Wade on Birmingham

The Future of Birmingham: Artful

Four Spirits

Photo: Rain0975 (CC)

“Four Spirits” in downtown’s Kelly Ingram Park memorializes the
girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.
Birmingham is overflowing with talented artists, and the people
who support them.

Get the full version of this essay in our free ebook.
Details at the end.

By Jess Simpson

Ask me what could make the biggest difference in the future of Birmingham with the least muscle required (meaning unrealistic wads of money, seemingly unattainable widespread cooperation among politicians, core infrastructure evolution, etc.), and my answer is always …

The Future of BirminghamOur creative capital.

Birmingham is overflowing with talented artists, musicians, filmmakers, dancers, choreographers, producers, actors, playwrights, authors, painters, sculptors, metal workers, photographers and patrons.

Ask almost anyone what they like about living in Birmingham, and they will talk about a favorite event or festival; the quality of our museums, symphony and ballet; the growing gallery and visual arts scene; the discovery of a new artist; or our ever-expanding array of top-notch performance spaces.

Anyone who doubts Birmingham’s creative capital simply isn’t paying attention.

For many years, I had the privilege of working for one of the city’s art centers, seeking performers to showcase. What I found again and again while scouting “outside” talent, is that local artists have as much or more talent than almost any other community in the land. And they consistently produce beautiful, thought-provoking work with astonishingly few resources.

In March 2015, I asked a panel of these artists, “What would happen if we dreamed big artistically?” Based on their thoughtful responses, it was clear: We have no shortage of big dreams brewing in the wings — we just the need the resources to bring them to fruition.

Finding inspiration, supporting grand thinking

Along the oceanfront promenade of Zadar, Croatia, visitors can experience the impact of visionary art. In reflecting upon my recent visit, I found my thoughts once again turning to Birmingham.

The Adriatic coastal area, once heavily bombed and scarred from war, is a magnet today for locals and tourists, thanks in large part to two public art installations. One, called the “Sea Organ,” uses air created by passing boats to create music through a series of pipes, delivering sweet sounds through the city day and night. The other, “Greeting to the Sun,” soaks up solar energy to produce a giant, out-of-this-world light show at night.

Both are free, self-perpetuating and constantly running. Universally acclaimed for creating hope and excitement where once stood only devastation and despair, these projects have helped to make Zadar one of Europe’s hottest destinations.

We have that same potential to engage and transform the world through the beauty and power of art. It requires that we, collectively and individually, make a commitment to educate, nurture, recruit and support artists.

Here’s how to start …

  1. Collect work from Birmingham-based artists.
  2. Buy tickets to shows.
  3. Encourage original work.
  4. Nurture curiosity about innovative art.
  5. Help artists make meaningful connections.
  6. Use influence to seek support for artistic projects.
  7. Support bold ideas.
  8. Elevate our talent at every opportunity.
  9. Partner with artists on cross-pollination.
  10. Demand engaging art programs in our schools.
  11. Position Birmingham as a place where artists thrive.
  12. And, by all means, kick the inclination to think of local as “second tier” to the curb.

Creating an environment where the arts can flourish takes dedication. It also takes heart.

And, that’s where the good news keeps coming. Birmingham has a heart so big, it can’t long be denied.

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Jess SimpsonLover of a colorful story and a good margarita, Jess Simpson is a Birmingham writer chasing a dream of slow travel through a fast world. Her recently published work includes “Greetings from Birmingham” for Paste.

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The Future of BirminghamThe full version of this essay and many more are available in the free ebook, “The Future of Birmingham.”

All you need to do is fill out this simple form. We’ll email you a link to download the book. (And, at no extra charge, we’ll add you to the mailing list for the free Y’all Connect newsletter.)


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Read more essays in our special 10th anniversary series, The Future of Birmingham.

2 Yips for “The Future of Birmingham: Artful”

  1. Jon Martinez
    Wednesday, October 7, 2015, 4:32 pm

    We have a great Quality of life in Birmingham. But what is more important is a Visual Quality of life. We are drawn to Beauty and the most Beautiful creation? Nature. Everything man has made was inspired by nature. And probably the least controversial material that can be designed simply as a scene of beauty or used to promote an idea. We have 4 years before the World Games come to Birmingham. Let’s set a goal to show the world the Birmingham is Blooming!!
    I have a plan to that would start from the outskirts of Birmingham from 1-20, 59 and 65 and including 459. Along the medians we plant both domesticated flowers and wildflowers. Gateways to the city i.e. Circular area of grass below the Oak Hill cemetery where I-59 and I-20 meet could be planted in concentric circles of flowers in different shades. Throughout the city we could create little Pickets of Color and texture to what can be drab and weedy. The plan focuses on using colors that are repeated to seem intentional but in creative ways. Even kudzu would be used. We might as well face it. Kudzu is part of the Soutgern landscape vernacular. Let’s harness it’s beautiful qualities, lush greenery, fast growth habit and fragrant flowers. We could create for instance an Eiffel Tower like structure that could be seen for miles. Large scale sculptures could be created that would be cost prohibitive in conventional materials but could be realized in a few short years then dismantled and reimagined All it takes is imagination. As a floral designer and garden designer I have been fortunate enough to create environments that are created from simple materials but that have a big impact. I have spent the last few years experimenting with planting techniques and propagation that could allow for very impactful designs that could include lots of traditional arts like sculpture and painting, lighting and digital media. I have also done studies so that we could plant an bed and not have to worry about watering. There are many many plants that will reseed themselves and flourish.
    We have tremendous wealth and a vibrant community of Artist and landscape designers. We could transform this city!

  2. Wade Kwon
    Thursday, October 8, 2015, 3:47 pm

    I’m glad you found no-maintenance options. After having lived in the City of Birmingham proper for 12 years, I’ve seen first hand just how poorly the city maintains any of its works (roads, parks, medians, etc.).

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jon.

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