Of the City: The Future

Of the City is a salon-style, open event, where members direct the conversation as best suits them. Some thoughts and propositions from ‘Of the City: The Future’.

  • What impact does the City of Culture designation have, in terms of creative opportunity and civic pride? Hull continues to invest in culture, with the city’s leadership recognising the multitude of values it brings (economic, social, artistic, health, etc). Coventry have already started thinking about the end of their tenure as UK City of Culture: how will they sustain activity and continue to support, invest, nurture creativity post-2021? What can they learn from Hull in advance?

  • We should explore best practice when it comes to leveraging city leadership and policy decisions - what are best practice examples of this?

  • Birmingham always feels to be on the cusp of something. When will it ever latch onto opportunity and realise its potential?

Gentrification, Digbeth & Beyond:

  • There is a precariousness experienced by artists and cultural organisations, based on the effects of regeneration. Who is vulnerable within this? Does the arts and independent sector need to collaborate to become a political force?

  • Grand Union (gallery and artist studios) are in a unique position, with an option to buy Junction Works on Fazeley Street. Raises questions about protection, artist’s ownership and cultural capital.

  • Homebaked Anfield, a community land trust and co-operative bakery in Liverpool, co-owned by local people, after saving the bakery from demolition and turning it into local asset/thriving enterprise.

  • Are planners willing to discuss these tangible issues surrounding gentrification and displacement?

  • There are risks associated with developing Digbeth. It’s authenticity could be lost or compromised, because developers are effectively pricing out the ‘authenticity’?

  • Example of keeping authenticity: Kitty’s Laundrette, a social enterprise in the Everton/ Anfield area of Liverpool. The business provides laundry services, while reimagining the under-utilised spaces for social and artistic activity, including film nights and craft clubs.

  • Can landowners make better use of empty properties, while waiting for HS2 (meanwhile-use/temporary change of planning)? Who are the right people to develop these things?

  • Birmingham always feels to be on the cusp of something. When will it ever latch onto opportunity and realise its potential?

  • It is agreed that Birmingham City Council is financially strained. HS2 is considered ‘a key to heritage restoration’. However, it is also argued that Digbeth needs a central identity. What does it want to become and how will it get there? What conversations are needed to protect its character?

  • What changes occur when substantial new residential space enters areas like Digbeth? How does this change the dynamic of an area? While it supports local retailers and is likely to lead to the improvement of local transport, it may lead to the displacement of the existing community.

  • Is cultural zoning a solution or a problem? Does it enhance disparity? What are the other ways to support creativity and protect independents/small organisations?

  • People align with and advocate for places because of the memories attached with them. Aesthetics don’t create meaningful, sustainable engagements with places - people just move on to the next exciting place. How do we create the opportunities for people to have positive experiences. Human interactions build strong sense of ‘place’.

Artists Live & Work:

  • Creative industry hierarchy - power imbalances and monopolies. Arts Council England (ACE) does not have a nuanced and thorough monopoly of who exists within the sector. Independents and organisations of varied scales are operating without their support, so ACE doesn’t know they exist / the industry doesn’t recognise value of those who exist independently of their institutions.

  • ‘Live-work’ spaces in creative areas - what is the provision for accommodation and who would live in those spaces (at the expense of who)? What would ‘affordable accommodation’ look like here? What does ‘affordable’ even mean in this economy

  • How do we talk about affordability when the majority of the creative industries are self-employed/freelance? Consistent problems with late payments/expected to work for free/working over capacity/beyond fee/low-paid apprenticeships and entry level jobs that don’t support livelihoods.

  • Many artists/creatives are unable to access centralised institutions in Birmingham, forced to move elsewhere, whereas larger institutions have the capacity to ‘share’ and be generous with smaller ones.

  • What mechanisms need to exist to create ongoing, sustainable work opportunity and jobs for Birmingham’s creative workforce?


The present is the time to leverage opportunity. With 5G, Commonwealth Games, City of Culture and HS2 all on the horizon, the region is at the heart of national attention in a way it hasn’t been for a while. We don’t have to settle for one-offs and temporary solutions. Now is the best time to leverage opportunity and to create necessary infrastructure in the West Midlands.