When it comes to independent art galleries in Birmingham, the numbers are quite sobering.
My name is Owen de Visser, and I champion arts in Birmingham. I moved here for university in 2004 and fell in love with the city; The music scene, the individual identities of each suburb, the nightlife, but mostly Birmingham’s people. I have now spent almost my entire adult life here, and I consider myself an honorary Brummie.
For the past 8 years, I have spent much of my energy promoting art in Birmingham, firstly through ArtsBrum, a comprehensive website listing everything ‘art’ in the city. Then, in 2017, I also founded the first Birmingham Open Studios, which continues to grow annually.
A photographer by trade, I immersed myself in the creative world. I kept meeting amazing talented people, who produced genuinely exciting, quality work, yet struggled to find the people to buy it. Too many brilliant artists were creating in the shadows, unable to make ends meet, and it was painful to witness.
My focus shifted to make something permanent for artists in Birmingham. So in 2021 I opened my dream business Lux Art Gallery & Photo Studio, in Edgbaston Village.
Why are art galleries important?
Art galleries are the connection between creatives and the commercial world. Commercial galleries do the legwork in getting artists recognition, where creatives may not have the capacity to achieve that alone.
Commercial galleries are able to showcase artists’ work, and dedicate their time to displaying, promoting and selling art, so that the artists themselves can keep creating. As a result, galleries raise the profile and value in an artist’s work.
The commercial gallery model has existed for decades, and continues to thrive and grow, in spite of changing trends, lifestyles, and continuing shifts towards online shopping.
Focus on Birmingham
Many local residents believe that Birmingham is a creative, cultural city. And it is. It has a great street-art scene, plus a rich musical and cultural history. It boasts festivals, historical sites, and myriad arts markets and working artist studios, plus the infamous Jewellery Quarter. There are a few local heroes in the artistic sector, and a handful of recent success stories.
But too many artists struggle in the city. The creative scene and the commercial sector are very disconnected in Birmingham. A lot of the art world is ‘underground’. This is where independent galleries should help; in bridging the gap between artists and art buyers.
However, here’s the reality: Independent art galleries come and go far too quickly in Birmingham. There are now fewer independent galleries in Birmingham than at any other point in the past 20 years.
It’s instinctive to say either the wider art world – or the economy – is to blame for the decline. However, nationally between 2010 and 2019, the number of commercial art galleries in the UK grew steadily year-on-year from 1,084 to 1,597. The decline is certainly not national.