Up close with Gary Topp, the director of Culture Central, the new cultural development agency for Birmingham, lays out his vision for the city – and reveals why wood is good for him
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
I’m a culture and cities expert, beginning my career as a visual arts curator and then managing museums, galleries and theatres in the north of England. I was fascinated by the way that culture can define and transform places. I was chief executive of Yorkshire Culture for six years. In Melbourne, Australia I extended my work to include green and sustainable city futures in both local government and as a CEO of an environmental non-governmental organisation. Last year I was director of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership during the European Green Capital.
IT’S WHAT I DO
Culture Central is a new city wide organisation created by all of the major cultural institutions to provide a collective voice. We are committed to creating a development and advocacy company that works with the major anchor institutions of the city, the whole breadth of the independent arts scene and with individual artists. For example we have just worked on the Birmingham Cultural Investment Enquiry and we will be leading next year’s major Weekender festival for the city.
WHAT I’D LIKE TO SEE
Birmingham has all the right elements to be a globally-recognised city for culture. This means an exceptional place that engages and celebrates its communities, creates and attracts international artists and that recognises culture at the core of its city distinctiveness. I am keen to write more on two subjects – in a private capacity on the visual arts that I collect and explore and professionally on the value of collaborative leadership in city making.
Professionally, a long list of small interventions and ideas that have helped organisations and individuals grow and contributed to the arts being at the heart of places. Personally, coming third (for my age group) in my final 100km mountain bike race through the Australian bush.
BIGGEST LESSON LEARNED
Two things stay with me. Don’t be afraid to start small – just start, and that the best projects have usually started with someone telling me why it “can’t happen”.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT BRUM
I love the complexity of Birmingham. This is the root potential it has to be recognised as a great international city. There is so much going on. The city feels full of life.
I read a lot, art and natural history. I make things with wood and collect and study ceramics. Making something with your hands is a great flipside to too much ‘screen’ time and celebrates the physical and creative side of a good life. Always happy to be at a live music gig or an art gallery – which happens every week at least!