Annual Birmingham festival agreed but clash over date

Fireworks. Photo: @RiichardJP

The City Council’s Conservative group tabled a motion at Tuesday’s full council meeting calling for a Birmingham Festival to be held on January 14 each year.

The festival is meant to ‘celebrate our common heritage and history’ and has been backed by the ruling Labor group.

But Labor has proposed an amendment to remove the date – with council leader Councilor Ian Ward saying January was not the right time to hold the event.

He added that there are already plans to hold an annual Birmingham International Festival from 2023 as part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games.

There will also be a six-month cultural program called the Birmingham Festival 2022, which kicks off later this month.

The meeting heard councilors’ suggestions on which aspects of Birmingham’s cultural heritage should be featured at a festival – including heavy metal, bhangra and grime music.

Presenting the festival motion, Conservative group leader Councilor Robert Alden said: “A Birmingham festival would enable future generations to understand our proud past and future opportunities.

“A Birmingham festival would provide an opportunity to celebrate the range of history of each suburb locally and of the city as a whole in the centre.

“Let your imagination run wild with the potential, you could have drones lighting up the night sky with a dancing bull in downtown.

“Think of the inspiring stories from the Brummies’ past that can be told to inspire the children of our town towards an even brighter future.

“A Birmingham festival would not only be a chance to celebrate our past, it would also be a chance to bring investment into our city.”

Arguing that January 14 was the right date for the event, he said: “Instead of cramming everything into a month, August is an incredibly busy time of year in terms of events.”

He added: “It’s also a very expensive time for most ordinary Brummies in the city.”

Council leader Councilor Ian Ward said the city would use the Commonwealth Games as a “springboard for future celebrations”, including an annual Birmingham Festival.

He said: ‘The truth is that thanks to the foresight and bold ambition of the Labor Council, we are preparing to celebrate all of Birmingham this summer as the city hosts the biggest and most exciting event of our story.

“The Commonwealth Games will showcase all that is great about this fantastic city and I am confident the Games will be just the start of a brighter future for Birmingham and its people.”

But he said: “We are ok with there being a Birmingham festival.

“If the national news has taught us anything, it’s that some curators have a lot of experience in hosting parties and social events.

“But it appears that this expertise does not extend to Birmingham curators who wish to hold an annual celebration of our great city during one of the wettest and coldest months of the year, a month when people don’t have as much disposable income after Christmas parties.

He added that sticking to the date of January 14 each year would mean the festival would often fall on a weekday.

Councilor Mariam Khan, Chair of the Commonwealth Games, Culture and Physical Activity Oversight and Review Committee, spoke about the importance of this year’s cultural festival to the Games.

She said: ‘Today’s motion and amendment are very, very important, but we shouldn’t reinvent the wheel and instead build on the blocks that already exist and the commitments we’ve already made.

“We are funding the Organizing Committee to deliver Creative City – a massive £2million community arts program that will run across Birmingham as part of the Games culture festival, the first time arts and community culture are integrated.

“The cultural festival of the Games […] will be launched on February 28 and will pass through the city and the wider region.

“The festival will engage 2.5 million people over a six-month showcase celebrating the region’s creativity.

“It’s a real mix of cultural and artistic forms that represent Birmingham and the West Midlands and will primarily be accessible free of charge to residents, meaning the 2022 Festival will be a real touchpoint with the Games.”

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