100 Days of Creativity
The Open is… open at Snow Hill Square

Birmingham is a creative city. It’s also a resilient city, in the face of council cuts, as this summer is proving. Running until 26 August, 100 Days of Creativity invites locals and visitors alike to enjoy a curated calendar of cultural events, activities and experiences taking place here. With music, theatre, dance and art not only flourishing inside major venues but on streets outside, here are some highlights I am most excited about.

100 Days of Creativity
Artemisia Gentileschi, ‘Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria’, c.1615-17 © The National Gallery, London

I have to start at Ikon Gallery, where a 17th century masterpiece has arrived, on loan from London’s National Gallery. In ‘Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria’ (c.1615-17) Artemisia Gentileschi has presented herself as a symbolic saint who was martyred – the broken spiked wheel which she clings to tells this story.

In Birmingham, you can see her like never before. Framed by darkness on a wall of her own, she is surrounded by a ritualistic installation by contemporary artist Jesse Jones, whose dramatic curtains and operatic soundtrack turn the experience of seeing Artemisia into an absolute spectacle.

The spectacular can also be witnessed on several of the city’s stages. Musical theatre meets the circus at Symphony Hall when Cirque lands on July 27th. This family-friendly and award-winning sensation features amazing performances, incredible contortionists, thrilling feats and a kaleidoscope of colour, set to a high-octane soundtrack. 

Colour is also at the heart of Birmingham Mela, taking place on July 13th and 14th in Smethwick’s Victoria Park. The largest South Asian music festival in Europe, audiences will experience music, dance, delectable cuisine, and the arts and crafts of South Asia.

On the other side of town, I’ll be buying tickets for Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s multi award-winning cultural phenomenon is now touring the UK for the very first time and, from June to end of August, we are lucky enough to have it at Birmingham Hippodrome. Set to a score of hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway, this unforgettable modern musical tells the story of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. I saw it in London some years ago and it more than lives up to the hype.

The summer will also see art and music taking place in more unexpected places. Every second and fourth Sunday of the month, Live on the Bandstand will transform Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens into a stage for jazz, blues, soul and rock & roll. Meanwhile, July’s Birmingham Jazz & Blues Festival will see performances taking place in shopping centres, squares, bars, restaurants, hotels, art galleries, libraries, parks, railway stations, canal boats, and even on buses!

The city centre will also celebrate Birmingham’s own artists with the inaugural competition and exhibition, Birmingham Creates: The Open. Earlier this year, Colmore BID called for the most exciting, undiscovered artwork of 2024 from emerging artists across Birmingham. The call, which had a great response, has culminated in a free physical outdoor group exhibition with more than 50 artworks displayed in print in Victoria Square, while 10 shortlisted artists have their own show in Snow Hill Square.

I’m thrilled to see the platforming of talented and local emerging artists, whose works include painted portraits, abstract compositions, photographs and collages of the city’s well-loved landmarks, exquisite drawings and more. While judges will be selecting an Overall and Highly Commended winner, it’s up to the people of Birmingham to crown this year’s People’s Award! Please do vote by scanning the QR code associated with your favourite piece of artwork. The winner will receive a £1000 cash prize plus a portfolio review in support of their career here in the Second City.

Birmingham has, in fact, always been a city of artists. Among the most notable is the late John Salt, who I’m looking forward to joining at the Jewellery Quarter’s RBSA Gallery. During August, a retrospective will offer a rare opportunity to see the remarkable work of the city’s leading photorealist painter who took as his subject matter broken down cars and trailers overgrown by nature. While he moved to America later in his career, he was always inspired by his upbringing in this industrial and automotive city.

100 Days of Creativity
Benjamin Zephaniah. Photo by Pogus Caesar /OOM GALLERY ARCHIVE/DACS/ARTIMAGE

Finally, this summer will see another tribute – to Birmingham’s great Benjamin Zephaniah, who passed away in 2023. The Brighter Flame will bring together powerful black and white photographs by Pogus Caesar with poems by Zephaniah, who took great inspiration from his hometown. Among the images on display in Victoria Square will be that of the typewriter, on which his writing journey first began, while memorial flags will fly high on Colmore Row.

100 Days of Creativity is just the initiative Birmingham needs right now. Behind it is City Curator, Alex Nicholson-Evans who says, “We’re very lucky to have so many fantastic creative events taking place in the city this summer; some that people will already have heard of, but my hope is that this initiative will introduce the residents of Birmingham and visitors to the city to events and activities that might not have been on their radars yet, too.”

Let’s spend the summer celebrating Birmingham’s great culture, which is here on our doorsteps.

To view the full programme of events, please visit visitbirmingham.com/100daysofcreativity 

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