A Bigger Ikon?

Ikon GalleryInteresting interview in the Birmingham Post with Jonathan Watkins, director of the Ikon gallery and architect Glenn Howells (Wikipedia) who has previously worked on the Custard Factory and is involved with a number of regeneration projects in Birmingham. While nothing has been confirmed the pair are very keen to see the Ikon expand into a new building housing a major contemporary art museum on a par with those in London, Liverpool and Manchester.

Here’s the meat:

Glenn Howells sees the project not as the luxury people might suppose but as a declaration of the city’s ambition.

“We used to need a cathedral to be a city. Today without certain cultural institutions it raises questions about a city’s status.

“One of the perceptions to tackle is that this is something that would be ‘nice to have’. The future can’t be about bashing metal and trying to sell it abroad. It’s being creative, not doing things other cities with lower rates of pay can do.

“If we’re moving into a knowledge-based economy we have to retain the people who are stimulated by this kind of facility. Nobody wonders if a university is good for the city. If you don’t have the right tools to develop stimulation, those people will go elsewhere.”

Jonathan Watkins adds: “This is the second largest city in the fifth largest economy in the world, and yet when you think about visual art it’s a really small proportion of what’s on offer here.

“The more institutions you have, the more artistic activity you can attract, the more artists decide to stay. Then an art market might start to happen. Commercial galleries might decide Birmingham is a good place to be.”


I’ve heard from a number of people that the Ikon, as Birmingham’s premier contemporary art venue, doesn’t really do much for local artists, but that isn’t really its job. The problem is more that, outside the BM&AG, the Ikon is the only gallery with a high enough profile at the moment and it’s not really that big. This idea of a “halo effect” on the local arts community makes sense to me.

That said, it would be nice if the Ikon made some effort to connect with the rest of the community. They appear to have a policy of not publicizing other fine art venues and events in the city, at least judging by the paucity of flyers in their lobby and cafe. As the one gallery most Brummies can name this is a lost opportunity that really should be part of their remit.

In other news, the Ikon Bookshop is having a sale during january and February with 20% off full priced books and 50% off selected catalogues. If you didn’t already know it’s located at 1 Oozells Square in Brindley Place (map.

Link via D’log who has additional commentary. Photo by myself.


  1. tingy

    I’d agree that the city would benefit from another gallery but doubt it will ever happen. Look at West Brom and that lovely Public building that seems destined to never open. I really don’t understand what’s happening with that project. I have to wonder if it would have been more successful if it had been sited in Birmingham?

  2. James Rock

    I agree with both Jonathan and Glenn, as a major global city Birmingham has to be ambitious, and major public buildings and cultural institutions need to figure prominently in capturing and exciting the public in this goal. Developing a creative cluster will also help to develop the vibrancy that will make people want to come and live and work here, and bring visitors who want to do more than shop…

    However, the city needs to articulate this vision, and I have a personal view that this is what seems lacking at present. What do others think?

    In my job I work with many businesses and they often seem to try to “save their way to prosperity” which cannot be done… real prosperity comes from growth, from looking forward and seeing the future, and investing in the belief of reaching that goal. We need city leaders to grasp this… to pick up the ball and run with it… we need a mayor who is visionary, who leads from the front, who has, and shows, agreater ambition than cities who compete with Birmingham!

    Perhaps if this were to happen then the public might follow him?

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