The Balsall Heath Biennale

With a street party to rival the festival attended by the rich and powerful in Venice, the Balsall Heath Biennale in Birmingham began with a big, rather localised, bang. That localisation is exactly what this two year art project is about: bringing art and community together in neighbourhood often dismissed as messy, litter strewn and, well, a bit dodgy really.

Artists and residents Elizabeth Rowe and Chris Poolman know differently. Their own experiences living and working in the city’s diverse suburb of Balsall Heath had proven that the area has something special and they decided to put together an art project that exploits what the residents have in common.

Common is an important theme of the biennale: the common ground people meet on and the common ground between them, there is a lot of sharing going on. From a contemporary art school teaching locals new skills, crafts and art practices, through competitions to regular talks about issues affecting the local area (real and imagined). The biennale’s aim is to enable all the people who live in Balsall Heath to get involved in the local culture as much as they want, helping them connect with their neighbours and find out more about their area, as well making them proud and getting the word about what an interesting and exciting place to live it is.

The biennale started earlier this month (July) and runs until the end of September 2013. Here’s a run down of the best activities and initiatives still to come:

Limited edition bin bags Launch
Throughout August
Litter and rubbish is a problem in most urban areas, and Balsall Heath is no different. In an effort to try and encourage people to take more care of their area and address the litter issue, limited edition, artist designed bin bags are being distributed in the Eastwood Road from in August. Inspired by designs from artists Bill Veolia and Jean “Dust” Painleve, the bags will add a colourful dimension to bin night. The local moggies will take the role of art critic and deliver their verdict on the success, or not, of the artwork bin bags in the form of scratching them open. They know what they like, after all. Chicken.

Tourist Information centre
Saturdays 3rd, 17th & 31st August, 12-4pm
Find out more about the local area, what’s going on and learn how to do arts and crafts from the local artists. Check out the biennale website for more details on where the tourist information centre will pop up next.

Activity Day at the Old Printworks
Sunday 4th August, 12-4pm
The Old Printworks is having an open day to showcase the skills and talents of the unit holders at the works, including exhibitions, tutorials, craft stalls and live music, there’s something for everyone to get involved with and for out more about.

Stray cats of Balsall Heath: Origins, History and Usage
Tuesday 6th August, 6.30-8pm
Chris Poolman, local cat botherer, or “expert”, whichever you prefer, will give a talk on stray cats, including feral ethics or “scraggology”, contemporary art and cats and the local stray cat fur trade. If you have seen some of the ferals in Balsall Heath, you can imagine how luxurious that muff would be. Check it out at Balsall Heath Church Centre.

Muzikstan Festival 2013
Saturday 17th August, 12pm til late
There will be activities, workshops, homemade food and cakes and a cider stand, as well ten live acts from across the globe will be taking over The Old Printworks for the afternoon and late into the evening.

Decorate your home and garden competition launch
Friday 23rd August – Sunday 1st September
Homes and gardens throughout Balsall Heath will be decorated in surreal style – think Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Conroy Maddox. Cash prizes will be awarded to best and most surreal entry. Even if you’re not a Balsall Heathen, you can enjoy the weird and wonderful decorations.

Public Art: How does it get made?
Tuesday 10th September, 6.30-8pm
Claire Doherty and artist Ruth Claxton will be art the Ort gallery to discuss public art, including the commissioning process and how it’s made.

Balsall Heath World Cup
Saturday 21st September, 11.30am-4pm
A community fun day in the park, but probably not the sunshine. Numerous workshops and competitions will be taking place.

Balsall Heath Biennale Internation Open Submission Salon
Friday 27th September
The Balsall Heath Academy of Contemporary Art will be hosting an open submission art competition. You don’t even have to be from Balsall Heath to enter and you don’t really have to be talented. Enter whatever you like, there’s a strict no questions asked policy. Get involved. You might even win a prize.

To see the full listings and find out what else is happening, click here.

Turns out Balsall Heath might be a little bit more than a wasteland between the city centre and Moseley, punctuated only by curry restaurants and a Lidl. Now’s the perfect time to find out more and enjoy the local culture, before all the hipsters from Moseley turn up and ruin it.

Words: Sally Watson-Jones

See more of Sally’s words here.

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