Are you like me; you see something new in your city – you want to check it out? Well- emblazoned all over Birmingham in recent weeks are flags and posters announcing – Festivals Birmingham – A City of Surprises.
Well the idea wasn’t a big surprise to me as way back in 2012 Albert Bore in the autumn summit on the role of Arts and Culture had spoken of the importance of using the city’s festivals. At that event their was a presentation from Rotterdam – which over a number of years has used a semi independent festival unit to improve the quality of festivals in the city but also importantly to use them as a way of increasing visitor numbers to the city.
So I decide to check out what was happening; I searched on google with the term ‘festivalsbirmingham’ – my it was hard to find the actual site. I had to put the full website address in the browser before I could find it. Then it went through – not to a dedicated site – but to part of the Birmingham Culture website – with a further tab to get through to the Festivals sub-site.
This site seems a little stuck in the past – it has logos on the bottom of it which proclaims Birmingham to be a Global City with a Local Heart – I thought that phrase had long been ditched; plus a logo for the Working Neighbourhood fund that finished quite a few years ago.
Then onto to the Festivals Birmingham page itself. I must admit not the most eye grabbing of pages and there are links to Signature Festival – which is apparently the International Dance Festival; Growth Festivals and New/Micro Festivals.
This doesn’t appear good. It certainly doesn’t attract the eye with design or content. Now as I presume this is part of an attempt to raise the profile of the city in terms of its events- you might expect this development to be picked up on the Marketing Birmingham site – however I found no reference to this initiative on its site. Similarly Visit Birmingham was only referenced on the main page of Birmingham Culture website and not on the Festivals pages. So it is not fully joined up. Again not good!
Take a look at what Rotterdam does via its website – to see what is possible here
So the appearance is not good. The other important aspect that needs to change – is the grouping and type of festivals supported – as very few of our festivals on their own have enough weight to attract outside visitors. They are great local festivals; perhaps appealing to a local or regional clique but we have nothing on a par say with the Manchester International Festival or the Liverpool Biennial at present, (our only Festival with some reach is the International Dance Festival) and we surely must have that ambition. There was a proposal for an autumn festival a while ago – something to replace Arts Fest – I am not up to speed on where that proposal has got to – but suffice to say something has to happen.
On grouping of festivals there is the potential to be thinking more widely. I was talking about this concept to a colleague and we thought the concept of grouping smaller craft based/design festivals across Birmingham and The Black Country would really add something of value to the visitor economy ie Jewellery, Glass and Leather come to mind. So apart from marketing appearance and coherence there is much more to be done on content.
So whilst I applaud the ambition of trying to market what we put on as a city more – it does seem that this initiative has gone live far too early and risks damaging a really important new initiative. One must hope that it really gets better in time. At the moment we are far from being a City of Surprises.