Library of Birmingham unveils Shakespeare-inspired collection

New community-curated exhibition opens in the Shakespeare Memorial Room.

Birmingham Centre for Art Therapies have worked with communities across Birmingham, over the last twelve months, to create a new exhibition titled “the strawberry grows underneath the nettle”, inspired by a quote from Henry V.

Created by members of the BCAT community in response to items from the Shakespeare collection, the exhibition opens in the Shakespeare Memorial Room at the Library of Birmingham on 30th November and runs until mid-January 2022.

Part of the Everything to Everybody Project, this exhibition includes work created through a series of community workshops, delivered by BCAT in six libraries and other community spaces, inspiring people to connect with the Shakespeare Memorial Library and the themes of ‘growing Shakespeare’.

Theming both the workshops and exhibition on plants found in items in the Shakespeare collection suddenly became more relevant during the pandemic, when many people rediscovered the importance of gardens and green spaces as places to meet friends and family, and for wellbeing. Participants explored plants found in key texts from the collection, such as Gerard’s Herball, a compendium of plants first published in Shakespeare’s lifetime. The exhibition includes handmade books, clay inspired by plants in the architecture of the Shakespeare Memorial Room itself, prints, creative writing and more.

Sarah Dyble, lead artist for Birmingham Centre for Art Therapies for this project said: “Shakespeare wrote for the people and places around him, taking inspiration from everybody he knew as well as the natural world. Similarly, participants shared their own experiences of plants and wild landscapes, then discovered parallels in the greenery in Shakespeare’s works. I look forward to the new artworks that have been created through the project going on display to the public.”

This exhibition is the first of five community-curated exhibitions to be installed in the Shakespeare Memorial Room over the next 18 months as part of the Everything to Everybody Project.

Ewan Fernie, ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project Director added: “The Shakespeare Memorial Library is vast and we’re delighted that Birmingham Centre for Art Therapies have mined it for green shoots and the promise of renewal. I love the lead image, from Henry V, of a jewel-like strawberry emerging from beneath a hurtful clump of nettles – it offers a nice image of hope in a long and trying pandemic. We hope that lots of people will come and enjoy this the first of our series of exhibitions co-curated by the people of Birmingham of their own amazing Shakespeare collection in their own wonderful Shakespeare Memorial Room at the top of the Library of Birmingham!”

The Everything to Everybody Project is an ambitious celebration of one of the UK’s most important cultural assets: the Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library – not just the first great Shakespeare library in the world but also the only great Shakespeare collection which belongs to all the people of a city.

A collaboration between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council, with funding contributed by National Lottery Heritage Fund and History West Midlands, Everything to Everybody will give this uniquely democratic Shakespeare heritage back to people and communities across Birmingham.

To achieve this, Everything to Everybody is working in conjunction with anchor institutions and grassroots organisations across Birmingham including Birmingham Centre for Art Therapies.

Find out more about this project and others at Everything to Everybody.