Byline: Sally Luton
It would be odd - not to say professional suicide - for the Executive Director of the Arts Council's West Midlands office to respond to the question of 'whether there is life in regional arts' in anything other than the positive.
At one level, the response is just a big fat yes. The evidence? Well, we can start with the 1,100-plus applications to our Grants for the Arts scheme in the West Midlands this year and the 500 successful awards which provided opportunities for thousands of people to participate and experience arts practices, differentiated by artform, geography, community, ethnicity and gender, in a huge variety of settings - from nurseries to residential homes for the elderly and everything in between including concert halls, arts centres, galleries and theatres.
The sheer scale, range and quality of arts activity taking place in this region demonstrate that regional arts are thriving as never before, reflecting the situation right across the country.
Of course I would say that - but you don't have to take my word for it. Earlier this year, in his cultural speech to arts leaders at Tate Modern, Tony Blair declared the arts and culture throughout the UK are "more confident, more assertive, more creative and alive" than a decade ago.
The Prime Minister's affirmation of the importance of the arts to this country echoes the voices of countless politicians, civic leaders, regeneration experts and health professionals - all of them recognising and endorsing the role which the arts play in delivering a distinctive sense of place, quality of life and community development.
But am I missing the point? Is the question really about scale and range? Or is there an inference the arts that are the most "alive" tend mainly to be in London?
Again, and unsurprisingly, my response would be to challenge any such suggestion.
It is of course the case the London region (yes London is a region too!) is home to many artists and hosts an enviable array of performances, screenings and exhibitions. But for it to be otherwise would be unthinkable - London is a capital city and capital cities by their very nature are expected to have a significant scale of cultural offer.
But to look with envy on those assets and neglect to recognise the regional renaissance which has taken place in recent years would be shortsighted. Cities throughout England have undergone a huge regeneration, significantly transforming their physical, economic and cultural landscapes. The confidence and energy this has inspired is apparent in places like Newcastle/Gateshead, Manchester, Liverpool and, of course, not least here in Birmingham. Visitors to the city are dazzled by its continuing transformation. The city's commitment to the arts has been impressive and needs to be sustained to ensure external perceptions catch up with the reality.
With this in mind, it somehow seems both unnecessary and outdated for 'the regions' to feel the need to react defensively to what happens in London. Better that we focus on nurturing and promoting our own distinctive assets - which in this region is our diversity, our youth and our talent for making things - and reach out to the rest of the country and world through cultural exchange and collaboration to develop new ways of working and sharing best practice, which will ultimately benefit arts practitioners, participants and audiences everyw here. Just last month, Birmingham based art is Mohammed Ali (aka Aerosol Arabic) returned from a highly successful tour to the US as part of the Arts Council's Arts and Islam programme, which was initiated to help people gain an understanding of how one of the world's major religions views artistic creativity.
In the West Midlands we are extremely fortunate to have the biggest cluster of nationally and internationally recognised companies outside of London - the Royal Shakespeare Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Ikon Gallery and Birmingham Repertory Theatre are all players on an international stage. …