Cultivating Cultural Symposium, Local Arts in Birmingham and a Parade

Cllr Karen McCarthy totally ignored St Patrick’s Festival in her introduction to the Cultivating Culture symposium on 18th March, focusing on Art Soak festival (Selly Oak) and Flat Pack. She promoted engagement in cultural activity as well as utilisation of artistic activity and the engagement and encouraging of individuals in arts / cultural activity – so, are the 80,000 people on the streets of Digbeth on March 16th and attendances at several related events in the week leading up to the Parade on Sunday not prime examples of this?

I’m confident Cllr McCarthy wasn’t ignoring the Irish, or the impact that the festival has on the City. I’m sure she was focusing on the programme funded through the ‘Arts and Cultural’ elements of the City Council, as opposed to a major City event that is supported through the Events Team within the Council.

It does, however, highlight a dichotomy in Birmingham City Council as to what people consider as arts and culture. What is the role of our arts champions within the City? More importantly, there is a need to identify the role of the whole arts champions programme – is it a community development and engagement programme that uses arts and cultural activities as a conduit for engagement, or is it an aesthetic development programme that aims to increase engagement in established or new arts activities?

Whatever the City Council decides, it has to acknowledge the role wider ‘City’ events, the Parade and Festival, Vaisakhi, Melas, Carnival etc play in its artistic and cultural portfolio. At the moment there seems to be an implicit indication that they do not fall into an arts and cultural remit.

Yet the Parade fits all categories. It is nothing without its participants – dance schools, music from a variety of bands, modern, traditional, pipe bands etc., sports organisations – GAA football and hurling clubs. As a Festival, leading up to the Parade, there were a number of events that focused on cultural activities – storytelling, music and dancing, and the art of the younger generation.
Community groups provide and decorate the floats, as well as fund the musicians – they host visiting bands as well as attending the Festival events.

The BBC recently asked the question “Is Birmingham still an Irish City?”. The article cited census statistics and the number of people who had identified as Irish. The Parade on the 16th March 2014 proves that Birmingham certainly is an Irish City – the multi generational presence, children as participants in social and cultural events and people celebrating their culture and heritage.

So I return to my opening statement. In an event promoted by the arts and culture team of the City Council the Parade gets no mention, neither did other ‘cultural’ activities.

The symposium focused on communities of geography, districts / constituencies, the multi cultural powerhouse that is Birmingham. Because those are the things that this department / section of the Council funds, and in an artistic elitist atmosphere, it seems that Parades are not worthy of presence or mention; even though they may tick all of the artistic, cultural, and engagement boxes you could think of designing.

So where do the Irish and their inclusive Parade fit in the cultural life of the City? Where does it fit in a silo focused City Council whose elitist arts programme ignores Parades leaving it to the ‘events’ teams?

Whose responsibility is it to identify the cultural, economic, marketing and community engagement element of the Parade and let it stand alongside local arts events?

One last thought, Birmingham festival website does not include any of the above mentioned festivals, but that’s another story.

6 Nations 2014 – where were you?

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Face of BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) on RTE at end of Ireland’s 2014 6 nations victory

I was one of the crowd in a packed Irish pub, The Spotted Dog, in Digbeth, Birmingham today, when Ireland beat France by 2 points to win the 2014 6 nations. I freely admit that I don’t know all the rules in rugby, and I’m happy to have them explained to me by my Welsh husband who played rugby while at school and at university.

What I do have are feelings about being Irish in Britain, and on St Patrick’s weekend, and the day before the Birmingham St Patrick’s Day Parade (some claim it’s the world’s 3rd largest St Patrick’s Day Parade after New York and Dublin), the victory was all the sweeter for the timing. My happiness was shared by everyone in the pub – old and young, women and men, Irish of all generations and none. I roared, clapped and cheered until I was hoarse with every Irish try, penalty and scrum. I groaned when France scored, especially when the score changed from 13-22 to 18-22 and then 20-22. My heart was in my mouth for the last 4 minutes – games we thought we won previously have been lost in the dying minutes.

But ‘we’ persevered, (you probably know that everyone wearing any kind of green, watching the game in any Irish pub around the world, is ready for the call, should the manager make it ), and victory was, is, ours, beating not only France, but also England, Wales (sorry, hubby), Scotland and Italy.

We will stride out tomorrow on our Parade in Birmingham, full of the usual joyfulness that comes of having the streets of Digbeth closed for our annual party, joined by our friends and neighbours from across Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond. The difference this year will be that the joyfulness will have an extra element of hard-won happiness, one that comes from having lived and died with each movement on the rugby field, and emerging triumphant, for another year, on this weekend of all weekends.

Happy St Patrick’s Day to one and all.

Good things come…

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Photo from NG Events Ltd

Ever since I was the CEO of The Digbeth Trust, meeting with the then-head of Digital Birmingham to discuss the ICT needs of voluntary organisations in Birmingham, I’ve been clear that many voluntary organisations, especially the smaller ones, really need financial and other support to get the ICT equipment to help them do their work better, and thus be able to help their beneficiaries in more efficient and effective ways.

So I am pleased to see that there is an event in Birmingham on April 10 2014 to launch a Connectivity vouchers scheme to help fund a new faster broadband connection for small and medium-sized businesses, charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations. It’s funded by the Government’s Urban Broadband Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, and managed by Digital Birmingham.

Digital Birmingham will cover up to £3,000 of the connection costs for eligible organisations (that’s usually enough to pay for all the work) and it’s a grant not a loan, so you don’t have to pay it back.

The voucher scheme is also available in Coventry, although there doesn’t seem to be an event, just a page where eligible organisations (SME (small or medium-sized enterprise) or are a third-sector (voluntary) organisation within the Coventry City Council area) can register their interest

So as vouchers are available on a first come, first served basis, I’ll be encouraging all the charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations that I know in Birmingham and Coventry to be registering their interest asap – and if you work with those organisations, can I ask you to do the same? Being better connected helps us all.