2022 is Birmingham’s year. The UK’s second city has the honour of hosting the Commonwealth Games for the first time. Plus, there’s a six-month-long celebration of the region bubbling away for those who visit the Birmingham 2022 Festival.
Running until the end of September, the festival is dubbed “the biggest celebration of creativity” ever seen in the region. It aims to bring both locals and visitors together for a programme of more than 200 free-of-charge events and exhibitions. It’s led by Birmingham’s diverse local people and available for the entire Commonwealth.
The Birmingham 2022 Festival is a six-month-long celebration of West Midlands creativity. It’s tied to the arrival of the Commonwealth Games between July 28 - August 8, and is fresh off the back of Coventry’s year-long stint as 2021 UK City of Culture.
The Birmingham 2022 Festival aims to reignite the West Midlands region as a whole with a series of inclusive events and exhibitions solely led by artists.
“We aim to stimulate new collaborations between artists from Birmingham and the West Midlands, and artists from other nations and territories of the Commonwealth,” says Louisa Davies, Senior Producer at Birmingham 2022 Festival.
“We also aim to create a platform and space for honest conversations about the Commonwealth.”
Visitors have been unearthing secret spots around Birmingham with their very own Key to The City, as well as Vanley Burke’s eye-opening Blood & Fire black history photography exhibition, and unique LGBTQIA+ arts installations with the Healing Gardens of Bab.
“Across the six-month period we look to engage 2.5 million people as audiences, alongside more than 100,000 participants and 1,000 artists and creatives,” Louisa continues.
"For local audiences," she continues, "we hope they feel the festival is made with and for them, that they recognise their home but also see it transformed and disrupted in a positive way.
“For audiences from further afield, I hope they discover something of this place through what they encounter – hear some of the stories from here, and witness some of the region’s characteristic originality and creativity.”
Birmingham 2022 Festival highlights stretch far and wide. More than 200 events and projects span the six-month festival period including hidden spaces, hyperlocal exhibitions, groundbreaking performances and world class music.
Festival Sites are located in Victoria Square and Smithfield as well as across Birmingham neighbourhoods, the West Midlands and beyond, presenting free activities including live performances, entertainment and special events.
“You really can spend a great day out in the city exploring a number of projects,” says Louisa. “With a key from Key to the City, people have had access to a number of intriguing locations around the city centre, including experiencing the incredible view from 103 Colmore Row and unlocking a secret treat in Ikon Gallery.”
“People can see Hew Locke’s Foreign Exchange in Victoria Square and then pop into Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) for temporary exhibitions including Wonderland, In the Que, We are Birmingham and the Healing Gardens of Bab,” she continues.
Then venture to the beautiful and calm natural playspace Abundance at City Hospital and head back to the centre to see a show at The Rep.”
One of Louisa’s personal highlights is On Record: a multi-genre, multi-artist concept album of new songs recorded by top local musicians and songwriters; available now on all major streaming platforms. “Even if you can’t visit, the songs paint a compelling picture of the place,” Louisa explains.
“The album is also accompanied by a podcast series featuring notable figures from Birmingham’s music scene who discuss their personal journey and experience as part of our music culture, heritage and history.”
“Pretty much everything and anything a visitor might want!” says a passionate Louisa.
Often overlooked, the West Midlands is in fact a vibrant metropolis of green spaces, dynamic communities and culinary genius. From being named a designated Tree City of the World and being the inspiration of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, to being the birthplace of the Balti and heavy metal music, this region has many sides to explore.
“There are beautiful green spaces in the city and in the countryside; incredible, international food,” says Louisa. “Such a rich heritage too – from our built heritage right through to community and cultural heritage characterised and influenced by migration and diversity.”
“We also have world class artistic companies like Birmingham Royal Ballet and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. We also offer an incredible welcome to newcomers.
“4,600 athletes are about to compete in the Commonwealth Games and one of our festival projects was to invite members of the public to make individual handmade gifts for each and every one, in a brilliant project led by Craftspace. 500 of them are being exhibited in the Library of Birmingham ahead of the Games.”
Of course, the Birmingham 2022 Festival wouldn’t be happening without the arrival of the Commonwealth Games this July. Taking place over 12 glorious sport-soaked summer days, the Games will bring spectators and athletes from across the globe together for a Midlands celebration with Birmingham at its heart.
Athletes will be competing in popular sports like aquatics, beach volleyball, gymnastics and rugby. For the first time, more medals will be given to women than men. What’s more, Birmingham 2022 also aims to be the very first carbon neutral Commonwealth Games.
“We want the festival to herald the Games, bring people together at the intersection of art and sport during the competition through our Festival Sites – and afterwards come and be part of the after party,” says Louisa.
“We’ve welcomed the region’s cultural organisations to be part of the festival, bringing existing festivals and events into the programme – we could only do this because of the richness that is already here,” she continues.
“And finally, we’ve saved some of the best till last with some incredible projects landing after the Games,” she continues. One such project is PoliNations, a garden of magical proportions that will be taking over Birmingham’s city centre from 2-18 September.
The garden will celebrate the UK’s cultural diversity through the lens of British horticulture. It’s one of the 10 commissioned projects of UNBOXED, a UK-wide groundbreaking celebration of creativity in the UK.
Put simply: Louisa hopes the Festival and the Games will engender a new-found pride and confidence, and help build global connections.
“As a place, we perhaps don’t have the confidence of the capital, or the swagger of the north – but there’s a lot of love in and for this city,” she says. “We’re keen to share that in this moment, take the spotlight for a change and show the world what we have to offer.”
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This article is brought to you in partnership with the West Midlands Growth Company.