Legg on Eastside

In this review of the Damian Ortega show at Ikon Eastside Terry Grimley interviews curator Helen Legg giving some insight in why they’re in a big dirty warehouse.

Some visitors might feel that the current space would make a perfect permanent gallery if only its walls were given a good scrub and a few coats of white emulsion, and the roof was re-glazed. But apparently artists and curators like it in its raw state, just as the metal-bashers left it.

“We love it here,” says Helen. “You should see it when the artists first see it and we say can you make something for this space. They just drool.

“Birmingham has got this great industrial history and it’s crazy for us not to have a space like this that reflects it. We’ll close this one in October because it gets incredibly cold in the winter, and we’ll be saying goodbye to it with a party on Hallowe’en. Then we hope to reopen in a different location next summer.”

While you might think that galleries would be an essential ingredient of a new cultural quarter, the economics of providing them are challenging, to say the least.

“We couldn’t provide a permanent space like this unless there was some permanent funding.” says Helen. “People are being encouraging – the council like what we are doing down here, and the Arts Council like what we’ve done, but the Arts Council has lost a lot of lottery money.

“So we just have to keep on putting effort into it. In Birmingham there are so many empty factories and it does need more spaces like this, something to give the city a bit of an edge.”

She points to Prof Michael Parkinson’s council-commissioned study of the city centre, which calls for the future development of Eastside to remain “gritty” as a foil to recent glossier developments such as the Bullring.