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14.07.15

Birmingham’s Creative Ecology

Debating the 3Cs with the Creative Industries Federation, from BOP’s Jonathan Todd
This week the Creative Industries Federation launched new research on How public investment in the arts contributes to growth in the creative industries – now known in the sector as “the ecology” argument. So it’s the right time to look at one particular “ecology” in detail.

In June, the Creative Industries Federation brought a stellar cast together in Birmingham. It included Jonnie Turpie MBE (Maverick TV, Creative England, and High Sheriff of the West Midlands), Anita Bhalla OBE (Chair of Creative City Partnership), Piers Read (Managing Director, The Custard Factory) and Karl Hilton (Programme Executive, Games and Digital, Creative England), and occurred at Fazeley Studios, which sits in the heart of what is reported to be the UK’s largest creative and digital businesses cluster outside London, with 400 businesses employing 2,000 people.

Birmingham is a city confronting challenges, including health inequalities. While this may seem of limited relevance to the creative industries, Bethan Bishop (Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust) spoke about how she is building new relationships between the creative industries and the NHS to help improve the city’s health.

Birmingham is, however, getting plenty of things right. We learned, for example, about Birmingham Open Media (BOM), which has recently opened and “offers flexible co-working, production and shared studio spaces for artists, technologists and scientists and supports skills sharing through its active community”. And Julian Lloyd Webber’s appointment as the new Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire was cited as an example of the kind of world-class leadership that the city needs.

After the Sunday Telegraph speculated on the Channel 4 HQ relocating to Birmingham, we might have expected the focus to be on what BBC Charter renewal will mean for the city. The BBC did, indeed feature, with Joe Godwin (BBC Birmingham) contributing to the discussion, amid a wide ranging debate, which sought to tap into as many roles of the creative industries as possible.

Birmingham City University (BCU) links these developments. The Conservatoire is part of BCU, while BOM’s building design was led by Alessandro Columbano, Senior Lecturer in Architecture at BCU. Fittingly, therefore, the event closed with a BCU representative, Joanna Birch, speaking from the floor. She argued that the city needs to focus on 3Cs: Confidence to get on with stuff; Collaboration within the city; Communication beyond the city of what is happening within it.

So this is a real creative ecology, developing in action. We all know about the unbalanced distribution of Arts Council funding in England. Imagine what Birmingham could do with more.