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Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Tuesday, 18 May 2010 17:45 UK
Eastside's cultural renaissance

Aaron Wright


Birmingham's Eastside is a hub of creativity

For hundreds of years Birmingham was an industrially thriving city - the 'workshop of the world'. Even as late as the 1960s the city could still boast '1001 trades'.

At the very heart of this boom was Eastside (more commonly known as Digbeth); a sprawling mass of factories, warehouses and canals churning out goods and employing thousands.

Among the area's most notable residents was Bird's Custard. But in 1964 Bird's moved production to Banbury leaving the custard factory empty - just one in a long line of blows to the area which subsequently fell into rapid decline.

After standing empty for nearly 30 years, the Custard Factory was renovated, providing a unique environment for artists to create and collaborate. The new Custard Factory complex quickly gained an international reputation for its club nights, galleries and striking architecture.

Creative arena

It gradually became home to more and more artists and creative businesses.

Graffiti at Eastside

Tindal Street Press, Birmingham's prize winning fiction publisher, Capsule, curators of the internationally acclaimed Supersonic music festival, 7 Inch Cinema, the masterminds behind the annual Flatpack Festival, and Birmingham Jazz, co-ordinators of jazz events across the city - they all inhabitant the complex.

Street artists have also long been associated with the area with many choosing to use the derelict buildings and run down facades as blank canvases on which to create the most vibrant and bizarre work.

In 2008, Ikon Gallery established a permanent base for itself - a nod of recognition to Eastside's creative influence.

Helen Stallard of Ikon said: "Ikon has run a programme of off-site activities for many years - we were originally conceived as a 'gallery without walls'.

"Ikon Eastside allows us to put on exhibitions that would not fit into the Brindleyplace galleries; we can be more esoteric."

The area plays host to a diverse array of niche and fringe events attended religiously by those in the know, but unheard of to the majority of the Birmingham population.

We Are Eastside

However, this is set to change if Lisa Meyer has anything to do with it.

Graffiti at Eastside

The co-director of Capsule has recently co-ordinated the We Are Eastside initiative. This pulls together 16 of the areas creative spaces and companies to create a more cohesive image for the area.

Those currently involved with the initiative include Eastside Projects and VIVID as well as record label Punch, photography company Rhubarb Rhubarb, Project Pigeon, The Edge, VRU and Craftspace.

Their newly established We Are Eastside blog has quickly become a must read guide for what's going on in the area and their brochure, designed by Grand Union resident James Langdon, contains introductions to all of the 16 organisations.

Local historian Ben Waddington suggests that there is currently 'a sense of a creative and productive renaissance' in the area.

Recent additions to the cultural playground are vast. Grand Union, Boxxed and The Lombard Method are all new to the area. In the next phase of the Custard Factory complex, Zelig, is due to open in the Devonshire House building, providing more office, studio, gallery and retail space as well as three major sculptures.

The future

The area's nightlife has already seen dramatic changes in 2010 with the internationally renowned Factory Club having closed it's doors.

Graffiti at Eastside

The owners are setting their sights on other areas within the Custard complex including a mysterious 'secret room'. But competition will be stiff as neighbouring nightlife hotspot The Rainbow has also announced plans for up to 4 new venues over the coming 12 months, starting with Cellar Door at the end of May.

Recently announced plans could see a high speed train line from London bring the former Curzon Street Station back to life.

And Birmingham City Council's massive Eastside regeneration, part of the Big City Plan, could change the area beyond recognition.

Whatever happens over the coming months and years, it certainly is going to be an interesting time ahead for Eastside.


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