I have been in Birmingham now for close to 7 years. Safe to say that it has become my second home. I came here to study and by no means did I intend to stay. I was sure that I would go back home to Tallinn, Estonia. My studies at Birmingham City University at Margaret Street were great, that was the whole reason I moved here. Yes, it was a bit cheaper to live in than London. I didn’t know a lot about the city and I was not a massive LOTR fan, but I knew that the steelworks in the West Midlands inspired Tolkien’s stories and that he was from here as well. So many people at home kept on asking me ‘why Birmingham? There is just like one art gallery there. Out of all cities in the UK, why Birmingham?’
They couldn’t be more wrong. Half a year in and I got intrigued with the city. Birmingham is very welcoming towards foreigners. Although, having Estonian accent is always a great conversation starter as not a lot of people can distinguish where I am coming from. But people still want to show that they know geography and state confidently ‘I know, this is next to Poland, right’ or ‘I know, I have a friend from Poland’. Just to let you know, Estonia as far away from Poland as Poland is from the UK.
After graduation, I didn’t have a cosy job waiting for me back in Estonia and therefore I thought that I will stay here a bit longer. I managed to develop a decent network around myself and I decided to stay. For me, it was always a question, the ‘why?’. Why am I here? There has to be a reason for me being here. What can I add to the environment I am in that is missing? Then I realised that there is not a lot of opportunities for local artists to commercialise their work. Yes, there are several commercial galleries in Birmingham, but which one of these focuses on purely local artists? Especially on the quirky ones? Before you ask, yes, there is a lot more than just one gallery in Birmingham.
I have been working with international artists since 2008 when I started managing art events and exhibitions for other artists. That was the whole reason for me to apply for studies in Birmingham – arts management. Also, I am an artist myself, a printmaker to be exact, and I have been exhibiting in various solo and group shows since 2004. Recently, I returned to my practice as well. Needless to say that I know how to deal with artists.
I was very fortunate to come to Birmingham in a right time – the redevelopment was in its peak and was growing. Office spaces and buildings were and still are built constantly. So why doesn’t the artwork by local artists reach these buildings? Why do we still see the ‘IKEA art’? Of course, I am generalising here as I haven’t been to EVERY office space in Birmingham (yet).
This is how Okk Arts was born. I had an idea of creating a platform, where local artists gain visibility in front of the corporate clients. From another side, corporate businesses will have a wide choice of visual art. Art is an integral part of our life and I believe that everyone should have this. Art makes an impression and it inspires. If ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, then what does the art on the wall say about the company?
More office spaces are being built every day and more and more artists are staying in Birmingham. There is supply and there is demand – where else would I do business?
Now, when people ask me, why Birmingham, I say ‘because it is a vibrant and ever-growing city, with friendly people and a lot of artistic talent!’
That’s “why Birmingham”!!
Featured image by Peter Allen.