The character, charm and culture of Digbeth in Birmingham can now be enjoyed anywhere and at any time, thanks to Birmingham Museums Trust’s (BMT) latest project with Occupy White Walls.
For those familiar with Birmingham, Digbeth has long been known as the part of the city where creatives and arty types congregate. Whether it’s art installations in a local cafe or acoustic guitar sets in one of the bars, Digbeth is a vibrant area with a definite sense of cool.
And in October 2022 it became possible to visit this cultural hub without even venturing near the Midlands. That’s thanks to KULTURA Sessions: Brum – a series of online installations on metaversal platform, Occupy White Walls, where Digbeth has been recreated in all its digital glory to host a virtual music festival. As a result, users can take their avatars for a stroll along the streets of this neighbourhood and enjoy a showcase of local talent within a “cyber interpretation” of Digbeth – known as BRUM.
To generate a truly authentic Digbeth vibe, BMT has showcased the work of six artists from the West Midlands in a project funded by The Space. These include musician Ace Ambrose, poet Jasmine Gardiso and artist, Rosa Francesca, who was also Creative Producer for the project. Behind the scenes, BMT has worked with AI-driven art platform KULTURA on this “artiverse” project, which includes well-known landmarks such as Gibb Street and the Custard Factory.
It follows on from Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s 2021 collaboration, which saw it become the first official museum partner to Occupy White Walls during the height of the Pandemic. This initiative involved the creation of virtual galleries filled with images and artefacts from the museum.
Head of Digital at Birmingham Museums, Linda Spurdle, says, “After the success of our first project with Occupy White Walls, we had been considering our next steps in this digital space. It was really the addition of ‘sound’ to Occupy White Walls that acted as the catalyst for this particular initiative.
“We knew that to feature any audio on OWW it would have to be copyright free or owned by the artist. From there the idea of a music festival in this BRUM setting came to life.
KULTURA Sessions: Brum premiered on Twitch on 11th October, enabling gamers from around the world to immerse themselves in the environment and explore both the spaces and the art on display. The initiative is designed to provide a different and exciting way for people to engage with art and performance – showcasing some of the city’s best talent to a broader, and potentially quite different, audience.
The Twitch stream was hosted by gaming influencers Blue and Queenie. As Linda says, “It’s the first time we’ve launched any kind of exhibition or collection in this way. But we really wanted to try an approach that would encourage traditional gamers to investigate the space and gain an introduction to the installations. A Twitch livestream felt like a great solution.
“What’s interesting about this kind of approach is that it’s not scripted so we didn’t really have an idea of what the influencers would say or do when running through the game. But across two separate livestreams on Twitch, we received over 5,000 live views. That felt was a good number for a launch event.
In addition to raising awareness of Digbeth’s arts and culture scene amongst gamers, the project has also encouraged traditional museumgoers to dive into a metaversal world for the first time. Linda says,
“Anecdotally, we’ve had people visiting BRUM who had never tried anything like Occupy White Walls before. I think the Pandemic has really caused a shift in people’s willingness to try new digital platforms.
“This kind of project serves to show that the metaverse is coming quicker than many people might think. In fact, it’s already kind of here.”
With Birmingham Museums set to shut in the coming months and remain closed until 2024, online initiatives like this one are of particular importance to continuing engagement with audiences and retaining links with the community.
“In the absence of a physical museum space in which we can host events and exhibit works, having other ways to display art, pursue collaborations and contribute is going to be really important to us.”