Eastside Projects, in collaboration with David Kohn Architects, is working with Birmingham City Council and developer Lendlease to rehouse the city’s historic Bullring Markets having won an international design competition in 2020. The new markets will be the centrepiece of the new Smithfield development, positioned adjacent to the Bullring and Digbeth, and a short walking distance from Birmingham’s existing New Street and future HS2 stations.
In order to develop an art strategy embedded in a public building process we have worked together with the design team and communities in and around the existing market to research and imagine a future market that caters for current occupants and welcomes new people. From June 2021 – July 2022 a programme of relationship building, shadowing, listening, learning, embedding, conversation, stall holding, workshops, and creative experiments involving Eastside Projects staff, members of the design team, commissioned artists, and students from Birmingham City University took place, framed by a series of questions:
Who is the market?
How does it think about itself?
What is the voice(s) of the market?
What does it say?
What are the ethics of the market?
What are the aesthetics of the market?
What are the economics of the market?
What are the geographies of the market?
What are the histories of the market?
What are the politics of the market?
What are the ecologies of the market?
How is the market productive?
Our engagement processes established relationships with individuals who already play a significant role in the markets, as well as people who’s voice is less heard. We made connections with customers, traders, and operational staff by embedding a team led by artist Ania Bas in the life of the Indoor, Outdoor and Rag markets. Ania and Artist Curator Trainees Trixiebella Suen and Kathy Smith took up residence in each of the markets, running stalls and gaining a unique insight into the challenges that the market is facing today but also the ambitions, expectations, needs, and diverse ideas for the future.
Through an evolving process, findings were shared with both the design team and the group of artists who were commissioned to develop ideas for a set of integrated artworks. The proposals and art strategy that we have collectively produced are, we believe, appropriate and necessary for the scale and required dynamism of the future market, with a focus on locating artworks as structures and systems in support of the life of the building from micro to macro, from social care, wellbeing and play, to data and heritage.