Like many, my earliest memory of visiting Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, was as a school child. I remember being allowed to roam the galleries. We were tasked with finding a piece of art that we liked and to draw it. I chose to draw Musica (Melody) by Kate Elizabeth Bunce. It may have been the bright colours that attracted me, I really can’t remember why I chose it. However, the painting itself remains ingrained in my mind. Other memorable trips as a child were when my parents took me to the old Museum of Science & Industry on Newhall Street.
As a teenager, I was studied art at Worcester College of Technology and completed my foundation year at University of England’s (now BCU) site in Bournville. During these years, I made frequent visits to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, sometimes spending hours walking around or studying a particular piece. At this time, limited artefacts from the science museum were on display upstairs (in what is now the Birmingham It’s People, It’s History galleries), as ThinkTank was being built at Millennium Point. Artworks that I remember being moved by in this era are Francis Bacons’ ‘Figures in a Landscape’ and Anna Maria Pacheco’s ‘Man and his Sheep’; both of which I highly recommend viewing ‘in real life’ to appreciate their full magnificence.
I went on to study at Saint Martin’s in London. After graduating, I moved to the fairly rural town of Ross-on-Wye. During this period, I paid less attention to what was going on in Birmingham. However, I couldn’t fail to hear the noise about ‘Home of Metal’. For this exhibition showcased Birmingham’s connection to heavy metal music. It is the only exhibition that I’ve ever known to get my friends from school excited about visiting a museum.
I returned to Birmingham in late 2011, with a two-year-old in tow. As like many parents, I’m often looking for a varied mix of different places to take my child to and culture to expose them to. We frequently find ourselves in town, with an hour-or-two to spare. Visiting the museum and art gallery is therefore a perfect place to mill about for a while, before meeting friends for lunch, or heading elsewhere. It’s also handily dry and warm, for when the heavens open on an event in Victoria Square and the no-obligation-to-buy-anything toilets are useful when children are at “that age”.
The reason that I am telling you all of this is because I have visited the museum and art gallery many, many times (as a child, a student, a parent), all for free, zilch, nada. I’m sure you’re all much better people than I am, but you know those donation boxes museums and galleries have at the entrance/exit? I walk straight past them. Very rarely, if ever have I put my hard earned money into them. I rather save my money for important things like beer and cheese. That said, I do like the ones that flatten pennies with a design.
It was after realising how much enjoyment and help with education I had received for nothing over the years, that I began to think perhaps it’s time to give something back. I want to ensure that the Museum & Art Gallery remains free-to-enter and use for all future cash strapped students and young single parents, as I had. It was with this in mind that in 2015 I signed up as a patron of Birmingham Museums Trust.
As a patron of the trust, in exchange for my regular donation, I am invited to a wealth of cultural events at the trust’s sites across Birmingham. These can be talks, private viewings/opening nights, or performances. They often involve wine and nibbles too, which is always a bonus. Recent highlights have included: getting to see Dippy, hearing about the mass-graves found whilst digging out the HS2 site, K-Pop band Tirikilatops opening Rachel Maclean’s #TooCute exhibition, and of course hearing Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi talk about how they used to walk into town from Aston to the museum because it was somewhere free to go. Through these events, I have met people and have a greater understanding about what goes on backstage and how much work goes into creating a calendar of events, building exhibition, marketing, conservation, and restoration.
Under the direction of Ellen McAdam, Birmingham Museums Trust has come on in leaps and bounds, from being a collection of stuffy old museums, to a modern institution that asks questions about what it means to be a museum in the 21st century and how narrative can be affected by what and how artefacts are displayed. In recent years’ we’ve seen pop-art paintings juxtaposed with arts & crafts wallpaper designs, Pokemon hunts, exhibitions about sexuality, gender and identity, beer festivals and street-food events at a Jacobean hall gardens, virtual reality recreation of the chartists riots, a drag story-time for kids, and bravest of all, in 2018, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was the first museum to create an exhibition about colonialism and what it means to be a museum in post-empire Britain (a subject many institutions have been trying to brush under the proverbial carpet). This constant questioning and re-evaluating has brought Birmingham Museums Trust right into the 21st century, surpassing many contemporary white-cube galleries.
As Birmingham’s municipal museum, Birmingham Museums Trust isn’t just showing off their collection. They’re constantly collecting stories and artefacts from Birmingham’s citizens, so as there is something to tell future generations about what life is like now. Under lockdown, they have been collecting stories about what life is (or was?) like in Birmingham when everything closed.
Your experience of the sites held by Birmingham Museums Trust may be different than my own. However, for the reasons detailed above and bullet pointed below, I would strongly recommend the trust’s patronage offer. Now is a time when many institutions are on their knees. I know, it’s a tough time for many people. If you can afford to, if you have ever visited Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery without paying, now is the time to give back what you can. As they preserve our lives and stories similarly we must also preserve the institution which collects, houses, and exhibits them, for future generations.
There are many options to donate to Birmingham Museums Trust, my preference is for being a patron, for these simple reasons:
- Free entry to ThinkTank and other sites
- 10% off shops and tea rooms
- Interesting exclusive events
- Free booze
- Help keep Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery free for all to use
- Regular donation = best for the Trust
- Feel good about yourself
- Add “Patron of the Arts” to your CV/business-card/Tinder bio
Convinced? Why not Become a Patron too?