Urban Cookie Collective got it. They had the key to another way. That’s pretty much all they sang so probably not many more depths to plunder there, but the sentiment is bang on: get yourself a key. The ceremonial key that represents Freedom of the City – usually only bestowed on a chosen few (your Chamberlains, your Cadburys) – is finally being handed over to the rest of us Brummies, allowing us to unlock and explore the city for ten glorious weeks. Fierce brings us Key to the City, as part of Birmingham 2022 Festival, a public art project by internationally-acclaimed artist Paul Ramírez Jonas, which previously bestowed 25,000 keys on New Yorkers. Choosing us as the first European host of the project, it’s brought to us by Brum's own, Fierce.
The official Yale lock on the door at The Blyden’s Garden, a tiny plot opened up to the city's keyholders
15,000 keys will open 21 locks across Brum, all made locally in Willenhall by official sponsors, Yale. There are private gardens, underground tunnels – did you know about the secret New Street shortcut back in the day? – and locked museum drawers to explore, and opportunities to discover a secret menu, take in a panoramic skyline view, or to witness daily worship. Many of the Key to the City sites are, in fact, already open to the public. But if you don’t know you can walk in, bold as brass, you usually don’t. Not so with this key. It’s the tangible equivalent to a heady guestlist, or a VIP pass: confidently waltz on in and have a gander at the sights, community spaces, artworks and religious centres of Brum. Get yourself one and you’ll be able to explore private and intriguing places and spaces that you might not have known about, or thought were off-limits, bringing a new perspective to our city. And you get to choose who you bestow the key upon next, leaving it all in our capable hands to pass it on and share the discoveries.
The Lapworth Museum of Geology, one of the museum sites taking part
From newly opened buildings bang in the heart of the business district, to the boundaries of the city along the cut, the locations unlocked by the keys help to reveal a map of B-Town’s rich history and cultures. There’s no huge detail on each space, meaning you really must get hold of a key to find out what’s behind each lock. Teasers are trickling out, and you can probably guess what might be on offer at some of the sites. Newest skyscraper on the scene, 103 Colmore Row, boasts floor to ceiling views in all directions across the city, so you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll be getting a bird’s eye view. We’ve always said it: just like New York, is Brum.
In the JQ, Acme Whistles unlock an exclusive factory tour
Museums and art galleries also feature on the list, teasing what’s in store on the official ‘passport’ you’ll receive when you collect your key. Other small details we’ve managed to bribe out of the Fierce team include giveaways in locked boxes, a shared diary at the public libraries, and secret tours of studios and factories, getting you out and about in Brum’s cultural venues. Treasure hunt-like hints allude to the discoveries, pondering the theme of public and private in cities, none more so than the one for Robin Hood Cemetery: 'To be buried in the city, is to become part of the city.'
Enter the Hawthorns through the Stadium door
The Key map takes you in all directions across the city, out towards The Hawthorns in Smethwick and as far south as Touchwood, Solihull; sending you to reflect at huge spaces usually full of football crowds in contrast to quiet, religious spaces and small community gardens. It’s unlocking an experience, as much as a location, and keyholders will no doubt be clambering for the ‘secret’ menu the keys unlock at Raja Monkey, which offers a £30 menu of authentic delicacies rarely served in restaurants, inspired by nostalgic “mom’s cooking” from Chef Director, Munayam Khan. "Very often our very first taste memories are from our mum's cooking and the nostalgia makes us crave it," says Munayam. "As a chef when searching for ideas we draw on our flavour experiences. So having the opportunity to be able to cook food from my culture and heritage is extremely satisfying. The experience we have recreated provides a window into delicacies that are rarely served in restaurants”
Birmingham New Street's secret tunnel door on Platform One
Confirming the theory that Brummies will queue for anything if it’s free and there’s a queue already formed, the first weekend has gone down a storm, with the Key Exchange Ceremony site (faaancy) located beneath the central departure boards at New Street Station, open from 11am to 7pm until Jun 5. After that, key hunters can collect from 11am to 7pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. No need to register in advance, so you can turn up on the day, in pairs or alone, to be partnered up to collect your key. This first weekend's stories are testament to the gorgeousness of the Brummie spirit: couples bestowing the key to each other and strangers paired up, including a man in his 80s venturing out into the world again after the past two years, awarded the key for his 'spirit of adventure'.
"Some people will want to be competitive and tick off every location, but I think it’s more than a game," says Paul Ramírez Jonas. "Having a key might make you notice more about what is closed to us, and why. Ultimately I hope people think ‘why are we so afraid of each other?’"
All locations are accessed using the single key you’ll be given (don’t be that guy and lose it), and the passport is all you need to begin your freedom of the city. Locations, addresses, and what exactly you can do or look for at each site are all in the passport, and we’re saying nothing more than that to avoid spilling all the secrets.
The Key to the City can be collected at Birmingham New Street station until July 10, with all details here
BOM: AN EXPLOSION OF COLOUR
Do you know how much they charge for a game of ping pong in Digbeth's trendy table tennis bars? Me neither, but it's a lot, and their tables aren't also mind-bending works of digital art. Take a bow then, BOM, who are offering free whiff-whaff to all and sundry on a table that tracks the ball's bounce with an explosion of colour right where it lands — a charming piece of work by their Artist Resident Robin Price featuring (count them) 4000 LED lights. Nearby, in the main gallery, there's also Tie Your Laces by artist duo We Throw Switches. This experimental installation is a game of speed and agility where, essentially, you need to dash about the gaming area to reach a moving target the moment you see where it rests. It's a right sweat-inducing giggle and definitely a nice option to keep the kids occupied for some of this long ol' weekend. Upstairs in their mezzanine gallery visitors can learn more about the Commonwealth Queen's Baton which BOM helped to create, the clever sausages. Find out about the 294 day journey the Baton has taken across the globe, plus there's also some Virtual Reality going on, too. During my visit I was sent into the skies onboard a suitably harrowing Microlight. More
This weekend it's the Queens big knees up! Yep, Kings Heath's celebration of all things queer — Queens Heath — returns Sunday (June 5) with York Road triumvirate The Juke, Hare & Hounds and Grace + James again leading the charge for all things LGBT. Last year saw the inaugural pride shindig after KH was named an official 'Gaybourhood' and this year sees another march, live music, drag acts, street food, face painting and wall-to-wall good times. Many of the venues taking part change their names for the day, craft beer bar The Juke becoming 'The Duchess', Grace + James transforming into Will + Grace + James and The Kingsway rebranding to The Queensway. The Duchess have collaborated with Queer Brewing on 50 kegs of 'Something To Put In You', a 5% IPA, while Poli have teamed up with with ice cream goddesses Happy Endings to produce a special 'The Gay One' ice cream sandwich. Glorious!
SOLVE THE MYSTERY. BE THE STAR.
Fame Game is the biggest talent show on TV, and you have a VIP invitation to the live final. But behind the scenes, something is amiss… Production Assistant, Annie, needs your help to find a missing dancer — the favourite to win this year’s competition. Someone must know where she is, but are the judges and contestants of Fame Game telling the truth, or hiding secrets? Explore the streets of Birmingham, follow clues and find messages sent to you by a host of colourful characters like Luca, pictured. With a whodunnit storyline and plenty of puzzles to solve, this interactive adventure game is created by Mercurial Dance — a company producing digital performances and participatory experiences. Fame Game is a fresh spin on interactive trail games, perfect for fans of escape rooms, dance theatre or celeb-spotting. Running June 11 & 12, it's £45 per group of 2 to 4 players. Under 12s play for free. More
FEAST ON A FILM FEST
Realising the eyes are on us in the coming months, there’s a cacophony of sights and sounds in Brum as we creep ever closer to – gulp – The Games. Culture aplenty, June has film streaming out of its ears in the form of Birmingham Indian Film Festival (BIFF). This year's BIFF runs from June 24 to July 5, screening at MAC Birmingham; new cinema partners, Electric Birmingham; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; and the city’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Festival highlights include a welcome back to India’s internationally best-known director, Anurag Kashyap, who returns to the festival with thriller, Dobaaraa, a surreal plot-twister posing a Sliding Doors-esque scenario, which stars award-winning actress, Taapsee Pannu (pictured). It's also based on Netflix-ready Spanish film, Mirage, if you want to do your homework. MAC Birmingham hosts the world premiere for this highly anticipated thriller, followed by a Q&A with Kashyap. Closing with feel-good documentary, Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story – Canadian ballers, Toronto Raptors’, biggest fan – there’s everything in between over the fortnight. Female filmmakers are at the forefront this year, alongside other big-hitting themes like ‘Save our Planet’, as well as celebrating the emerging generation in ‘Young Rebels’. Other film shorts categories include the popular LGBTQIA+ programme, 'Too Desi Too Queer', new British Asian emerging filmmakers, and those competing in the festival’s annual Satayjit Ray Short Film Competition. Delivered jointly with sister festivals in London and Manchester, the events make this the UK and Europe’s largest platform of South Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Sri Lankan) independent films. And, adapting to our new, hybrid style of entertainment, you can watch much of it online, too. So delve in and rinse that film buffet. Full schedule
Distracted by the socials reading this issue? Focus, there’s a test at the end. In these busy, techy times where we never switch off, we’re all seeking the elusive ‘flow state’ in other ways: gym, yoga, Wordle. In the age of doom scrolling and Tik Tokkery, a simple act of worship is revolutionary – a time to let go and clear our minds of waswasa, the Arabic word used to describe distractions from prayer. From acclaimed artist and proud Brummie, Mohammed Ali MBE (pictured), Waswasa – Whispers in Prayer, is one of the major commissions for the Birmingham 2022 Festival, and draws parallels between the act of personal faith and the quest to achieve calm. The immersive theatrical experience of art, music and movement will run at Birmingham Hippodrome from August 25 to September 3 (performance tickets £15, walkthrough, £8). Here’s the urgent bit: in the lead-up, you’re all needed to contribute to an art installation that’s part of the show. In a series of workshops, Sparkbrook’s Soul City Arts studio invites you lovely lot to graffiti your prayers, hopes and dreams directly onto Islamic prayer mats, which will then be featured as the Prayer Tunnel at August’s Waswasa. Placing community voices (Muslim and non-Muslim) at the heart of the theatrical experience, the installation hopes to demystify the tradition of prayer. In the Soul City Arts flagship style, these workshops will be immersive, with film projections and curated conversations, and there’ll be food cooked up by Raja Monkey's chef, Munayam Khan. Culminating in August’s show, Waswasa will transform the Hipp into a space of spiritual reflection; a dynamic and confident exploration of Islamic prayer with an insightful window into this world for those who are not Muslim. Get graffitiing across Wednesdays in June. All, of course, free, but do book.
CAP IT OFF
Bring a bit of panache to your otherwise dreadful tennis game with this new BAB cap from all round ace (punny) Brummie, Kevin Thomas. Based on BHX luggage tags he's thinking of starting a petition to try and get the airport to adopt it. "Imagine seeing your flight home on the departure board as BAB," he said. It's available as a jumper, a tee and even a cushion. £20.36
Bournville Village Festival is June 25. There will be fireworks. —
Kings Heath's excellent coffee and bicycle spot Gorilla Cafe is opening its second venue where Maribel was in Brindleyplace. Meanwhile the people behind Harborne Kitchen are opening Bun & Barrel, a burger joint in Harbs. —
Tomorrow (June 3) home to arguably the city centre's best beer garden, The Canal House, is hosting a waterfront festival. Details —
Kings Heath Action for Refugees are welcoming authors Dina Nayeri and Gulwali Passarlay to Aston Uni for a live Q&A, June 16. More — Art that considers immigration and landscapes transformed by climate, and art that gives us a point-of-view experience of a small dog abducted and transported to Great Britain for a Queen! Check out two new international commissions for the Birmingham 2022 Festival from Eastside Projects, opening June 3. —
On Saturday, June 11, a new book festival for youngsters called WORD PLAY will pop up at Hall Green Library, Kings Heath Library and at How Brave Is The Wren’s new bookshop in York Road. More
WORDS: Claire Hawkins, Tom Cullen
We will never share your email address. Ads and commercial offers are clearly marked. We sometimes run paid for Partnership Emails with selected affiliates. These will be marked as Partnership Emails at the top of the email.