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Birmingham is an often-overlooked gem. Less than 90 minutes from London by train, the ‘capital of the Midlands’ is accessible and has a lot of surprises.
One unsung cultural highlight is Birmingham’s thriving art scene. It's home to a vibrant community of local artists and a bunch of galleries that feature some of the most diverse exhibitions in the UK. Here are 5 artistic destinations you must see on your trip to the city!
Offering free entry to all, Ikon is a charity that aims to encourage public engagement with art, describing itself as the “antithesis of exclusive art establishments and galleries.”
There are daily Spotlight Tours showcasing key works in the current exhibition and a large education programme for children, with regular family days and workshops available throughout its events calendar.
With a constantly changing programme of exhibitions from the best of global contemporary art icons, Ikon is a must-see attraction for the discerning art-lover.
One legacy of Birmingham’s industrial heritage is the sheer abundance of disused warehouse and factory space. Eastside Projects has put them to brilliant use. They're an “artist-run multiverse” with a unique approach to contemporary art, even offering a downloadable user's manual to the gallery. With the aim of demonstrating how art can be useful to society as a whole, Eastside Projects hosts thought-provoking exhibitions and events throughout the year.
Another Birmingham gallery offering free entry to all, notable projects include Seoul-based collective Mixrice’s exhibition as part of the Korea/UK 2017-18 celebration of British and Korean art and culture. Previous exhibitors have included Flore Nové-Josserand and Bill Drummond.
Round the corner from Eastside Projects is Centrala Space, a fixture of the thriving art scene based in the Digbeth area of the city. Centrala is the only publically-funded gallery for Central and Eastern European art in the United Kingdom.
Centrala is a multi-functional space that combines a gallery, event space, café and meeting rooms into one unique enivronment. Centrala also hosts film and music events, and has close ties to Birmingham’s avant-garde music scene. With their scrumptious vegan and vegetarian café, it’s well worth a stop as you make your way around the city.
Part of the Minerva Works development, Grand Union is an Arts Council England-supported art space that aims to present innovative curatorial practice, talks, and events. It also offers affordable art space to contemporary artists.
Offering free entry, Grand Union’s focus on promoting curation as a skill leads to fascinating results. For example, the VOZ RARA season in 2017-18, led by curators in residence Valerio Del Baglivo and Anna Santomouro, explored the theme of ‘Voice and Communication’. It featured films from Greek/British artist Mikhail Karikis and Serbian video artist Katarina Zdeljar, and talks and workshops from Sabel Galvadon and Hamish Macpherson.
Home to the largest public Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery features many exhibitions examining Birmingham’s history through art and photography. It hosts regular exhibitions, events for families, and an annual exhibition of the finalists and winners from Inspire, the gallery’s art competition for 5-19 year olds.
Coupled with the museum and delightful Edwardian tea rooms, this is the perfect way to finish off a day of art appreciation in Birmingham!