At a time when the public has little or no access to theatres and live entertainment, West Midlands arts organisations have continued to work together, in partnership, presenting a high-quality online programme of arts that reflect the language and excellent diverse work of the region’s dynamic arts sector.
Via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Zoom and company websites over 1,500 artists and over 100 venues and companies have programmed 2,516 digital events and workshops including 141 world premieres. Events included special commissions, community and school engagement, workshops, dance, music, fitness, crafts, conferences, discussions, drama, Q&A’s and virtual festivals.
Now, as the UK heads towards the first-year anniversary of COVID-19 lockdown (20 March), it seems fitting that West Midlands Culture Response Unit, led by Culture Central, recognises and celebrates the phenomenal online programme already enjoyed by over 31 million people regionally, nationally and globally.
The West Midlands region is home to some of the country’s most acclaimed arts companies and venues including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Rosie Kay Dance, Black Country Touring, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sampad South Asian Arts Heritage, Black Country Living Museum, Arena Theatre Wolverhampton, Birmingham Opera Company, Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre and Herbert Art Gallery, Town Hall Symphony Hall, Birmingham Hippodrome, Ex-cathedra and Warwick Arts Centre, making it one of the largest culture sectors in the country.
Erica Love, Culture Central Director said “The last 12 months has been challenging for the industry, but we are proud to have come together online to engage with diverse audiences bringing arts directly into millions of homes. It has also provided opportunities for creatives to continue to develop, and much needed work for freelancers who have been particularly affected.
As a result of this enormous success, many of the region’s arts organisations will continue their online programme on a permanent basis to run hand in hand alongside live performances in indoor and outdoor spaces.”
Fans of ballet, classical music and performing arts were given a wide choice of world-class online programming including the first live and on demand streaming of Sir Peter Wright’s acclaimed The Nutcracker at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, performed by the UK’s premiere ballet company Birmingham Royal Ballet; Leamington Spa’s Motionhouse who streamed WILD, the daring dance-circus production which explores our relationship with the natural environment; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s (CBSO) spectacular 100th birthday concert presented by Birmingham born actor Adrian Lester, featuring sitar player Roopa Panesar and CBSO’s conductors past and present, including Sir Simon Rattle; as well as online exhibitions, tours and lectures, Birmingham Museums have provided access to thousands of images from the city’s collection freely available to view, download, and use creatively.
Birmingham Royal Ballet Director Carlos Acosta, CBE said “One of the things which really stood out to me in this past year was the spirit of collaboration amongst the many West Midlands creatives and organisations. It was so inspiring to see people pulling together, and we ourselves established a brand-new partnership with The REP.
We’ve been working constantly this past year to ensure we keep Birmingham Royal Ballet and the arts in everyone’s minds: from online dance classes, live streams, new collaborations, to my first ever digital commission with Empty Stage just last month. We are working on our plans for the year ahead and can’t wait to welcome audiences back!”
Joanna Patton, Player Chair and Principal Second Clarinet, CBSO added “The musicians and staff of the CBSO have been incredible in adapting to new ways of working during the pandemic. We are about to get the orchestra back into the amazing Symphony Hall (as we did in the Autumn) to record some more digital concerts which we look forward to sharing with everyone. The future is already looking brighter, and we can’t wait to welcome audiences back in person again as soon as we can.”
Geraldine Collinge, RSC Director of Creative Placemaking and Public Programmes added “In these extraordinary times, with the RSC’s theatres closed for the entire year, working with Culture Central and partners across the West Midlands has enabled us to collaborate with new artists and reach existing and new audiences. Whilst we can’t wait to have live theatre back on our stages in Stratford-upon-Avon, we know that the collaborations we have developed over the last year will continue to enrich our work in the future.”
With Coventry City of Culture opening in May and Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022, which includes a 6-month cultural festival, arts and culture in the West Midlands can look forward to taking centre stage.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The way the region’s cultural sector has adapted in the face of the pandemic to move their events online has been incredible, and shows just what a creative and resilient sector we have here in the West Midlands.
The amount of people who have been tuning into these digital events underlines just how important the sector is to residents across the region, and so it is absolutely vital that as we move through the road-map we get the sector the support it needs to reopen safely.”
Featured image Erica Love, Director Culture Central