The second weekend in September has been Arts Fest weekend in Birmingham for the past 15 years. According to the website;
ArtsFest celebrates the West Midland region’s astounding wealth of creative talent, and shows the West Midland’s region as the bustling cultural centre it is. It features performances, workshops, exhibitions, installations, talks and screenings, across the performing, visual and digital arts genres. It provides artists with the chance to showcase and celebrate their work and to raise their profile with the large numbers of visitors the festival attracts. Visitors get to sample everything from traditional to cutting edge arts and entertainment, all free of charge
The event relies a lot on volunteers to help things run smoothly, and I was one of them. My official title was Venue Assistant. I was located at Café Blend (near the mailbox), a little place just away from the main event sites of Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria squares. I got to witness plenty of folk music and a little bit of R&B on the Saturday and heaps of poetry and spoken performances on the Sunday.
When my shifts ended, I swiftly changed out of my Arts Fest t-shirt and wondered round to see what else was going on. Highlights of the event included Mandala on the Friday evening, which was a mix of classical and edgy urban dancing, combined with light effects and 3D projections, created by Sampad and Seeper. There were ‘Be Active’ zones which were a variety of workshops aimed at getting people active with anything from zumba to morris dancing. Birmingham radio station BBC WM had an ‘Introducing…’ stage, on Sunday evening, showcasing talented bands and artists from the region. The festivities on Saturday ended with the screening, in Victoria Square, of the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, complete with fireworks display; and the Sunday festivities ended with the screening of the closing ceremony to the Paralympic Games, including the Bandstand Marathon, where Birmingham joined 449 others across the country to celebrate the cultural Olympiad.
Amongst these highlights, there were plenty of other things going on as well. A chance to create your own art as well as observing others; and the chance to browse and purchase a variety of arts and crafts. There was also ‘Ask It!’ stalls where you could approach an artist or organisation to find out more about what they do.
There was plenty of music performances to see as well, all scattered throughout the bars and venues of the city centre; jazz, funk, soul, folk, pop and rock as well as the spoken word performances and dramatisations, a literary heritage walking tour; magicians; face-painting; an outdoor climbing wall; and for a lucky few, the chance to get a sneak preview at the progress of the new Library of Birmingham before its grand opening in 2013. There was an awful lot of the arts crammed into one weekend; something for everyone really.
Walking through parts of the event area whilst people were setting up, on my way to collect my Arts Fest t-shirt and start my shift, there was an electricity in the air, a sort of calmness before the chaos of people would crowd in. It felt like everybody knew it was going to be a fantastic weekend. And it was.
If being a part of the event sounds like something you could do, or if you want more information, weather as an artist or volunteer, get over to www.artsfest.org.uk and sign up to the mailing list for updates on next year’s event and when applications will be open