We’re a nation of consumers. Listen to a few tunes or a podcast on the way to work. Read an article online and ‘like’ some glamorous photos on Instagram at lunchtime. Get home and watch a film or catch up on season 1 of the latest Netflix sensation. Every day from early morning until late at night we consume the arts yet so few of us create.
Maybe creation seems too abstract a concept, one not even worth contemplating. Thoughts conjured up of the toe-curling horror of what it must be like to get up on stage and try out stand-up comedy for the first time. Memories of school art classes gone horribly wrong or picking up the guitar of a friend and after a few tuneless strums you see your fanciful dreams of being the next Jimmy Page turn achingly to dust.
The Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) in Birmingham’s picturesque Cannon Hill Park aims to banish that sort of thought and promote creativity in everyone from every age, race and background. Their mission statement is inspiring and unequivocally positive – “To promote innovative, creative arts activities in ways which help to establish them as an important part of people’s lives.”
The MAC first opened in 1962 and was originally just for young people, introducing them to the traditions of theatre and getting them involved in a wide range of art forms. The Birmingham Youth Theatre was resident between 1972 and 1987. The MAC has since evolved and opened its arms to a much wider cross-section of society while remaining as vibrant as ever. A cursory glance at the range of courses that it offers is remarkable. From sculpture to photography, dance to glass making, there’s something here to satisfy everybody’s creative curiosities no matter how ordinary or quirky.
The MAC is a place that is close to my heart as I recently took a 12 week creative writing course there (can’t you tell?). At a conservative estimate there was perhaps a 50 year age gap between the youngest and oldest people at the class which I found astonishing and makes for a fascinating environment to work in together. I’m no budding fiction writer but it gave me an opportunity to try things such as poetry, short stories and characterisation in a friendly, encouraging setting where we were all genuinely interested to hear what everybody else had produced. You’ll often surprise yourself with the things you create when you pull the ripcord and take the plunge into a world which you’ve been curious about but have been too shy or too lazy to explore (for many years I was both).
As well as teaching the arts, The MAC shows them off too. Film, live music, theatre and stand-up comedy are just some of the things that you can enjoy here and are probably a big reason as to why it garners over 1 million visits per year. Art and photography exhibitions showing off local and international talent are a constant yet changing presence throughout the year. There are also modern and spacious bar and café areas for you to enjoy refreshments before taking in a show or attending a course.
The small cinema showcases an eclectic range of new releases and arthouse films as well as live productions from the National Theatre. Shamefully only a few years ago I thought that the cinema was the only reason to ever visit and even then it was more of a second option, a plan B. An offbeat little place to watch a chic new film that wasn’t being shown at The Electric, Birmingham’s premier cinematic institution (at least for those who like to enjoy films in silence and not get showered in popcorn by giggling teenagers behind you). I wasn’t really aware of it as a creative entertainment hub despite its celebrated standing within the Midlands arts community. Where my ignorance stemmed from is a mystery. Perhaps it wasn’t in my orbit because of its location (out of the city centre) or because I didn’t see it advertised as much back then. Either way things have since changed drastically and I see the place in a whole new light.
I’m proud to be one of the million who visit each year as it has so much to offer. It’s helped to change me from a consumer into a creator and is one of the reasons you’re reading this right now.