March 15th, 2011
Birmingham — The Beat Begins

Since Birmingham lost the City of Culture bid, it’s fair to say there’s been a bit of naval gazing going on. Why did it happen? What’s Derry got that we haven’t? Where has all this belly button fluff come from??

But maybe we’ve been looking at this all wrong. Maybe, we should be looking at why we missed out. And maybe the answer is because, in actual fact, we’re doing okay thanks very much. We’re not so down on our luck! Birmingham’s got a lot to offer after all, and particularly from its creative industries.

It seems though, that the message isn’t quite getting out there. And we’re not the first city to be in this dilemma …

Dublin for many years was really missing a hardcore creative design scene. Pockets of creativity subtly hammered away, keeping Irish design afloat with an understated presence. Thanks to the initiative of a few bright sparks however, things slowly started to change, and the results for Dublin were phenomenal.

First, Ireland stopped looking for answers externally and started looking inwards, for homegrown talent. With this change in perspective came a new attitude, and a common goal –If They Can Do It We Can Too! Eventually, a design community that was once scattered became insular. It only took a few steps to change the whole dynamic — a few small steps which snowballed and resulted in Dublin as it is today, a hub of design creativity.

The biggest change, yet arguably the smallest step, came with the introduction of CANDY magazine. Launched in 2005, its intention was to showcase Irish creativity to a worldwide audience. Using its own contributions while simultaneously drawing on the creative expertise and skills of new members, growth was rapid. Before long a vast creative community emerged, a cohesive powerhouse of talent and with it, an unprecedented level of global awareness. And that wasn’t all…

More creative events and forums followed: Sweettalk initiated seminars where heroes of the design industry shared their inspirations, their experiences and their expertise. Moving forward to collaborate with major brands such as Sony, Habitat and other retail goliaths, Sweettalksupported the design industry and encouraged creatives to get involved. Synth Eastwood,50×50, Shock’d, and talks at Electric Picnic followed, offering a huge variety of opportunities for creatives to meet, relax, drink, socialize and learn, in a friendly, supportive environment. The result of all this? Dublin, creatively speaking, is on the map.

Ireland has always been known for its unique vibe, with live bands in traditional pubs creating the atmosphere it’s become famous for. A short walk along the River Liffey and through Temple Bar with its street performers and musicians will leave you with the sense that it truly is a creative place to be. But now, alongside that traditional creative essence, it’s achieved status as a hotbed of design creativity. Take Offset for examplea weekend attracting inspirational speakers every year, bringing together the creative community through knowledge, open debate and inspiring stories of success. With an annual calendar of events that would make industry giants like London and Manchester blush, Dublin it seems has stamped its presence on the global creative industry. So what can Birmingham learn from that success, if anything?

Historically, Birmingham was at the helm of a global industrial revolution, a world leader of industry and technology. Perhaps that’s why Birmingham is sometimes overlooked for other cities — because the word isn’t quite out that we’ve evolved, that we’ve moved with the times. Birmingham is at the forefront of digital media, creative design, branding, social media — you name it, we can do it. And what’s more, we do it well.

The fact is, Birmingham is the city of choice for hundreds of creative agencies. In a highly competitive industry, Birmingham design agencies have honed into a slick movement of cutting edge creatives, offering commercially viable solutions that satisfy demand and exceed expectations, locally, nationally and globally.

Word is spreading. But how do we speed up the drumbeat on that grapevine? And is that what we can learn from places like Dublin? Interestingly, social media sites are seeing a new movement from Irish creatives — a red and white badge added to individual profiles simply stating in icons ‘love Irish arts’. It’s a small action, but the symbolic gesture is much more significant.

It would be good to see a stronger community here in the Midlands. Perhaps a merging of two well-known creative centres — the Jewellery Quarter and the Custard Factory — could really raise the flag for Birmingham’s creative industry. The opportunities are limitless.

We didn’t win the City of Culture bid because we’re already too advanced, we’ve got too much going for us! Now we just need to put those small steps in place that will make us become the big creative presence we know we can be.


This is an article we wrote for Created in Birmingham.
Visit the Created in Birmingham website for events happening in and around the city: http://www.createdinbirmingham.com

 

February 21st, 2011