If you didn’t already know, the past few months’ spotlight on the city should have hammered it home to you: here in Brum, we made stuff. Life-changing stuff like celluloid (yep, that was us) and less life-changing but equally wowzy stuff, like Odeon cinemas. So what better way to celebrate our cinematic history than to immortalise our picture-palaces in plaster. Kings of mini architecture creations, Spaceplay, have pulled it out of the bag to commemorate the icons of our silver screen past, with a series of eight new mini-casts – 'Wonderland miniatures' – all part of Flatpack’s Wonderland project.
Through Wonderland, those folks at Flatpack made it their mission to uncover our cinema-going history, with an exploration not only of the buildings and objects, but the people who took part in this collective enjoyment, and their stories. Part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival, and supported by Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wonderland explores how cinema shaped the streets, buildings and social lives of Brummies over a century of flicks trips. Across the summer, there have been walks, talks and an exhibition including an interactive map, plotting out the city’s cinemas past and present and designed by the whizzes at Spaceplay. As part of its recent reopening, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery hosts the main exhibition until October 30.
From inventing the very means to watch films, birthing the Odeon cinema chain, to being home to the oldest working cinema; there’s a beloved film past in this city. The Electric shares its basement treasures and the history of its reels – from silent movies to 70s erotica – all pored over by intrepid volunteer researchers, alongside the Museum's own incredible collection of stories, photographs, cine-memorabilia and optical gadgets.
The entire exhibition sits around the unique 3D map created by Spaceplay, who’ve devised a city-wide treasure hunt, with trading cards and cinema miniatures on offer for Wonderland explorers. The cast model sculptures of the iconic cinemas were released yesterday to pre-order via Spaceplay, at £50 for a solid bit of Brum history.
Each building was digitally modelled based on old and original photographs, then the digital models 3D printed and used to create silicone moulds for casting the creamy collectibles. Each artwork comes packaged in a custom black gift box and includes a cinema card about its history.
There are city centre remnants in The Futurist facade on John Bright Street, and Odeon New Street pops up as Paramount, a cinema with a famous, ‘magically’ emerging Compton organ and, later, host to bands as polarised as ABBA and Black Sabbath. Further afield, the first cinema to bear the Odeon name, in Perry Barr, is featured, alongside other local monuments. The Royalty, the prominent art deco, now decaying, beauty on Harborne High Street teases its former glory in the mini (above), while the thriving Electric flaunts its previous guise as The Tatler News Theatre (below).
Each of the eight miniatures holds a fascinating story of change, adaptability, resilience and, sadly for some, decline, renewing vigour to protect these buildings at all cost.
These mini-works of art give yet another chance to hold a part of Brum’s unique architectural and social history in your hand, and they are bloomin’ gaw-jus. Get yours sharpish via Spaceplay.
TALE OF THE TAIL
Jen and Faye are the two-woman crew behind new Brum initiative SustainaBrum, a website directory and Instagram-powered passion project aimed at raising the profile of Birmingham's sustainable businesses. It's, in their words, "a resource for those looking to find a sustainable shop or service, and to provide tips to help Brummies on their journey to becoming more sustainable."
"There's so much going on in Birmingham," says Faye, "but often you don't want to spend forever on Google hunting out the ones that are into sustainability. We've done that legwork for you. It's a one-stop shop. Super simple."
Both began their green journeys at university, Faye studying Chemical Engineering in Bath (where one course was on Sustainability & Environmental Impact) and Jen taking a Leading Sustainable Corporations Programme at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, as part of her further education learning. "I went vegan at that point — as loads of students do — and started cutting out plastic, working towards zero waste."
"Yeah, it started as simple things," adds Jen. "Like remembering to take reusable shopping bags to the supermarket and switching from products in plastic bottles to soap and shampoo bars. I sew and make my own clothes, and during lockdown started to do lots of upcycling projects as a bit of fun – amending clothes that I wasn’t wearing to get some more wear out of them, or buying second hand and upcycling from there, which also opened my eyes to the issues surrounding fast fashion. Like Faye I decided to stop eating meat in order to reduce my carbon footprint, and I bought an electric car in order to move away from petrol."
So how is Birmingham doing on the ol' sustainable-o-meter? "According to this year's The Arcadis Sustainable Cities, we rank number 36 of 100 global cities investigated," says Jen. "But 25th out of a 100 in terms of Planet Pillar Ranking (environmental sustainability – the quality of the natural environment in a city). Environmental exposure and air pollution [or lack of] are our strengths as a city, but greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable transport are opportunities for improvement."
"One of the great things about Birmingham," says Faye, "Is the number of independent businesses we have, a lot of whom are really trying to make a difference – but they are often small and could do with any publicity we can give them. If we put the spotlight on them then we're doing our job."
"I think we can also be really proud of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games," adds Jen. "It's carbon neutral and will leave a lasting legacy — including by planting 2,022 acres of Commonwealth Forest in the Midlands. It's fantastic to see our city making this pledge, and at a time when the world was focusing on us. We also have lots of green spaces, our clean air zone, electric buses, and have had a lot of the cycle lanes put in to encourage us to move away from relying on cars. But there is always more that can be done – for example, I think recycling is often a bit of a dark art — like, what can and can’t go into specific bins — so I would love to see more education coming from the council on that, and there are many areas of the city that could do with a clean-up to reduce litter on the streets, in green spaces and in the canals."
SustainaBrum — which comes with an eye-catching bull with a leafy tail logo — isn't a money-making exercise. The pair are planning their first in-person event – a SustainaBrum Christmas Market at Attic Brew Co, details of which will be announced soon. Give them a follow if you're on Instagram and checkout their online directory which includes a handy map. Jen and Faye are also keen to hear from other Brum businesses who consider themselves environmentally and / or socially sustainable, to help them grow their green database.
THERE'S BEEN A MURDER...
Sort of. Resorts World Birmingham are hosting the insanely popular and thoroughly well-reviewed murder mystery company Murder on the Side and their latest immersive whodunnit night Casino Fatale. Find yourself involved in a Knives Out style plot to mark Halloween, which includes a three-course meal and bags of twists and turns. The one-off takes place on October 29 and costs £49 per person. The dress code is smart-cashj but in keeping with the theme, dressing for the occasion is encouraged. It's over 18s only given, you know, the whole murder thing with dancey-dancey and drinks continuing long after the killing stops. Book
The sun is waning and, though it might be a little sad to bid it adiós, our Tatooine-like parks could probably do with the breather. Say so long to summer at MAC where Son Yambu will be playing authentic Cuban son — the essential Afro-Cuban sound that originated in the streets of eastern Cuba and later gave rise to modern salsa — at Cannon Hill Park's outdoor amphitheatre. Most of the seven piece band hail from Cuba and each has a lifetime’s worth of experience in playing the sound of Havana and Buena Vista. You can check out this video for a taster and book for the £11.50 September 8 fiesta here. If the place had a roof, it'd come clean off.
Ask eight-time Oscar nominee, Glenn Close, and she'll tell you that awards mean nothing. She's probably right, but that won't stop me telling you that the ICB trophy cabinet has swollen again, this time with the addition of Regional Publisher of the Year at the Midlands Enterprise Awards. You don't get to make speeches at these things — thank god — so I'd like to dedicate this one to my daughters Delilah and Nell who, without fail, ask "What did you write about today, Dad" and will sit and listen to the answer like I'm Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone, rather than me talking about a pop-up labradoodle cafe that's coming to Solihull. Love you.
Hard scientific fact: Birmingham is a city with more trees than Paris. But it’s about to get even greener when PoliNations opens in Victoria Square, tomorrow.
What's that then? Well it's mega-garden featuring 40 feet high architectural trees surrounded by thousands of flowers and plants. This urban oasis will host a free festival of live music, dance, poetry, workshops and talks, taking place September 2 to 18. Artists taking part include Soweto Kinch, Kofi Stone, Horse Meat Disco, ‘living sculpture’ Daniel Lismore and drag artist Yshee Black.
It's one of ten major projects commissioned as part of UNBOXED, the celebration of creativity now underway across the UK, and one of the final events in the Birmingham 2022 Festival, the cultural programme around the Commonwealth Games. It’s produced by Trigger Collective — a team of creatives and experts in horticulture, arts, science, in collaboration with Birmingham City Council.
More than 70,000 people walk through Victoria and Chamberlain Squares every day and Martin Green, chief creative officer of both UNBOXED and the Games, calls PoliNations “an irresistible intervention of absolute joy into a very public space. I love creative work that intervenes in the everyday and makes your world temporarily look and feel different. Plus, it was really important to us that the Birmingham 2022 Festival should continue the buzz past the end of the sports. There’s so much creativity involved in making these giant architectural trees. The activities that will take place beneath them and throughout the super garden range from the calm and contemplative to ballistic seed parties, where the garden explodes in a riot of colour.”
Exactly how this will happen is being kept under wraps, as the organisers promise “some very big surprises”. The idea for PoliNations came to Angie Bual, creative director of Trigger, during lockdown and the Black Live Matters protests. She explains: “I was gardening while reflecting on the fact that people didn’t seem to realise how long we have been a multicultural Britain. I then realised our gardens are a metaphor for this. I was really surprised to discover that more than 80 per cent of the plants in British gardens come from overseas. Even things like the rose and the horse chestnut are from Asia and Turkey, while the apple comes from Kazakhstan. It’s a really lovely metaphor – the beauty and vibrancy in our gardens is because the plants come from everywhere. PoliNations will encapsulate the world, both culturally and horticulturally. I think people will be surprised by the size of it and how it transforms the city centre.”
The trees, which are reminiscent of James cameron movie Avatar, are made as sustainably as possible of materials including recycled steel, aluminium and a special fabric canopy which the team spent months pinning down. Each tree canopy, includes 12 raincatcher sails, that will divert rain water and collect it to help water the live plants on site.
Visit PoliNations to see the full programme and visit your app store to download the PoliNations Virtual Super Garden.
Theatrix, the Snobs-owned bar with a prime location overlooking Victoria Square has a new rooftop bar. Might be a post-PoliNations option? Pics —
An annual, free-to-attend meet-up of people who love to sew returns for its first in-person event, post-COVID. Details for the October 29 event are here. —
The Independent Birmingham Festival returns to Aston Hall September 24 and 25. You don't have a ticket? The hell's wrong with you? £10 —
The biggest Birmingham Pride weekend ever is the same weekend. Awks. There are all sorts of ticket prices and options. See? —
There are still tickets available for this weekend's Moseley Folk Festival, over in Harborne. Naaah just kidding, it's in Moseley. Wotamalike hey? —
I wouldn't normally promote leaving the walls of this city but Ludlow isn't far and their annual food festival is next weekend (Sept 11). It's a barnstorming day out — I ended up in Shrewsbury Prison last time. —
Couch, in Stirchley, are doing a walk-ins only hot dogs and mezcal night tonight and, quite frankly, I can't think of a better way to end the email.
PICS: Trigger (PoliNations)
WORDS: Claire Hawkins, Tom Cullen, Roz Laws
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