Mission Birmingham is a social movement, a culture and a way of being, doing and thinking, exemplified by a community of talented, driven, generous people from all walks of life. Over the last three years of building and growing this mission, a core part of our work has involved hosting, producing, designing and creating moments that keep the movement vibrant by platforming, enabling and celebrating resilience, courage, and tenacity. Today we are identifying and naming one of the properties that runs through this approach like a vein, flowing within our programming, how we support and work with and as artists, and how we approach the design of the very fabric of our own organisation: creative resistance.
All of us meet resistance in some shape or form, whether it’s grappling with naming the internal and external forces that affect our goals or systematically putting up a resistance to challenge these forces, change does not manifest without some form of resistance. We believe civil resistance challenges power structures, but it takes creativity to harness, redirect, regenerate and redistribute these flows of power in order for new possibilities and better outcomes to emerge.
To face inequality, injustice, and strive for a fairer city where everyone can truly benefit from the future we need to challenge dominant narratives creatively, in lots of different forms – sometimes in small, quiet, loving actions, sometimes boldly, loudly and with a deep fire in our bellies. Here’s a little about Impact Hub Birmingham’s creative resistance story so far.
Over the last 3 years we have been implicitly growing our reputation for bringing together a programme of world class writers, thinkers, filmmakers, performers and more. From deliberate and nuanced #HubTalks with writers such as New York Time #1 best selling writer Angie Thomas, Afua Hirsch, Patrick Ness and Patrisse Khan-Cullers, to collaborative events with one of the nation’s favourite bakers Nadiya Hussain and The Good Immigrant with Nikesh Shukla and Birmingham Literature Festival, our approach to programming has consistently been about quietly showing a different story.
Our #YellowWednesdays film nights also visually platform narratives that are often missing from other spaces. The screening of Amir Amirani’s We Are Many included a panel with political activist Salma Yaqoob, Natalie Jeffers of Black Lives Matters UK and social activist Saffiyah Khan. My Pure Land was a beautiful film which depicted women in Pakistan in a different light to the way they are in mainstream media. We always strive to create a safe place for lots of different political, cultural and social ideas to be explored and discussed collectively, with #YellowWednesdays being just one example of this in action.
Regular community programming offers underpin our everyday lives together at the hub, with weekly Food for Thought sessions bringing fresh ideas and conversation over quality coffee and cake, Open Project Night where anyone can bring and work on their projects and ideas in the open every Monday night, and a broad range of skill swapping Trade School Digbeth classes based on a barter system.
We love sharing good ideas, projects and skills, and knowledge and capacity-building is an integral part of #HubLife.
March 2018 | When They Call You A Terrorist | A day with Black Lives Matter UK for the launch of Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ memoir
April 2017 | The Hate U Give | Hosting Angie Thomas, one of the new and rising voices of Black America
May 2016 | Art Against The Grain | An evening of spoken word, discussion and debate exploring diversity and decolonisation
March 2015 | Malala Yousafzai | Malala joined us for a week of work experience, wanting to experience some community-based changemakers from a grassroots level
The Role of Artists
It’s been a really interesting process to bring in elements of visual documentation and building creative capacities into how the hub tells stories of its projects, particularly the deeply complex, nuanced, systems thinking approaches that are often difficult to express with information alone. Part of my role has been to advocate for and help develop the role of artists in our projects, demonstrating the difference between bringing artists and designers in to work on a final, set outcome and having them around the table as part of the work itself, ideally from the beginning – something we live, breathe and experiment with in this team every single day.
For me creativity is about resisting the pressures of everyday life and expressing ourselves using what is available to and / or means something to us. In this way I find personal, DIY, process-led, hand and heart rendered work the most powerful of all, however it manifests and whatever theme it explores. It’s been an honour to showcase some of the most exciting work I can see being made in our city and beyond – those making zines and finding new ways to distribute their work beyond institutions; the talents of womxn, artists of colour, working class artists and more that are often so sorely missed out from particular lenses on art, design and creative culture.
“There seems to be much confusion about what we mean when we use the word art. I have a recommendation. We eliminate the word art and replace it with work… If we assume that art is a form of work, it becomes more related to our daily life. The disassociation of art from other human activities has impoverished our lives.” – Milton Glaser
Milton, one of my design heroes, suggests four classifications for evaluating work:
1. Work that goes beyond its functional intention and moves us in deep and mysterious ways we call great work.
2. Work that is conceived and executed with elegance and rigor we call good work.
3. Work that meets its intended need honestly and without pretense we call simply work.
4. Everything else, the sad and shoddy stuff of daily life, can come under the heading of bad work.
This adds up to placing an active value on both those who consider themselves to be artists and broader artist-led approaches employed by many within creating great, deep, mysterious, moving work that makes us think and feel differently, and also fiercely challenges whether we should be doing things the way they’ve always been done. Great work isn’t cheap, easy or quick. It takes time, space, investment, belief, and trust, things we continually try and carve out in the very fabric of projects and approaches to our work.
July 2018 | Brum Zine Fest | Bringing people together using zine approaches, methodologies & formats
October 2017 | TEDxBrum Perspectives | Building a brand to reflect and encompass nuance and complexity
April 2017 | Beyond (Un)employment | Embedding illustrators into visual storytelling approaches
October 2016 | Decolonse Not Diversity | A one-day festival to unpack and challenge dominant narratives
Over the years I have found that the ways of working and thinking that are both learned and come naturally to me in fact challenge and sometimes contradict how we traditionally understand design and the role of the designer as a professional. Being an unapologetic generalist, I’ve often found my work crossing multiple design disciplines whether it’s visual and communications design to convey complex ideas or service design and organisation design building platforms and processes for people to participate within them.
Working at Impact Hub Birmingham I have learned that is largely to do with sharing / distributing the power that comes with making design decisions and finding creative ways to harness the collective genius of groups. To think about and conduct design in this way in itself is an act of resistance; a form of activism. I’ve often found my role as professional designer within this has been about broadening the terrain of who gets to do design, who makes design decisions and how spaces are made where many can and want to participate.
“Design activists practice a different form of activism. They most often try to bring about change by generating positive alternatives to the status quo. Rather than being resistant, design activism is mostly “generative” – it often involves developing a better understanding of the problem, rather than acting with certainty towards a single right answer. It’s about creating the space to dream up new realities. For example, rather than arguing to stop the road, a designer is more likely to explore the question to which “a road” has been offered as the right answer.”
This work of generating these kinds of alternatives cannot materialise in a vacuum, it requires the type of power which professional designers in and of themselves are not taught to or don’t put enough effort in to building — people power. Design Approaches in the creative resistance seeks to help us to reframe how we think about design and to be intentional with how we root our ideas creativity within wider movements for change. The events, projects and experiments listed below are just a few of the numerous examples of this form of creative resistance that I have helped to manifest in Mission Birmingham and I look forward to more in the future.
July 2018 | Boxwars Brum | Space for intergenerational design and making and family fun through the simple material of cardboard
June 2017 | Snook | Working with service design agency Snook to strengthen Impact Hub Birmingham’s governance
February 2016 | #RadicalChildcare Proposal | A proposal to accelerate place-based system change
January 2015 | Brum Service Jam | A convivial space where people come together to prototype new ideas and learn about design approaches
To create the things we want to see in this city we’ve had to build them, for ourselves and for other people. This has involved and continues to involve moving between working as part of the Impact Hub Birmingham team, in wider collaborations with others (such as Spaghetti, Art Against The Grain, Illustrated Brum & Writers to Readers) and independently as creative practitioners in our own right. Many of the examples here have happened with and through the hub and those who connect with this place, with a nebula of independent artists, illustrators, designers, producers, writers and more making their ideas into a reality here, including us.
The Future of Creative Resistance
An updated Mission Birmingham is a declaration that creative resistance is and has been at the heart of our approach, working with artists, designers and creative ways of thinking to challenge, be curious and make a live version of what the world could be about. As individuals, as a team and as an organisation we continually seek to invest in, grow skills and build open infrastructure and resources for artists working at the intersections of cities, systems and social justice to make Birmingham the home of radical, transformational creative outcomes, putting these practitioners and methodologies at the heart of building the city – and we’re excited for what’s next.
Co-authored by Nikki Bi, Louise Byng & Daniel Blyden.