Why can’t Birmingham do it like Manchester?

Dan Jones of Ten4 goes to the Manchester International Festival and asks “Why can’t Birmingham do it like Manchester?

Last week I was invited up to Manchester for the launch of the International Festival, and the opening of Monkey, Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn’s ‘populist Chinese opera’.

You can find plenty of reviews of Monkey (and indeed the festival itself), so I won’t bother dwelling too much on that, other than to say that if you get the chance to see Monkey, you should, as it will probably be unlike anything else you’ve seen before.

I went back up for the Kanye West gig (generating sales of two hotel stays, four train journeys, two taxi rides, four meals, lots of drinks, and a croissant for the local economy incidentally) and I wanted to pose a question that was bugging me the whole time I was there. Why can’t Birmingham do it like Manchester?

By this, I mean put on a festival that

a)      gains national and international media attention for the city

b)      has a real presence within the city

c)      raises the bar in what a regional city can achieve

He goes on to expand on these points and, importantly, doesn’t want to suggest that Birmingham should be like Manchester, more asking what we can learn from them.

I’m not sure what the solution is – perhaps it is a Festival Ambassador, paid for by the city council, the regional development agency, or Marketing Birmingham, who has real vision, offering what Alex Poots (MIF Director) or Peter Saville (Creative Director) can. Perhaps it is bringing together several festivals over a two month period to become the Birmingham International Festival. Perhaps it is long term commitment from the development and funding agencies or the council to create this combined voice. Perhaps we all just need to think bigger.

Or perhaps we shouldn’t want to do it like Manchester at all…

I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts.

This strikes me as an important debate to be having. As Dan notes we now have an incredible number of niche festivals in the city and it would only take someone with a small amount of vision to tie them together in some way while maintaining their vibrancy. If you have any opinions on this leave them on the Ten4 blog.