1. I’ve been meaning to put this on the record somewhere, so here will do.

    I’ve followed Artsfest on various levels since around 2006 and it’s always puzzled me. Last year I figured out why, apart from the woeful underfunding, overreach and bureaucratic strangling, it never quite seemed to work.

    It’s not a festival. Calling it a festival loads it up with all manner of expectations which it is not capable of matching, and in many cases shouldn’t.

    I’ve “worked” Artsfest twice, once on with an Arts On The Railings spot for my photographs, and last year with a pitch in the (cringe) pARTicipate village for Photo School. Both were great experiences which got my work / business in front of loads of new people from outside my usual reach for a tiny investment on my part. I owe Artsfest a lot for these opportunities and it would be a real shame if this aspect were to vanish.

    Where Artsfest failed, and failed hard, was in the more “spectacle” stuff, mostly overamplified mediocre local bands playing to disinterested punters, and variations on the myth that cultural stuff alone can draw a crowd at peripheral venues.

    I see many people comment that Artsfest devalued the arts by not paying anyone to perform there. This is the wrongheaded approach. Artsfest was an opportunity to reach new audiences and customers across a massive and unwieldy city, and to break through the myopic vision of what Birmingham has to offer. Sadly very few people really got this (and it took me 7 years to spot it myself.)

    In order to save Artsfest we probably needed to kill it, so I don’t lament this decision. I do hope what remains on the budget isn’t swallowed up by the obvious spectacle stuff at the expense of the more granular, informative, participatory stuff.

    Artsfest worked as a trade show. If this aspect is over I will be very sad.

  2. Robin Bailey

    I’ve worked at ArtsFest for quite a few years. I’ve also worked in plays and performances in Birmingham when getting funds and venues was like pulling teeth. Crowds turn up at ArtsFest because it’s free, but melt away when they’re asked to pay to see similar work during the rest of the year. ArtsFest was always a cheap way for Birmingham to pretend it gives a damn about the performing arts. How many producing theatres are there in Birmingham? And, when it’s not being rebuilt, where does it cast?

  3. Peter Bayliss

    I, too, have performed at ArtsFest for many years, with some modest degree of success, and it was a very good way of getting our name and events across. However, I can only agree that after the event, all those people who go away from your performance commenting on how much they’ve enjoyed it don’t come and see the whole show where we try and earn our corn (which they have to pay for!) and that’s where this city (and others) have failed – in the basic support of the less “commercial” grassroots attractions. So whilst I will personally miss the buzz of ArtsFest performing, let’s not get too carried away with lamenting the loss, people will always turn out to free events, it’s when payment is involved they’re not as “arts orientated” as they might profess to be.
    Let’s hope the “new” festival will allow us smaller people to have some kind of outlet, but I suspect that the more obvious attractions (ie the loud ‘big stage’ productions) will take all the slices of the ever diminishing cake.

  4. Matt Murtagh

    I’ve been involved in Artsfest in a few different roles over the years and I’m kinda moderately optimistic about this. Each Artsfest for the past five years or so has been worse than the one before in terms of interesting stuff.

    Rather than turning into a shadow of itself a full reboot of the idea of the urban arts festival is needed in Brum. Those huge stages aren’t needed, there are more than enough venues in the city centre to put on an interesting and diverse festival or series of smaller fests across the summer.

  5. Steve Nickless

    I am one of the exceptions then that go to Artsfest and also support the arts in Birmingham by attending various events throughout the year. I am worried that this is, once again, the end of a successful showcase for the talent we have in the city and surrounding area. I include the (apparently mediocre ) stage entertainment in this. I for one would be opposed to Artsfest becoming a “trade show” even though I produce artwork for sale myself. We already have one of those at Christmas and the experience does not improve.Can anyone imagine Edinburgh or Notting Hill getting rid of their festivals because some people think it is boring. I’ll bet Manchester are already planning to fill the gap.
    Let’s keep our festival along with the opportunities it gives for young, inexperienced and up and coming artists to perform. Art is not just about how much money you can make from it.

  6. Tim Martin

    I don’t agree that Artsfest didn’t work, it had a unique charm. We need more events and festivals that encourage local artists from all walks to perform. The West Midlands has thousands of people who spend all year looking forwards to performing. One of the previous comments about “mediocre local bands playing to disinterested punters” but where else can local bands get a chance to play at such venues? If they don’t play, then they don’t get the experience and improve.
    The closest thing I can think of to Artsfest is Yoyogi Park in Tokyo where all sorts of strange and bizzare acts set up in the park and perform, it was fantastic!
    The strength of Birmingham Artsfest was in the eclectic mix of performers that it drew on and it been uncommercial, yes if you wanted to book big famous bands that cost a fortune, you might have had a few more people….but then you might as well go to any festival.
    Closing Artsfest is vandalism of the worst kind, taking an important artistic event away from the people who matter in the West Midlands because of viious cuts in funding from the coalition government and local government mismanagment. Perhaps we should have an Occupy Artsfest and stage it ourselves?

  7. Andy

    I have to say i’m not too saddened by the news, Artsfest seemed to focus was on size rather than quality. The biggest in free arts festival in Europe, i’d rather it was the best! In my eyes the preoccupation with ‘big in Birmingham’ prevents the council form making any real impact on the local community or on visitors from further afield.

    Birmingham’s art community has a lot to offer, but I don’t think Artsfest was the answer. It had the wrong priorities and in all honesty did not represent money well spent. Let’s hope the new proposal focuses on quality and can be the beginning of something wonderful for the city.

  8. This is such a shame, I only found out about Artsfest last year and was intending this year to participate.

    I do hope it is replaced by something else similar in which local artists can showcase their creativity around the city.

  9. ele

    I have followed Arts Fest for a few years now and really enjoyed it. It was here I first saw Goodnight Lenin and now pay to see them along with many other bands. I for one shall be sad to see it go.

  10. Mr Singh

    I personally am very disappointed that there will be no Artsfest in 2013. My wife and I together with our 3 year old daughter had a great time and more importantly a very educational experience when we attended the event last year.

    One minute we were in the Symphony Hall watching a talented sitar player accompanied by the tabla, the next moment we were witnessing a group of young school children at the Birmingham Museum singing in a choir surrounded by beautiful pieces of art. Outside the symphony hall they had a marquee where we were treated to brass band of youngsters playing just a few steps away from us. We got to see a gospel choir (for the very first time I might add) at the grand and majestic setting of the Town hall.

    These were a few of the many other events we managed to pack in the space of a day. My daughter got to learn about brass instruments, an introduction to classical Indian music, the soul of a gospel choir, the spectacle and sounds of a quartet. Then there was an event where we had to get involved in a percussion driven performance, so many events were very interactive and got my daughter involved.

    So I ask – where else would one find the opportunity to experience such a fun and educationally enriching event that all the family can be part of in a safe and well organised environment? Where else would one get the opportunity to visit such amazing places in and around our great city for free?

    The last point is very important. Yes this event was free which obviously helped encourage more people to attend, including my family. But it also provided an introduction to many forms of new genres of music, art and access to some amazing venues. This in turn has got us interested in attending paid events and concerts in the future. I fear many other young families like mine who may also have benefited from this festival, will now be denied the chance.

  11. It’s a shame that Artsfest has fallen by the wayside. A great idea poorly executed.
    It tried to tick to many separate cultural boxes instead of galvanizing a brand “Birmingham.”
    I would scale it down to just Broad Street/Symphony Hall area.
    2 half Days Fri(Night)/Sat/Sun.
    The most successful Festival seem’s to be the city’s GayPride.
    Surely aligning it alongside that festival would give it more energy/finance/inventiveness?
    STOP trying to please everyone, as in the end you will get what you got.
    Pleased no one and failing.
    This is the 2nd city but is 2nd rate nearly in all areas be it cultural or business.
    We are at the moment behind Manchester,Liverpool,Leeds and even to close neighbours Coventry/Wolverhampton.
    Look at Coventry’s website:
    Simple and easy to follow, not over reaching itself.
    Maybe the immense diversity of our larger multicultural city hinders rather than enriches.
    We need those in charge of this kind of event to have more vision and courage.

Comments are closed.