The most artistic town in England? : the contribution of art - and of design - to the emergence and establishment of a civic culture in Birmingham in the late nineteenth century.
This dissertation set out to analyse the interaction·
between art and design and the civic culture of a particular
period 1n the development of a British provincial city; to
establish whether there were particular circumstances in the
political and industrial evolution of Birmingham which enabled
artists and designers to make a special contribution to their
civic culture; to examine the role of individual artists,
designers, poli ticians, patrons and officials, and the
significance of three art institutions the Society of
Artists, the School of Art, and the Art Gallery, in this
process; to discover the effect of the visual expression of the
municipal reforms in architecture, design and painting; and to
explore the significance of the perceived status of artist and
designer in the class structure of the town.
As it emerged that the core of this analysis was a
combination of the contribution of a number of outstanding
individuals which included several leading artists, the common
culture of a particular group united by the ideals of a "civic
gospel~', and the role of the three art institutions, it seemed
appropriate to adopt a narrative, historiographical method.
The· dissertation traces the growth of the three art
institutions and the contribution of a number of leading
individuals from 1800 to 1914 and presents a case which argues
that in the 1880's and 1890's, a significant group of artists
and politicians in Birmingham were united by a deeply-held
conviction that art and industry could combine with politics
and morality to create a modern and radical cultural identity
for their new city which could lay claim to the title of
"perhaps the most artistic town in England." It concludes with
an interpretation for the loss of this identity and a brief
comparison with the situation in the 1980's and 1990's.