ownership, faith you can do this, and insight, time blurs between projects with no room for boredom.

But regardless of internal and workplace motives and triggers, shouldn’t we be busier now than ever? Not feeling sorry for ourselves but fighting a paltry employment climate and a bunch of forboding doomsayers predicting the end of western ways with the rise of China and India and the Euro Meltdown/Crisis/Apocalypse. Calm down  – to challenge the quote of a former UK Education minister Ed Balls, for there to be Winners there don’t always have to be Losers. Whether you’re a plumber or a writer, it’s a lot more fun improving the whole standard, on the same team, than filling in the gaps.

Back to the office.

Management. A word that invokes the same beautiful emotions as the words “Hemorrhoids/Wakefield/. To manage motivation in any workplace there must be a degree of understanding between manager and individual; what both parties can or can’t do. One employee responds to pressure, another thrives left alone. One manager needs to kick everyone’s backsides every morning. The other buys cookies on Tuesdays.

The same applies to a company’s ethos in an adaptive structure with flexible policies that permeate each level. I’ve seen this in a couple of great companies – it makes me want to stay, work harder and make better things with great people. A structure that maximises potential retains talent, which encourages more. (Personal examples: Shaun Lloynds & Jon Leigh of Mccann Birmingham and Mark Lindley of Cogent Elliott, Neil Williams in Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai).

An effective manager identifies an individual’s strengths, weaknesses and working style. The skill-set analysis is the start – find out what they can do, let them, try them out on a few more things, and continue the process: assessing, utilizing, stimulating and encouraging, for productivity, output and your bottom line.

What can you do for me?

In any industry, many managers progress to senior roles through tenacity & hard-work, and rightly so, and not always through the ability to manage or recognize the abilities of others.  Art Tutors would rather be artists, and this can have a profound impact on their pupils (you be the judge of whether that’s autobiographical or not).

Good managers do hire good managers, but encouragement of specializiation and autonomy still needs maintaining through structure or policy; development plans, opportunities for growth, one-to-ones and group activities. Not just because “he’s great”.

Sociologist Max Weber said “Only by strict specialization can [the worker] become fully conscious, …that he has achieved something that will endure. A really definitive and good accomplishment is today always a specialized act.” [2] He sounds like a barrel of laughs, but that’s hard to argue against.  I don’t think you should limit yourself purely to one thing, but you can’t do one thing properly until you commit to it. I think I can multi-task, and I really, really can’t.

Then as far as creating that ‘specialized’ “definitive and good accomplishment” women have an added hindrance everyone knows but isn’t spoken about. One of my idols, Sheryl Sandberg addressed how this affected motivation in her brilliant TED talk (WATCH IT). Women stop speaking up in the boardroom and going full throttle in their careers, when they’ve privately made the decision that in a couple of years they may get out for a bit and have a child. She argues that despite that decision, keep going, so you’re not at a disadvantage when you have to come back. Thinking you’ll pause some time down the line shouldn’t distract you from doing your best now, and you’ll be better equipped to return.

Weber’s ‘strict specialization’, and staying ‘fully conscious’  are much, much harder with a child in the mix, but let that shift happen when the baby’s here – not pre-ovum. (That’s easy for me to say pre-baby).

The sorority sisters in this picture are now mothers of successful business ladies who are mothers themselves.

With babies or without, the luxury of relying on one income is harder now than ever. Girls need to be as motivated as the boys – and while they’re streets ahead in school, after university the stats are still stacked against the ladies in salary terms.

but whether you’re management or on your way up, what are the triggers for motivation? In 1990 the Harvard Business Review provided a study of 1,685 employees from a mix of professions; nurses, manufacturing, food handling, engineers and military officers.

The top factors that led to “extreme satisfaction” were achievement and recognition. Factors that led to “extreme dissatisfaction” were company policy & administration, and supervision. Salary didn’t come into it.  The findings are 20 years old, but correspond with the ‘Hierarchy of physiological needs’ by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 60s. This was a moody-looking pyramid with self actualization and esteem up top, and safety and physiological needs (job security, salary and working conditions) at the bottom.

Maslow’s theory illustrates our tendency to cover the basics and then seek out more to fuel our sense of worth. Once we have pay, coffee, a desk, toilet facilities etc, we want security and benefits. Then we need to get on with our peers and superiors. Once these are covered we look for prestige, challenges and opportunities for creativity. But perhaps that’s not the same now.

Corporate Bollocks.

Global corporations are described as bureaucratic beasts: “an administrative, policy-making group; government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules and a hierarchy of authority”. [4]  Now that’s not the enemy outright, and there’s always a good reason for a good process, which can work in your favour.

If motivation comes from engagement, a CEO at a company I worked at released this statement; “Engaged employees are involved, passionate and more productive.” He described a ‘performance culture’ where folks were ‘informed about and engaged in business strategy.” Informed about and then engaged in? That’s not very involved. That’s a military deployment in a Bruce Willis movie. How about some buzz words a bit less Stazi; ‘ Shaped’, ‘identified’ ‘contributed to’ or ‘generated’.

This rigid sense of process is why employees in bigger corporations can cling vicariously to activities that will make them seem busy but are not always profitable, from unnecessary meetings (commonplace) to structures in place for months, sometimes years,  rendered obsolete only when an newcomer with enough authority recognizes their futility.

In their essay “A Pragmatic Approach to People Problems” Sirota and Wolfson argue “Corporations, like human organisms, are subject to stress, to change… ..:a tendency to inertia. The result can be a gradual accumulation of policies and practices that, like a bad diet, overload the organs and place burdens on the members struggling to keep it alive.” [5]

‘Emerging Adulthood’

Why are so many 20 and 3o somethings still figuring out what they want to do? ‘Emerging Adulthood’ is the de rigeur phrase bandied about in the media to describe a major shift in motivation for this age-group, one already impacting society.

On August 18th 2010 Robin Marantz Henig’s article in the New York Times asked; “What is it about 20-Somethings?” The prospects of young men and women, traditionally “built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school,  start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, start careers…” [6] no longer apply, as young people do not stay in the ‘burbs, or attach themselves to one partner, a permanent home, one career, letalone the same job for 25 years.

Professional stability is harder to come by too. If you don’t like your job, you look around. Unpaid internships are plentiful and one third of 20-somethings shift homes every year. Just under half move back to live with parents at least once. Psychology professor Jeffrey Jenson Arnett  argues that this shift is down to increased demand for education, but fewer entry-level jobs. I would also venture that the subjects we choose more often than not are aimed at expanding our minds more than back accounts.

Being able to move back home with mum and dad, or share with pals instead of buying property means salary is not as big a motivator as it was for our parents, who had mortgages in mind in their early twenties. This fits David C McClelland’s Acquired-Needs theory: If our needs are based on life experiences, we’re used to getting what we want so why work so hard? We could chase our dreams and so on roadtrips with our buddies. We don’t have to settle down and the partying continues unabashed.

Can management deal with this lack of urgency? Should it? Does a shift in motives require a shift in rewards? And is that realistic in today’s economy? Or should we accept that College-Educated majors will be serving us in KFC?

Give me something to believe in

Dan Pink’s wildly popular Youtube hit:  Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us (WATCH IT) redefines Maslow’s hierarchy of need in a new force– the Third Drive. Besides food or money we do things because of a third form of motivation:

“…because they are interesting… because we like them. Because they’re inherently gratifying.  …because we get better at them, because they’re the right things to do or because they make a contribution or they’re part of some larger purpose. We have that drive.” [7]

And that’s it. That’s what I’m getting at. In a time when often the biggest companies are best equipped to survive this economic stagnation, where does that leave 20 to 40 somethings who want to grow, make a contribution or feel part of a bigger purpose? Aren’t most of them going to be bitterly disappointed?

Minimal job security, more movement, more ambition, less direction, more training, less opportunities, and a hell of a conundrum to figure out a new hierarchy of needs. But Salary is not top. At least not until we’re a lot older than our parents were when it was..

We are not as manipulative.” Pink argues.  “Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose[8] take a different route to financial motivation. When a task gets complicated, traditional motivators don’t work.  …if managers want engagement, self direction is an incredible motivator. …understanding the abilities of your employee will show you what they’re good at, then set them to it and let them get on with it.

Pink gives an example of an Aussie company who, once a quarter, let developers work on what they want for 24 hours, and present it. That day creates products and solutions that would not happen otherwise. It’s not down to a bonus but autonomy and our urge to improve. There’s no financial rationale, but it’s something we can take credit for, and feel pride in.

Challenge, mastery and making a contribution has given rise to Purpose. It’s a progressive managerial policy (albeit at first in PR – “look everyone! Look how forward-thinking we’re being! Now buy some shares”) and in recruiting – “come here, shape things” – ‘develop’, ‘generate’, ‘strategize’, ‘initiate’, etc. This reflects the new ideals and beliefs that matter to emerging adults. Inspiring places to work. The opportunity to do great things.

My sister left her prestigious city job and is now starting a Tourism company in Western Kenya that involves and directly supports local communities. I am massively proud of her ability to go with her gut, ‘shape things”, ‘develop’, ‘generate’, ‘strategize’ and ‘initiate’. A contribution which is part of a ‘larger purpose.

Pink’s Youtube video has been viewed nearly five million times so far. Motivation and productivity now stem from freedom to create, and ownership of an idea.

The game has changed, but a few of the big players haven’t spotted it yet. Now, when the bottom line matters more than ever, a weighty bureaucratic organization must adapt to stay competitive and maintain talent.

That means less meetings, processes or bureaucracy. It doesn’t mean newsletters that keep employees “informed about and engaged in” strategy. It involves one-to-one chats, observation, understanding, recognising ability, building on strengths, developing trust and getting on with it. (And perhaps banning Facebook in the office).

Let me see what you can do. If we can use it, do it the best you can, and get on with it. And if you do, I’ll give you something fun to do, and then you’ll want to stick around.

BIPCO: Birmingham Institute of Popular Culture

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)

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[1], 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.[2]

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), [3] 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,[4] 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.[5]

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.

The Product.

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,
  • Literature,
  • Art and Design
  • Performance
  • 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.[6]

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 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 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.

Location Location.

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.

My wish-list:

  • 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.[1]

“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.

[1] The Remarkable Drop in Crime in New York City1 Patrick A Langan


[3] 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.