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.