Culture: Art Space That Is Difficult to Replace; Terry Grimley Explains Why the International Profile of Birmingham's Artists Is Threatened by the Regeneration of Eastside

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Byline: Terry Grimley

Work by 23 artists from Birmingham and Milan has just gone on display in Digbeth, reinforcing the city's case to be European Capital of Culture 2008.

But can these international credentials be sustained? The exhibition, Repertorio, is the latest event to be staged in Birmingham's most informal and flexible arts space, Chuck Works. Unfortunately, it will almost be the last.

The nondescript exterior of the inter-war industrial building on New Canal Street conceals an interior space which is an ideal readymade gallery - spacious, high and comprehensively top-lit.

Its potential was first spotted last year by sculptor Angelo Bordinari, who has had his studio next door for the last 20 years.

'The landlord used to be my landlord,' he explained. 'Last year when I was looking for a space for a show we realised what a good space it is. He gave it to us for nothing and from them on it's been an entertainments space.'

The first exhibition, held last summer, was a group show by members of the artists' organisation Birmingham Artists (formerly Birmingham Art Trust), selected by Brendan Flynn of the Museum & Art Gallery and myself. Chuck Works has also hosted exhibitions of photography in association with the annual Rhubarb Rhubarb festival, and earlier this month it was the venue for Birmingham Opera Company's highly successful production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. For that performance the walls and roof lights were painted blue, and large quantities of white paint have now been deployed in returning the building towards an approximation of a white box. Only an approximation though, because the walls are cluttered with pipes and ducts which should ideally be boarded over to create a purer white space - which, I believe, would be stunning.

Unfortunately that is not going to happen, because after the threeweek run of Repertorio and a final group show, Chuck Works is to be demolished. It stands on the site of the new Library of Birmingham and, even though building work on that is not scheduled to begin until 2005 (even assuming the existing funding gap can be bridged) the city wants to clear the site now. Angelo Bordinari's studio, home to eight artists, will also disappear.

Bordinari and his colleagues make a lot of public art for sites in the West Midlands. At the moment a large three-part carving for Topcliffe School in Castle Vale is awaiting collection.

'We have a lot of stone-carving, and it's going to be hard to find somewhere in the city centre, because of the dust and noise,' he said.

Bordinari, who is from Brescia, came to Birmingham as a student in 1982 and has stayed ever since. Even though he now has a teaching job in his home town he has kept his studio in Birmingham, going back to Italy for three months at a time. …