Monday, 16 September 2013

The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is complete and finally opened its doors on the 3rd September. For just over 3 and a half years, the people of Birmingham, most of them like myself walking to and from work, but not forgetting the throngs making their way up to the delightful hot spots of Broad Street for a night of merriment, have watched this building grow and emerge from a building site behind the huge white boards into this splendid piece of modern architecture which I think has transformed the Brummie cityscape. On the same day, The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which has been closed for two and a half years to enable the new library to be built alongside, also opened its doors for business with a production of Alan Bennett's new comedy The House. The theatre has been completely refurbished with the addition of a new 300 seat auditorium and extended foyer which now links it to the The Library of Birmingham and the REP's original iconic facade has been cleaned and restored to its former glory.  

The £189m library houses a collection of one million books, 200 public access computers, theatres, an exhibition gallery and music rooms, not forgetting of course the obligatory cafe. It was officially opened by Malala Yousafzai, the teenager shot in the head in Pakistan by the Taliban for championing women's rights and who was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and now lives in the city. As part of the opening ceremony, Malala placed her copy of The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho in the library - the last book to go on the shelves. In these days of dwindling bookshops and public libraries partly due to sales of ebooks outstripping sales of printed books, it's encouraging to think that money has been invested into library services aimed at introducing and encouraging people to engage with the written word. 

I belong to two book groups and we all buy hard copies of the chosen books,(in fact for one of my groups we make full use of our local library in Shirley, Solihull by borrowing all the books we need which is a service that all libraries offer to book groups. A library is much much more than just a place to go and borrow a book to read). I'm not alone in enjoying the physicality of holding a book and turning the pages which is all part of the love of reading. There is something quite exquisite and virginal about a brand new book and it almost seems a crime to crease the spine. I like having two or three books on the go which I can delve into dependent on mood.  I have not yet succumbed to the Kindle but then again I once said I would never buy a digital camera thinking they would never catch on. I am not a luddite and I do think there is certainly a place for them. To be honest if they encourage young people, who are so used to using electronic devices, to read books then I can't sing their praises enough.  I do admit to thinking having a Kindle would be a boon on holiday as it would save having to pack a boot full, or suitcase full of holiday reads. Also, on holiday recently, I took quite a thick page turner of a novel away with me and the heat of the sun, combined with residues of sun cream and the general flinging it in and out of my beach bag made the book completely disintegrate and I ended up with pages floating away down the river.  Another benefit is it would certainly save me having to wear a head torch in the tent when reading at night so maybe one day....

Rock n Roll in Chamberlain Square

Anyway enough of my pontificating. To mark the opening of the Library of Birmingham, on 6th - 8th September, major arts organisations joined forces to celebrate with a weekend of outdoor arts. Called 4Squares Weekender, the city's central squares - Oozells in Brindleyplace, Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria were transformed with live music, dance, art, film, circus and theatre.

In Oozells Square Ikon Gallery played a major role in the celebrations with the creation of a giant city and canalscape made of clay where children and grown-ups alike all joined in to get their hands dirty for an afternoon of messy fun.

The cityscape though ended up looking far more like a fantasy world.

Moored on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal in Brindleyplace outside the National Sealife Centre is Ikon's very own floating art venue called Slow Boat. Members of Ikon's Youth programme were on board to help with Clayground Collective's Clay Cargo installation.  The boat acts as a stage for on-board exhibitions, canal-side performances, screenings, installations, theatrical events, talks and activities in various locations en route. The young people take Slow Boat on numerous day and weekend trips, plus longer voyages outside Birmingham along the many canal routes that link the city to the rest of the country.

Each year a contemporary artist  works in residency alongside the IYP to redesign the boat. This year Navin Rawanchaikul inspired by his Thai and Pakistani heritage hosts Navinland, a floating campaign to find other Navins, with a number of celebratory events organised whilst sailing through the Central Shires and East Midland waterways.

Couldn't go for long without stopping for refreshments at Cafe Opus at Ikon.

In Central Square, Brindleyplace, an aerial sculpture by Pif Paf a mechanical world of action, metal and rope.

Kept spotting these people everywhere. Described as a sculptural flash mob the Reds mingled with the crowds creating quite a stir.  They would happily pose for photographs but retained an air of mystery by not engaging in any conversation.

On then to Victoria Square where I spotted this colourful washing line outside the Council House. Are these clothes what our Brummie councillors are wearing these days. They would do wise then not to wash their  dirty linen in public. 


Another welcome pitstop at the Post Office Vaults

In Chamberlain Square, some of Birmingham's finest Reggae artists took to the stage in Reggae Splash with  Basil Gabbidon, Yaz Alexander, Peter Spence, Tenna Star and Musical Youth.

Now I love reggae and could not resist having a little boogie on down to it all, hence why the following films might be a bit jerky as I was trying to film as well as dance. Here is Basil Gabbidon and Backing Band.

Remember in the 1980s Pass the Dutchie by Musical Youth?  It was a major hit in the UK, holding the number one position on singles charts there for three weeks in October 1982 and selling 5 million copies worldwide. Here they are again singing it in their home town for the people of Birmingham. I have to say though they are not quite so youthful now. 

Finally an unforgettable late-night spectacular presented by Birmingham Hippodrome and Wired Aerial Theatre.  As the World Tipped combined dramatic film and visuals with breath taking aerial performance and stunning choreography.

Demand was so high to tour the Library of Birmingham, with queues spiralling and growing ever longer outside, it was just far too busy to get in so disappointingly the tour of the interior will have to wait till  another day. In fact by 11th September 100,000 visitors had passed through its doors.

I get to meet and chat to many visitors to the Ikon Gallery where I work as a visitor assistant and so far all have come in absolutely buzzing about the new library. The response has been overwhelmingly in favour and not quite the blott on the landscape that many Birmingham residents thought it might be. As a Brummie I have always been tremendously proud of my home town and get annoyed when people give it a bad press. Folk who have never visited or only ever viewed it from the M6 on their way to the north and south of the country and who probably listen to people like Jeremy Clarkson (who frankly should grow up a bit instead of spending his time playing with his toy cars and making a living out of insulting the good people and places of the UK and rest of the world - don't get me started).  It has definitely injected new life and interest into Birmingham and the city centre from both the people who live here and tourists who from the feed back I get all say what a beautiful city we have.  

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