All aboard the magic Art Bus as Birmingham links Mac, RBSA, Ikon and the Barber

By Ben Miller | 11 April 2011
A photo of the inside of a gallery
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts will win a few new fans this Museums at Night
Museums at Night 2011: Galleries Night and Art Bus, various venues, Birmingham, May 13 2011

For last year’s campaign, the Barber Institute’s Ben Goodwin was working at the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry.

“We had a really fantastic response to Museums at Night, so it was one of the first things I wanted to get us involved with when I started here,” he says of his Midlands move.

“I knew how successful it was – the BBC picked up on it there, and the Herbert run a lot of evening events now because of it.”

In the Brum version, a potent cultural cocktail of venues will be hosting evening tours as a pair of buses relay passengers between the Barber, Ikon, the RBSA gallery and the Mac.

“We start it at five, which is rush hour, so you have to take that into consideration. We’ve got these really cool stickers that say ‘art bus’ on them, so people can spot them as they go past.

“Then between each stop a member of staff will get on board and explain what the next venue is. It’s sort of like a highlights tour with the idea that you’ll come back in your own time and spend longer there.”

Attracting new audiences can be both “geographically difficult” – only Ikon is in the city centre – and tricky given the common perception of the Barber as a very traditional gallery compared with the modern feel of Ikon and the new-look Mac.

“Obviously that’s something we constantly challenge,” ponders Goodwin. “It’s a really good way to mix up our audience.

“These kind of events can change peoples’ perceptions of what they think a gallery is, what they think a museum is.

“I still think in this day and age when you see a gallery away from London that is open into the evening there’s a bit of mystique about it, something quite cool no matter how young or old you are.”

It’s also the perfect chance for organisers to talk to their visitors. “They like the guided tours and getting the background to each institution – it puts it into context for people who’ve never been before, so they know why it’s here and they can just enjoy the art.

“People wouldn’t normally go to four galleries in one day, so I think they see this as really unique.”

The band behind the buses enjoy it just as much. This will be the fourth outing for the curatorial makeshift conductors. “It’s such a laugh,” says Goodwin.

“Give me a microphone on the bus and I’ll talk and talk and talk. It’s really good fun and a great chance for us to talk to the people who come. It’s brilliant for galleries in this area.”

  • Runs 5pm-9pm. Admission free. Visit the full listing for all the details.
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