The Birmingham arts scene is coming to you wherever you are. Jessica Harris has details
While the doors of theatres and art galleries, museums and music venues may be closed, a rush of organisations are developing online offers, giving us the chance to continue activities we have enjoyed in the past, or to try out the new.
Alone, or in virtual communities, we can now watch a performance or view an exhibition. We can sing with an online choir, collaborate on a musical performance, participate in a dance workshop, or share stories and poems with others.
A run-through of some of what is happening in the city shows that, despite tough times, it is still possible to be creative, to be inspired, to have fun.
Birmingham Rep has revamped its engagement with young people through theatre. Through the Rep Reloaded programme, eight local schools will be sent digital content and videos, enabling children to interact creatively from their own homes. They will be able to tell their stories using drama, learning adventures, storytelling, drawing, and share their responses via school blogs, websites and REP channels.
Members of the Young Rep will have opportunities to participate in digital workshops hosted by professionals, including The Rep’s Artistic Director Sean Foley, and covering topics such as acting for screen, performing puppetry, devising and improvisation. What’s more, Young Rep members will be able to join thousands of their peers across the country, recording their experiences during this pandemic in a Coronavirus Time Capsule, curated by London-based Company Three.
Birmingham Rep will also be streaming a selection of its previous productions, and offering remote play-reading sessions for families and community participants.
MAC has online activities for people of all ages, with some great offers for young people, children and families. The MAC Makes Music programme provides opportunities for children and young people with limited access to music provision, with performances from young people being shared every Monday. The Babies’ Academy of Music allows young children and toddlers to listen to concerts using a variety of instruments and sounds, and to sing along.
For those interested in visual arts and crafts, MAC is also offering free craft-making packs. The first of these is inspired by its planned virtual exhibition, The Influence Project, which celebrates the impact that leading black musicians have had on contemporary sound and culture.
For film fanatics, MAC has provided a link to which enables access to MUBI films, with the first three months being free.
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists has opened its first virtual exhibition, Remote Access, featuring the work of 50 artists, and is inviting people to call a friend to discuss favourite pieces. Works of art can also be bought online, providing a valuable source of income for artists. Through the RBSA’s Artists at Home scheme, artists are sharing their practice through video tutorials and blogs.
As for Town Hall Symphony Hall, it’s offering local community choirs the chance to share repertoire and perform as a collective in a large-scale concert on 9th May. Titled Community Spirit, the project is being run in partnership with THSH Associate Artists, Black Voices.
For those missing out on movement and dance, DanceXchange’s tutors have been running online classes via Instagram, from ballet to salsa, and from vogue to contemporary dance. Some are aimed at beginners while others are suitable for all ages and levels.
DanceXchange has also curated an online programme of performances, discourse and events. The first of these, brought together by choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra, presents a selection of work that provides an insight into life as an artist, and includes an online premier of his 2018 work TORO, available until 10th May.
This time of year, Flatpack would normally be bringing its film festival to unexpected spaces around Birmingham. Instead, from 1st to 17th May, it will deliver an online programme of short films, which includes many from its BAFTA-qualifying short film competition.
Flatpack promises an “eclectic stew of animation, documentary and inventive weirdness” and a chance to enjoy home screenings of films which, in other circumstances, would have been launched through cinemas.
At a time when it’s hard to see when live performance and events will be able to recommence, the arts and cultural sector is responding quickly to the new environment. Based on the pace of change so far, more online offerings will no doubt follow in weeks to come.
Culture Central provides sector support and a collective voice for arts and culture in the West Midlands. In discussion with the West Midlands Combined Authority, the region’s local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, and arts organisations, it has set up a West Midlands Culture Response Unit to ensure recovery of the region’s arts and cultural industries after the Coronavirus Pandemic has passed.
As the sector nationally is reckoned to contribute £10.8 billion to the UK economy each year, and to provide over 360,000 jobs, this task is vital.
But equally critical is the role which the sector plays in engaging, stimulating and connecting us – and in helping us find value and meaning.
Maybe it’s time to see artists as part of an essential workforce. Below are some links to some of the offerings that I’ve mentioned.