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COMMENT.

Byline: Terry Grimley

You have to hand it to Birmingham City Council, writes Terry Grimley. At a time when the importance of cultural industries to cities like ours has become a universally acknowledged truth verging on cliche, it has decided to get rid of a load of artists.

The decision to cut off support to the Lee Bank studio complex at a month's notice, effectively sounding the death-knell for the Birmingham Artists group after 21 years, is so off-message as to take the breath away. In recent years Birmingham has at last begun to build a critical mass of artists of national and international standing. Now that is likely to be thrown into reverse.

It also seems to have been extraordinarily clumsily handled. According to the council, the group was warned at a meeting 18 months ago that nemesis was at hand, but the meeting wasn't minuted. Two of the three artists present insist they heard no such thing and the third, currently abroad, would surely have raised it with his colleagues if he had.

Furthermore, the council claims to have been attempting unsuccessfully to contact the group. That's not good enough - the artists staff an office three days a week and have several email addresses, at none of which are messages from the council lurking.

It's true there may have been some naivety on the artists' part in taking for granted the continuation of subsidised studio space under an unusual arrangement where the council basically took money out of its leisure pocket and put it into its commercial property pocket.

But that in no way excuses the council's philistinism. Its action was described by one of the artists' representatives yesterday as cruel, but it's worse than cruel - it's stupid.

Having believed passionately Birmingham should have been named European Capital of Culture four years ago for its pioneering arts development, I can't now say how relieved I am that we weren't. Liverpool may be having its problems, but we would be a national laughing-stock. Short of standing on top of the Rotunda with a large placard around its neck the council could hardly have made it plainer. When it comes to culture, it just doesn't give a damn.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 21, 2007
Words:368
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