Helga’s most recent column for Birmingham Post is online now: ‘Helga Henry: 1999 was a special year for Birmingham culturally’
‘What was in the water in Birmingham in 1999?
There must have been a strange cultural karma or zeitgeist – Jonathan Watkins became director of the Ikon Gallery, it was the formation of both Capsule and Tindal Street Press, and it was the first Rhubarb-Rhubarb International Portfolio Review.
Fierce Earth was a toddling two-year-old in 1999.
We marked the passage into our second decade with our largest ever festival which included the now legendary Ballet on the Buses and the eerily beautiful Tunnel Vision.
And our cultural younger siblings are also celebrating.
Tindal Street are launching Roads Ahead, an anthology of stories edited by Catherine O’Flynn.
She will also be reading from What Was Lost (my top read of 2008) together with the rest of the Tindal St Three, Clare Morrall and Gaynor Arnold.
All featured in this national prize long list in the last six years.
A stonking 12 out of Tindal Street’s 48 books have had national prize listings – where is the blue plaque for Tindal Street in Balsall Heath?
The 10th International Portfolio Review capped off a red letter year for Rhubarb, following the world premier of Obama’s People (which opened last week in London).
Attracting 100,000 visitors to the Museum and Art Gallery, the show generated over £4 million to the visitor economy.
Capsule’s season of 10th birthday celebrations kicks off with a suitably eclectic line up at the Town Hall in early December.
When I asked Rhonda at Rhubarb, Alan of Tindal Street and Jenny and Lisa at Capsule to consider what it took to survive the last turbulent decade, they had similar responses.
They highlighted what Alan called a “survival instinct” and what Capsule considered to be “stubbornness and determination”.
Rhonda mentioned the battle for recognition at home and needing at all times to trust yourself.
But allied to that all mentioned a need to respond to changing circumstances, to improve continually and to keep your artistic integrity while aligning yourself to your marketplace and your audience.
Of plans for a Museum of Modern Art, Jonathan has said: “The opportunities here are so exciting. There’s so much here, and there’s so much about the city that I really, really like. Where would I go to do something as exciting? Ikon without a museum isn’t bad, but with an affiliated museum I can’t think of anything else like it.” Tindal Street and Capsule want to grow sales and grow artistically.
I’ll leave the last word with Rhonda – it is a rallying cry for us all in the next ten years: “We have a plan, the credibility to action it and the knowledge to make
it work – what we need now is for Birmingham to realise its assets in the arts and creative industry world.”’
Here’s to another 10 years!