Birmingham Jewellery Biennial: Celebrating Craftsmanship and Innovation

09 February 2024

Birmingham Jewellery Biennial: Celebrating Craftsmanship and Innovation

In my last blog, I mentioned a couple of ideas I’m exploring for new city festivals. One was Birmingham Light Festival, and the other was the Birmingham Jewellery Biennial. Today I’m going to write a little more about the latter.

This concept was actually developed through a consultation process delivered through the Jewellery Quarter Development Trust several years ago. I was lucky enough to work on that project as a consultant, so it’s been a real pleasure re-exploring the idea and bringing it up to date. I remember being hugely struck by the potential impact of the idea at the time and now I think it’s more needed and more important than ever. The initial consultation involved a wide variety of stakeholders from Birmingham Museums and the School of Jewellery to local designer makers and local hospitality businesses – it was very much an idea that has been shaped by the people of Birmingham for our city.

Long Term Vision

The vision for the Birmingham Jewellery Biennial is nothing short of spectacular. A month-long celebration of the artistry, heritage, and innovation within the realm of jewellery. Imagine the Jewellery Quarter and wider city-centre being brought to life with a programme of jewellery fairs, markets, workshops, pop-up exhibitions, heritage tours, open studios, parties, seminars, street dressing and a series of longer-running socially engaged projects in partnership with local organisations.

The Birmingham Jewellery Biennial will focus primarily on animating the Jewellery Quarter but will include collaborations with major cultural institutions across the city. At the heart of the festival will be a flagship exhibition, initially pinpointed to take place at the prestigious location of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, featuring renowned artists alongside winners of a major UK-wide jewellery open call.

The more I work on this project the more I think this event has potential to really start to shift perceptions about the connectivity of the Jewellery Quarter and Colmore Business District. These neighbouring areas are so walkable (and of course also connected by the West Midlands Metro) and yet many people I speak to still visualise the Jewellery Quarter as being ‘far away’ from places like Colmore Row.

At the heart of the scope for this festival is the desire to achieve four primary goals:

  • Increasing awareness of the Jewellery Quarter in local, national, and international markets
  • Fostering local pride in the Jewellery Quarter
  • Boosting trade for local creative, retail, and hospitality businesses
  • Celebrating and showcasing artistic excellence within the field of jewellery making

In my view, the Birmingham Jewellery Biennial has the potential to be a real focal point for tourism, a catalyst for place-making, and a driver of economic growth.

Phase 1

As you will no doubt see, this is an ambitious long-term vision so first and foremost we need to lay solid foundations for its success. As City Curator I have supported the Jewellery Quarter Development Trust with submitting a funding bid that would allow us to take the next steps in developing this idea – phase 1!

If we are successful in securing the funding, then phase 1 activities include the following:

  • Brand development in collaboration with a marketing agency. Ensuring we create a brand that truly reflects the festival’s aspirations to become a flagship event for Birmingham and eventually the UK.
  • Establishment of festival governance, including the formation of an expert (volunteer) steering group and recruitment of a freelance festival coordinator.
  • Development of a robust digital infrastructure, including a website with functionalities for hosting digital exhibitions, easy to browse/ filter event listings, a blog, and e-commerce etc.
  • Commissioning a freelance curator to conceptualise the first exhibition and oversee the associated open call.
  • Delivering a launch event during Birmingham Heritage Week to galvanise stakeholders and generate excitement for the Birmingham Jewellery Biennial.
  • Delivery of The People’s Show: A digital exhibition from Craftspace showcasing jewellery owned by the people of Birmingham, celebrating the city’s diversity and its connections to global cultures.
  • Continuation of the Jewellery Quarter Development Trust’s podcast series, “Tales from the Quarter,” exploring the social history of the Jewellery Quarter and its significance in Birmingham’s industrial heritage.

With the City Council currently unable to commit funds to Birmingham Heritage Week, we have also built in the funding of that important city-wide celebration into this funding bid in the hope of finding a different way for this much-loved event to still go ahead.

In short, by the end of Phase 1 we would have established robust governance structures, a compelling brand identity, and a fully functional website, laying the groundwork for the festival’s success.

Phase 2 and Beyond

With the foundations firmly built, the focus of phase 2 will be the delivery of Birmingham Jewellery Biennial – intended for June 2025. Plus, further fundraising and development as we seek to establish this festival as a biennial event in the international calendar.

The key strategic partners for Birmingham Jewellery Biennial are Birmingham City University (School of Jewellery), Birmingham Museums Trust, Quartermasters, and Birmingham City Council – with many more organisations expressing their interest in working with us as delivery partners.

I really believe that Birmingham Jewellery Biennial has the potential to build over time to be genuinely extraordinary.

The potential impact of this festival should not be underestimated:

A flagship event for the city that aligns with the WM Tourism Strategy

An event that puts the Jewellery Quarter and city on the map

A showcase of excellence; both heritage and creative innovation

An event that consistently increases trade for creative, retail and hospitality businesses in the area

It will play a very important role in the place branding of the Jewellery Quarter and it’s so wonderful to see such a great deal of community support for the idea.

Please do keep your fingers crossed for the success of this initial funding bid. I am so looking forward to working with the Jewellery Quarter Development Trust on this initiative. Stay tuned for more updates.

Alex Nicholson-Evans

City Curator