Archive | November 2009

Birmingham as a creative city

Birmingham styles itself as a ‘creative city’, but what is in the city that supports this?

Digbeth

photo by ell brown

Photo by ell brown

The Custard Factory, situated in Digbeth (Birmingham’s self-styled ‘creative hub’) is home to a number of creative businesses, for example Rhubarb Radio and various design agencies.

For me, a ‘creative’ area is synonymous with ‘bohemian’ style (as mentioned in Richard Florida’s ‘Creative Class’), and true to form Digbeth is also home to a vintage clothes shop, Cow vintage.  Pubs such as The Rainbow also resonate with locals and creatives.

photo by ell brown

Photo by ell brown

There are also other creative spaces within Digbeth, such as Fazeley Studios (below) and The Bond, both of which have hosted various events in the past that centre around the creative industries (JEECamp, Digital District, BCU Media final year exhibition) as well as BCU’s own Screen Media Lab.

Photo by wearemudlark

Moseley

Moseley is not a district of Birmingham that is associated with creativity, but it is emerging as a new place for creative people to live and work.  On the Moseley Forum website, there is the following quote on the home page:

“Moseley is a well-established village community within the City of Birmingham, U.K. The village is a lively centre of creativity and is home to an amazing mix of people.”

The Moseley Exchange is a prime example of the area’s restyling as a creative hub.  The Exchange is a working space for people to work and meet.

Photo by Pete Ashton

Moseley also has a vintage store for the ‘boho’ contingent – ‘Top Banana Vintage’.

People

In Birmingham, communities are enormously fragmented.  It is impossible to gauge specifically who the creative people are and where they reside.

There is, however, a notable presence of influential people on Twitter, who are heavily involved with Birmingham’s creative scene.  There are people such as Stef Lewandowski and Pete Ashton, who are the most audible ‘voices’ of Birmingham’s creative industries and are involved in Creative republic and Created in Birmingham. There are also people like Chris Unitt and our own Paul Bradshaw who are important figures in Birmingham’s social media sector.

All of these people know each other and are an integral part of Birmingham’s creative network.  There are many other people within this network, and I have made them into a Twitter List so you can see at a glance the interaction between them – what they talk about, where they meet etc.

Local Government

According to Chaplain and Lee (Built Environment) Birmingham performs very well in terms of tolerance and also support for small businesses and active policy.  There are numerous support structures for entrepreneurs in Birmingham, including Central Library’s Business Insight, and also various grants for feasibility testing and office space.  However, Birmingham ranks low in terms of cultural activities and other ‘soft’ conditions for economic development.  What could be done in terms of policy to address this area? If anything?

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Digital Economy Bill

So, it seems the answer to copyright infringement (well, according to Lord Mandelson) is to disconnect people who engage in illegal file sharing.  This has been outlined in the Digital Economy Bill which was released yesterday.  The heavy-handedness of the proposed legislation contradicts everything in the IPO’s copyright strategy, which emphasised fair and clear legislation that will seek to benefit everyone, including consumers.  

Thankfully, there have been huge protests on Twitter, with the Open Rights Group and Paul Bradshaw encouraging people to contact their MPs and have their say.  ISPs are also in opposition.  

What is Lord Mandelson thinking?  It seems as if this legislation has been thrown together, it is as if he is trying to make a statement to the rest of the world.  What about educating people about copyright law? What about simplifying existing legislation? How has he managed to come to such heavy-handed conclusions?

Hopefully, this bill will never be passed.  We have to make sure it won’t be by signing this petition or contacting your MP.

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Wanted: a figurehead for Birmingham’s creative industries

People in the creative industries have a certain cynicism towards the policy makers, and Birmingham is no different.  There are a multitude of reasons of which I won’t go into detail for fear of turning this blog post into a rant.

The purpose of this post is to flag up some of my thoughts and observations after a talk by Jill Robinson at my lecture in Creative Industries and Cultural Policy.  Jill was once involved in the European and International Division of Birmingham City Council, and so she knows the processes of policy making.  She acted as a ‘facilitator’ for policy making (not just in the creative industries) and admitted that the proposals for policy initially submitted do not always have the intended outcome.  

People in Jill’s position interact with those working in the industries; she collects their views and listens to their opinions.  This information could take the form of a proposal, but due to vested interests of the people at the top, the initial proposals go through many changes (if they are accepted in the first place) as they are formulated into policy.

You only have to look at various events within Birmingham to see that the creative industries are the ‘hot topic’ for debate (see my blog on Media Enterprise for more about this) and yet, Jill said that when budgets are cut the creative (and cultural) sector is the first to go on the back burner.  How can the creative industries pull the UK out of the recession when practitioners and small creative businesses are struggling for funding? 

I am currently working voluntarily for a magazine that is relying solely on funding from Walsall Council and Advantage West Midlands.  Remarkably, this magazine (called theVine) has been running for five years.  It is a community magazine that caters for ethnic minorites and it has a relatively large and faithful following. Now demand is exceeding supply and theVine needs to expand; the only way for this to happen in the current climate is to secure external investment. The magazine has a demand but needs the resources to grow.  Unfortunately, those resources aren’t available at the moment.

The case of theVine is a perfect example of how small business can have great potential, but that extra help needed to sustain is missing.  From a personal point of view I hope my colleagues there secure the external investment needed just to give other, similar businesses hope of sustainability.

Back to the talk by Jill, and according to her the creative sector in Birmingham is missing one vital ingredient: a lobby/interest group, or at least a respected and well-known representative.  The Government have a perceived importance of each sector (banking, science, etc) and this is because other sectors have lobby and interest groups that have access to policy makers.  Small creative businesses are just not as attractive economically as a large bank.  They’re ‘unfashionable’ according to the policy makers, whose vested interests are in big business, not SME’s.  This, at the moment, cannot be helped.

Birmingham Council are not going to appoint a policy maker from the creative industries just to please us, and why should they? Then again, a lobby or interest group may turn their heads.

Jill gave me a lot of food for thought not just for this module but for myself as a creative worker (and creative entrepreneur).  I would be interested to hear the thoughts of others from Birmingham’s creative sector with regards to this post.

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Debate, debate…and more debate

Since I began my MA in Media and Creative Enterprise, and in particular the module ‘Creative Industries and Cultural Policy’, my eyes have been opened to just how high the creative/digital industries are on the agenda in Birmingham and the UK in general.

There have been numerous meetings and debates over the past month or so.  Most of them I have managed to attend, and all of them discuss the same issues, same problems and the same people are always in attendance.

There was Digital District, Hello Digital, C&Binet and just yesterday The Big Debate.  All, in some way or form, were concerned with the creative industries and how they can drive the UK out of recession.

Digital District was more concerned with pipes and high-speed broadband rather than policy, which was strange given that it was meant to be a forum for policy makers to discuss how this is going to be implemented and the implications for the UK economy.

I won’t go into too much detail about these events; the links above provide you with all of the information about what happened, who was there and what was said.  As a student of creative industries and cultural policy, I have come away from these events with more questions than answers.  Some of these questions include:

  • How can the success of a Digital District be measured if Birmingham’s creative industries are so difficult to pin down?
  • Are artificial ‘creative clusters’ within cities and regions actually counter-productive?
  • What strategies are there that will make the creative industries the ‘saviour’ of the UK economy?
  • How do policy makers see the ‘digital’ sector in relation to the ‘creative’ sector? Separate? Together?
  • Charles Leadbeater (picture above) suggested ‘including everyone’ in helping Birmingham move forward, what about people/groups who do not attend/don’t know about these events?  What about those who can’t/won’t join the online revolution? What are policy makers going to do about that?
  • What implications would a ‘digital district’ have on policy surrounding intellectual property and especially copyright?

These are just a sample of the types of questions that I want to explore throughout the module.  They are also the types of questions people should be thinking about when they attend these events.

Enough has been discussed and debated about the creative and digital industries, and now is surely the time to act?

Picture of Charles Leadbeater by illustir.