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Mama Roux venue in Digbeth, BirminghamConnor Pope

‘We’re resilient’: 4 young artists on Birmingham’s devastating art cuts

Birmingham council recently announced it will cut arts funding by 100 per cent. We spoke with a group of young creatives about how this will affect their careers and the future of the city

Birmingham City Council – which effectively went bankrupt last year after a decade of austerity – has recently taken the dramatic step of cutting arts funding by 100 per cent and closing 25 of its 35 libraries. Going into effect next year, the decision is likely to have a significant impact on the city’s most prestigious cultural institutions, including its opera, ballet and symphony orchestra, as well as the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Ikon Gallery of Contemporary Art. 

While Birmingham has reached a particular crisis point, culture funding across Britain is among the lowest in Europe, and many young artists in the city are already surviving without support from the state. But even among those who are unlikely to be directly affected by the looming cuts (and many will be), there are serious concerns about whether Birmingham’s cultural vitality will survive, whether the next generation of artists will be adequately supported, and whether more and more young people will be drawn towards the greater opportunities afforded in London. 

We spoke with some young creatives who are based in Birmingham about the cuts, how they are affected and what they might mean for the future of the city.


“I have lived in Birmingham all my life. I do arts workshops in educational and community settings, and I also work as an artist. The community work I do is definitely going to be affected. Last year I did a project with Ikon Gallery – Dreams of Brom – that was council-funded, and the likelihood of that project happening again is pretty much zero unless we get some funding from another source. It’s a shame, especially as the community members said they were so looking forward to it.

“Young people risk losing out on a lot of opportunities. After I left university, I was part of Gallery 37, which was a developmental programme for young creatives to get themselves out there. That was the first time that my artwork was actually in a gallery space, which gave me the push to think ‘OK, I can actually pursue a career in the creative arts’. I don’t know how likely that is for the future generation. Will they feel like they have to move to London or Manchester? It’s already hard as it is in Birmingham, so with these new cuts, I don’t blame the youth for thinking there’ll be nothing here to help them out.

“Being working class and a visibly Muslim woman, I didn’t have anyone in my family who pursued the arts. That was already an obstacle”

“It’s going to make life harder for working class creatives. Specifically for me, being working class and a visibly Muslim woman, I didn’t have anyone in my family who pursued the arts. That was already an obstacle – you’re trying to convince your parents that this is the right path for you, but if there are no opportunities there, it’s like hitting a wall. Because if you feel like there’s no hope, how are you going to convince everyone else?

“Birmingham doesn’t get a good rep, but a lot is happening here and the community is strong. We’re not used to having lots of money funnelled into us; we work with what we have and we are thick-skinned. But I don’t know how much more we have in us just to be content with what we have.”


“I moved to Birmingham five years ago to study French and I just fell in love with the city. I started teaching myself photography as I was studying, and then I started full-time freelance last year. 

“I think these cuts really show the general attitude the council has towards arts and culture – it comes across like it doesn’t value art at all. Last year, I started a community project, doing photo walks and workshops and things like that, which has got quite big. I got to a point where I was thinking about applying for council funding, and then I saw the cuts. Even if I do get funding from somewhere else, the fact that the council doesn’t view the arts as something worthy of funding is really discouraging in itself.

“Even if it doesn’t directly affect a lot of young people in terms of the actual money, I go to events every week which bring together a lot of people, which take place at venues directly funded by the council – so it does affect us that way. There are also a lot of buildings being sold off, some of which will be demolished. A lot of these buildings represent Birmingham’s cultural history and they are definitely a part of the landscape I fell in love with when I moved here.

“I’ve been talking to my friends a lot since the news came out, and obviously the conversations were very negative for the first few days after. We feel a lot of disappointment with the council. But I do think people will find ways around it. There are other areas of funding, and the sense of community is really strong here.”


“I was born in Birmingham, I studied here, and I love it. There’s a really fun community who care and look out for each other, and that’s why I’ve always gravitated to staying home.

“I work at Eastside, an art gallery in Digbeth, as an artist, curator and trainee. Outside of that, I’m an artist and I do a lot of work about being autistic and being queer, how that presents itself and the barriers that autistic people can face in the arts. My work involves performance, crazy costumes, dance – things like that.

“Our gallery isn’t funded by council money, as far as I’m aware, but the cuts will affect the kind of projects that we can do. I also think it will affect the makeup of Digbeth and the city as a whole. What affects one gallery in Birmingham indirectly affects all of us, because we all are working in the same city trying to do the same things in different ways. It’s not going to mean that there will be no art in Birmingham, but I’m worried it will encourage people to think of it as a cultural black hole – and perception is important. 

“When I was 14 I was working with Longbridge public art projects, which was based in the area where I used to live. I don't think that that would have been an opportunity for me now, because I don’t think that project would still exist. So I think the cuts will have a massive effect on young people in the city who don't even know they want to be artists yet. I was exposed to a lot of art growing up here, and without that, I definitely wouldn’t have thought of it as a career. Being autistic, art is my language and my tool for communicating towards people, and I worry a lot about the council-funded organisations that work with young people who have communication needs. If they can’t get funded, will these people lose their means to communicate?”


“I grew up in Birmingham and I’ve been here my whole life. For the last two years, I’ve done marketing for Punch Records, working on touring, artist development and artist releases. We work across the arts spectrum, including music, art, dance and film. We run Gallery 37, which is a programme where we develop around 100 creatives in the space of two weeks, and we also run a programme called ‘Back In’, which supports Black filmmakers. 

“In terms of Punch Records, a lot of our funding comes from other organisations outside of the council. But I think these cuts will start to affect the young creatives that we work with, because if there’s less funding for bigger organisations, our organisations probably aren’t going to get as much attention. 

“Creatives in general are really resilient people, and that through pain or through hardship there does come forms of activism”

“The funding cuts are just one part of the problem. In terms of the music scene, venues are already getting shut down. There are not as many events and gigs in Birmingham as there used to be. Digbeth, which is the creative hub of the city, is quite silent these days. There are a lot of changes being made to the area and it’s kind of taking the creative aspect out of it. There are still events like Neighbourhoods, which is a live open jam that happens every month, but young people don't have as many places to go anymore. 

“But I feel like creatives in general are really resilient people, and that through pain or through hardship there does come forms of activism. I think it will create a situation where creatives in Birmingham come together. They’ll find a way to get through this; it’s just going to be a lot harder and take a bit longer.”

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