Arts Birmingham: why the second city is first for art and design

Home to one of the biggest providers of arts courses in the country, Birmingham is a thriving cultural hub. The city is packed with museums, galleries, theatres and festivals that produce vibrant and diverse exhibitions, events, performances and activities for all to enjoy.

Birmingham’s bid to become the home of Channel 4 has shone a spotlight on the city’s creative talent and been a welcome reminder that creativity lies at the heart of the city.

Here’s a look at why Birmingham, the second city, is the first for arts and design.

second city

Artist communities

Birmingham has a thriving community of galleries and artist-led spaces at the heart of the city. Galleries including Grand Union, Centrala Space and Eastside Projects have ongoing programmes of exhibitions featuring everything from work by internationally renowned artists to student shows.

The galleries form the centre of a vibrant arts hub in Digbeth, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the city centre, and are home to some of the region’s most promising artists.

Each month the galleries come together to host a night of events for Digbeth First Friday. Galleries and artist-led spaces open late and art fills the streets as venues host events, performances, happenings and viewings.

Theatres of all shapes and sizes

Home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham has some of the best theatre in the world. Producing unique shows and hosting international touring performances, Birmingham’s theatres present everything from Shakespeare to musicals and comedy.

Smaller theatres throughout the city such as the Blue Orange Theatre and the Crescent Theatre offer intimate performances by local groups and up-and-coming stars. They provide the perfect space for young talent to get a taste of professional theatre with opportunities onstage of behind the scenes.


Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Regional museums

Birmingham is home to internationally recognised museums including the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

BMAG houses permanent collections of baroque and pre-Raphaelite art as well as the Staffordshire Hoard and objects from ancient Egypt. Meanwhile, it has a changing programme of contemporary and modern art exhibitions in the Gas Hall and Waterhall galleries. This month sees BMAG host New Art West Midlands, an annual exhibition showcasing the best work from recent graduates across the region.

Music venues

It’s not just visual art that takes pride of place in the city, Birmingham also has a range of music venues that host everything from baroque operas to jazz evenings and rock gigs. The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire has recently been added to the city’s collection of venues that includes the O2 Institute and O2 Academy, both in Digbeth.

Arty coffee shops and bars

Dotted among the galleries and theatres are numerous independent coffee shops and bars where arty-folk and the city’s bankers can be seen sipping barista coffee and unique cocktails.

Top tips include 3 Threes Coffee Lounge which serves smooth coffee alongside contemporary art exhibitions and the Jekyll and Hyde for playful cocktails.

Birmingham City university Fashion Catwalk at Birmingham New Street Station

Birmingham City University Fashion Catwalk at Birmingham New Street Station

 Being at the centre

If Birmingham doesn’t have enough to offer it’s also ideally located for travel to cities across the country and beyond.

Based at the heart of the Midlands, Birmingham has great transport links. New Street Station offers connections to all of the country’s major cities with a trip to Manchester or London taking less than an hour and a half and costing as little as £10 each way.

Meanwhile, Birmingham Airport is just a 10 minute train journey from the city centre and offers flights to destinations around the world.

With HS2 soon to be arriving into the city centre, Birmingham will be better connected than ever.

Art classes and groups

Getting involved in art and design in Birmingham is easy. As well as a warm welcome from all of the major venues there are regular art classes and groups ran across the city.

Programmes at the Midland Arts Centre, Rogue Play Theatre and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire offer everything from classical music tuition to life drawing and circus skills.

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Flatpack Film Festival exhibition at Parkside Gallery

 Arts Festivals

Birmingham has one of the most diverse range of arts festivals in the country. While SHOUT Festival and Fierce Festival fill the city with contemporary performance art, festivals such as Design Week Birmingham and Flatpack Film Festival attract experts in design and media.

This year’s highlights include Tilt Festival which will bring the circus to the city to celebrate 250 years of modern circus and the Birmingham International Dance Festival. Both festivals will form part of the city’s ‘Year of Movement’ which is being coordinated in partnership with Birmingham City Council and Culture Central.

National Portfolio Organisations

This year seven new arts organisations in Birmingham were granted National Portfolio Organisation status, taking the total up to 78 in the West Midlands.

Over the next four years Arts Council England will generously fund each NPO to develop the cultural profile of the region. The funding reflects the dedication of arts professionals, recognises the value of arts organisations and will create new opportunities for artists and creatives at all stages of their career.

Redevelopment and investment

Investment appears to be flooding in as redevelopments pop up across the city.

Admittedly, there is still a way to go here but already the city is being transformed with slick new buildings growing besides iconic landmarks such as the Victorian Baroque Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Arty shopping venues

Birmingham’s shopping destinations are also keen to get in on the arty action.

Selfridges Birmingham and the Bullring often host live performances and events and shoppers can regularly see live art taking place in Victoria Square at the heart of the city.

With over 160 shops in the Bullring alone, Birmingham is the perfect place for some retail therapy and you’ll never be far from some of the city’s art.

Library of Birmingham

The new Library of Birmingham opened in 2013 and has become an iconic venue in the city. With 3 galleries and lively performance spaces, the library regularly collaborates with arts organisations across the region to showcase the city’s creative talent.

Cheaper than London

Current estimates suggest that it is nearly 60% more expensive to live in London that Birmingham while the average wage is only 42% higher.

So, living in Birmingham you’ll have more cash in your pocket to spend on all those hand crafted coffees!


Conservatoire Folk Ensemble at Birmingham New Street Station

Birmingham City University arts events

As the largest provider of creative courses in the UK outside of London, Birmingham City University is playing its part to promote arts and culture across the city.

The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire opens this month with five new venues including the Eastside Jazz Club and a 500 seat concert hall. Meanwhile the university manages galleries across the city including Vittoria Street Gallery in the Jewellery Quarter and Parkside Platform in the city centre.

Kicking off the university’s annual programme of city events was the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble who astonished commuters with a performance at Birmingham New Street Station. In partnership with organisations across the region, the university will be bringing arts events to the city throughout the year, promoting the region and all of its creative talent.

As Europe’s youngest city, Birmingham is a thriving hub of arts, culture and creative talent. With major organisations working alongside independent creative teams, the city is putting creativity and its heart and building opportunities across the region.

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