Seven years ago, in 2003, I watched a news item on Birmingham’s bid to become European City of Culture on the tellybox. I wasn’t surprised when we lost out to Liverpool after listening to a list of big arts organisations ‘to name but a few’. It was a weak presentation that was all ‘tell don’t show’.
And, to be honest, the new bid to become the first-ever UK City of Culture in 2013 seemed to be going the same way.
I don’t pretend to know much about these Council-led things, but I do know that the Council and mainstream media seemed to be saying the same old things as in 2003. For example, while I like and admire The Dhol Blasters, they’re surely not news in terms of the city’s cultural growth – and yet here they are, rolled again yet again for local TV’s limited idea of how to demonstrate Brum culture.
But then today Brummies spoke up in their hundreds via the Twitter hashtag #intheroom. They wrote about what it was that they loved about their city, their cultural pioneers, their ideas about culture and why ultimately Birmingham should win.
Roughly 1,000 Twitter messages were pulled in throughout the day on the Birmingham Newsroom’s blog – and the coup was that they were to be seen live by the judging panel in Liverpool between 2 and 4pm this afternoon. (Tomorrow the panel decides, winner to be announced next month.)
Some of the posts were funny, some poignant, some statistical, some just lists of great goings-on. At times, the sheer volume felt quite emotional. People were still posting Birmingham’s good points via #intheroom when I checked at 11.30pm – long after the panel had gone home to sleep on their decision.
So even if Brum doesn’t win, it was kind of a unifying experience in that it let those who joined in see what it was that others saw in their city. It made us feel invested in something that could easily be seen as a city marketing exercise. It put the voice of the people directly in front of the judges and, I think, finally managed a ‘show don’t tell’ that was possibly more powerful and moving than that of an official document of evidence (good as I’m sure it was) saying that ‘Birmingham is very, very cultural indeed, thankyou’.
Birmingham DOES have a lot going for it. Take it from me who left for 20 years down to #thatlondon but is hugely enjoying being back in the city because there is simply so much more to do these days – like seeing the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform tonight with IamPete, or wandering through a staircase in Moat Lane Car Park last week as ExCathedra choir members harmonised with the brutalist architecture until it sang back, or joining in a game of Market Pong after the fruit and veg traders have gone home.
Check the Twitterstream for more examples of how Birmingham is thriving, or the Created In Birmingham blog, or More Canals Than Venice, or LiveBrum’s listings, or Traditional Arts Team stuff where I discovered a Balkan and Israeli folk dance night in the church at the end of our road that has been going since 1972!, or Getgood’s Digbeth Is Good blog covering the arty and alternative Digbeth area, or any of the other places people search for social-cultural goings-on…)
The #intheroom display was impressive. And it seems to have been noted. Someone on Twitter reported: ‘Just had word through from the Culture team they’re #outtheroom and blown away by the response online’.
We’ll see soon enough how blown away they were, I guess. But it may be that if Birmingham does win the UK City of Culture 2013 title, that it might just have been the people of Birmingham who have swung it for themselves.