After having a coffee and cake in P Cafe in Stirchley, we drove up to Balsall Heath, where two exciting things were happening. 1) Ort Cafe was having a big relaunch party following new owners, and 2) the adjoining workshops and artists studios, The Old Printworks were having the first in a series of open days entitled Drop-in Making Saturdays.
We parked next to the ever-excellent Old Moseley Arms pub on Tindal Street and made our way to the High Street. Hit with the heady smell of old fruit and spices we made our way over the zebra crossing, making sure the little ones were with us at all times. Around two dozen men made for an unlit doorway in from of us. It was a vibrant Saturday. The High Street was busy.
The cafe was quiet, and we paid our subs into the open day £10 per adult, and reduced prices for under-5s. We clumped up the plastic stairs. The doors open up to a huge open space with artists’ studios on one side, and a door leading to more studios and workshops, including one for woodwork.
I was a bit snap-happy that day as you’ll see – the building has been used fantastically. Recently it’s been home to Flatpack’s Ghost Streets of Balsall Heath exhibition, an excellent archive, documenting life in Balsall Heath since the Second World War. We visited a textiles room, and then when on to a printer’s room, where the kids were shown how screen-printing works. Whilst they settled in, I went on a wonder through the fire exit door and looked through the windows of the doors that were locked, trying to peek through dimpled glass.
Looking back at these photos, they have a wonderful quality to them, like a trip back to primary or secondary school. Suburbia as seen through maths textbook imagery. Digestive biscuits and milk, BASIC language and BBC computers. Places like this fire the imagination, and positioning my camera over the closed door, being put to excellent use with lathes and cutters abound in CDT rooms. On this floor there was also a photographer’s studio and the Some Cities community darkroom.
I headed off down some very steep steps.
Behind me, a long space seemingly used as storage, but I have been to events there, including a New Year’s Eve celebration in 2011. I could see people in the cafe from where I was, which thankfully looks to have retained it’s rustic charms which I’ve always found so inviting.
I started to have a good poke about as it was an open day after all. I hope I didn’t take the mickey too much, and there were some incredibly inviting staircases and doors to try, but in the main I kept to where I was meant to go.
This was an interesting find in side-room.
I would love to know what design the mask and chair is. And when, if at all, and why, they would be used together. What nights in Balsall Heath? Plenty probably. What goes on behind closed doors is so exciting. Especially when objects like this, with such excellent window pane designs as seen below. Maybe the wind chimes are played to signify the start of goings on. A celebration! An offering.
Really all quite fantastic. I walked past more artists studios, and was observing them like I would an exhibition. (Indeed, the use of space here reminded me of the current “At Home With Vanley Burke” exhibition at Ikon Gallery in Brindleyplace, where every time you look or blink there’s something new to behold and be awed at.
And some dark corners reminded me of playing Dungeon Master on the Atari ST, and more so that time when I found myself in the Old Queen Elizabeth Hospital wandering around the half empty wards with disused surgical equipment, dangling cables and discarded monitors and the occasional bed featuring in stark, empty rooms.
I came to the ceramics workshop, which again looked fantastic, and asked the way to go outside to the courtyard, where there were workshops on making organic soap and cleaning products, and also a walled garden growing vegetables. I had to be shown the exit twice, but was glad I did, and had a great chat with the lady who was hosting both of the workshops. We spoke about her plans for the garden and her interest in organic products, and I must go back one day to find out more – especially as projects such as the Real Junk Food Project Birmingham and Edible Eastside are doing so well in the city. And I only got one photo of the art that was scattered around, but here’s one.
I went back inside and met up with my party, who were busy making pots and animals out of clay in the ceramics room’s workshop – Sundragon Pottery.
I unfortunately had to go, but spent enough time to enjoy the atmosphere, be quite happy that there was a cat about (shows what a good mood I was in as I’m allergic to our furry friends) and take some more pictures.
All looking good for the Old Printworks and the new Ort Cafe I thought. Have a look at their events page and what’s on guides as there will definitely be a lot of things of interest, I’ve heard only but good things about their Spoken Word at the Ort event and the Magic Cinema, and there’s a Swedish psych-folk band called Ill Wicker playing on the 20th August that sound right up my street.
Here’s hoping there is more money and support pumped into these fine establishments, and maybe one day the Moseley School of Art building next door will be re-open for the occasional business!
Please see below for dates for the rest of the month.