Bringing Shakespeare alive for Birmingham communities

Shakespeare Memorial Library
Professor Ewan Fernie, conservator Lucy Angus and Cllr Jayne Francis study some of the city council's Shakespeare archives
Published: Thursday, 25th October 2018

National Lottery funding enables Birmingham to re-connect with ‘trailblazingly democratic’ Shakespeare heritage

A major project to re-connect Birmingham’s communities with the city’s Shakespearean heritage, re-establish the West Midlands as the world’s ‘go-to Shakespeare centre’, and recover Birmingham’s once proud reputation as the most democratic and progressive cultural centre in the world has won National Lottery support.

The University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council are collaborating on a £1 million plan to revive the city’s almost-forgotten Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library (BSML) - the first, oldest and largest Shakespeare collection in any public library in the world and one of the UK’s most important cultural assets.

The ‘Everything to Everybody’ project unites the Shakespeare archive with the George Dawson Collection (GDC) - a wealth of documents relating to the nonconformist preacher, lecturer and activist, who founded the Library as part of a pioneering ‘Civic Gospel’ which helped make 19th-century Birmingham the world’s most progressive modern city.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has given the partners £32,700 of development funding to help progress plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant. The fullfour-year project aims to revitalise Dawson’s dream of creating a culture actively involving everyone in Birmingham.

A comprehensive programme of working with the Birmingham Commonwealth Association, Culture Central, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and other organisations and communities across the city will culminate in a major exhibition and festival celebrating Birmingham’s cultural ambition and innovation in the year of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Birmingham City Council cabinet member for education, skills and culture Cllr Jayne Francis commented: “Thanks to this great opportunity from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we’re developing an extensive programme of community-led activities which will help people of all ages and backgrounds rediscover Birmingham’s Shakespeare Library and reinvent it for the future.

“The project will transform the relationship between Shakespeare and the wider region in which he was born, confirming the West Midlands as a world-class Shakespeare centre, with Birmingham’s rich heritage and cultural diversity right at its heart.”

The project is led by Professor Ewan Fernie, from the University’s Shakespeare Institute, in Stratford-upon-Avon, who said: “The vast majority of the Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library‘s publicly-owned treasures are unknown, their potential to excite new audiences untapped.

“Using modern digital technologies will allow us to realise Dawson’s radically democratic programme for sharing the Library, and working with Birmingham’s diverse communities will breathe new life into traditional English heritage and culture.”

Full details of the project can be found here.

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