Helga Henry: Time to make our own title

On Thursday 5th August Helga’s most recent column for the Birmingham Post went to print, you can find it here.

When I first heard the result, I was disappointed that Birmingham was not named as UK City of Culture for 2013. (Well done Derry, by the way.)

Now I wonder if Derry’s win was a blessing in disguise.

I began to think about the whole concept of a city being “badged” by a committee of outsiders.

It struck me as passive.

Wouldn’t the process of giving a city a label be more powerful if that city instead appropriated its own? I’m not aware of New York, Berlin or Barcelona waiting for a title from Phil Redmond and his mates (or their overseas equivalents) so why does Birmingham need to hang about?

The benefit of creating our own title is that we can adopt and use it right now. We won’t have to wait until 2013. So if Birmingham could be the city of “anything”, what do we want it to be?

Initially I thought that “UK City of Cool” would be, well, cool.

But on reflection, it doesn’t convey the warmth and humour that I associate with Birmingham.

Aspiring to be “cool” seems contrived and self-conscious.

Instead can I suggest that Birmingham becomes the first UK “City of Independence”, or more accurately “City of Independents”.

This title reflects Birmingham’s heritage of a rich independence of thought, invention and discovery – from Priestley and Boulton onwards.

It acknowledges the current health and vitality of our independent arts and media scene: the small organisations that continue to enrich the city. Birmingham was the setting for the recent filming of the new movie Turbulence – an approach to film-making based on social capital, not big studio backing.

Birmingham Jazz presents a free Friday night wind-down in Rush Hour Blues at Symphony Hall.

And have you seen Rhubarb-Rhubarb’s stunning Walking As One by Adam Magyar on the new library hoarding?

It also gives the city something to aspire to, namely a greater range of independent shops, bars, restaurants and galleries.

The ones we have are great, but we can now focus on creating exciting, re-purposed, multi-use urban spaces – a gallery/tea-room/bookshop, the performance space that’s a fashion studio, the bar with a gallery and artist in residence.

All this can start today.

Let’s declare August 5 our own Independents Day.

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