Putting culture on the digital map

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The many cultural highlights of the West Midlands have been picked out on an interactive map of the arts scene, the first of its kind, to help rebuild the cultural infrastructure after the pandemic.

Culture is worth £1.1bn a year to the region and as it recovers from Covid lockdowns the West Midlands Combined Authority had co-commissioned the map, along with two pieces of research to help those working in the cultural sector wanting to rebuild.

The map, first ever interactive map of the local arts scene, has been developed to help organisations access information to guide their planning and attract investment.

It comes in a period of unprecedented cultural activity for the region, with Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 launched in May and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games cultural programme next year.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) partnered with key stakeholders including Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Coventry City of Culture Trust, Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Growth Company, GBS LEP, Culture Central, Arts Council England and DCMS to highlight the value of the arts and cultural sector in the region.

The map highlights for the first time more than 2,000 pieces of accessible cultural infrastructure in the region. It shows where and what type of existing venues and other cultural places are located across the region, with information about nearby transport and demographics. The data sitting behind the map will be available for download, and users will be able to make suggestions and changes.

The map will benefit the sector by allowing arts and cultural organisations to identify the location of untapped audiences, venue capacities and provide information to help them to develop cases for funding of cultural projects.  

The new research was initiated by the WMCA cultural leadership board which first met in February 2020 to give sector advice to the authority, whose chair, Martin Sutherland, also chief executive of Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “We are proud to have instigated this work and have found strength in collaboration during this extremely difficult year. From a business perspective the arts and cultural sector has been one of the worst impacted by the pandemic, but despite this we have worked together and with our stakeholders to produce this important piece of research. The Cultural Infrastructure Map together with the reports will be valuable tools for us when thinking about the next steps for our rich and diverse cultural sector.”

Case studies include Wander Water in which a three mile stretch of canal which doubles as a little-known nature trails being illuminated by a series of commissioned artworks to make walkers them feel more comfortable, particularly for females.

And CoLab Dudley in which Dudley High Street which had been in serious decline which is being revived via a hub set up in a former retail unit where local people are encouraged to contribute their views and ideas to reimagine the high street.

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