Breaking the Ice at Birmingham Opera Company

by Chloe Lund

Over the course of my internship at Birmingham Opera Company (BOC), I will be co-ordinating a festival of events and artist residencies to coincide with a production of Michael Tippett’s ‘The Ice Break’. My first meeting about the project involved a discussion of Heidegger’s ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’, Chris Cunningham’s music videos for Aphex Twin, and the YouTube recitals of Beyonce lyrics as poetry. My background is in exhibitions and events relating to the visual arts but this conversation confirmed my excitement about moving a little closer to the aural arts. It also set the tone for my placement with a company who habitually considers the social, political and philosophical implications of art in society.

The past month has been an extremely stimulating induction to BOC, who I have long admired despite having no prior interest in opera!* My work here often relates to the wider narrative about the social responsibility of the arts, which is what initially appealed to me about the company.

Already I’ve written a number of funding applications for ‘The Ice Break’ project, requiring me to get to grips with exactly what the project is about, how it is planned, and why it is important. Writing the applications made me consider the benefits of external, project-based funding, something that I had previously been critical of. I’ve seen how it puts pressure on organisations to design projects that are good value for money, high impact, effective and engaging. It encourages a level of meritocracy where, in theory, only the best projects will be funded.

The model of external funding still has its drawbacks. It can be restrictive, unreliable, can prevent risk-taking, and can become focused on visitor figures or evaluation forms as a measure of success. However I have taken heart at BOC, as they are currently developing a new model for an arts organisation that produces more of its own capital, essentially one that is more resilient in the current financial climate.

In October, the cultural interns had a five day residency at the University which comprised a feast of Brum culture. As well as meeting representatives from a number of the city’s major cultural organisations, the number of cultural events we attended reached double digits. If I had needed affirmation of the high standard of Birmingham’s cultural offer, that week would’ve been it. Working at BOC has continued to make me feel excited about working in Birmingham’s cultural sector. I have learnt about a number of council led initiatives such as the Birmingham Arts Partnership, district arts forums and ‘arts champion’ schemes. Like the cultural internships, these structures are particularly conducive to collaboration.

Every Thursday a copy of the Birmingham Post arrives in the BOC office which I am encouraged to read, along with a copy of The Stage. What I have most enjoyed about the internship so far is the sense of having one finger on the pulse of city and another on that of the arts.

*NB. I’m pleased to add that I have now seen my first opera – Part of Wagner’s ‘The Ring Cycle’ at the Hippodrome, a rather epic introduction!

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