Birmingham's Art Scene

Birmingham has a vibrant art scene that you can get involved in before you even start university. The city boasts numerous independent and high-profile galleries that you’d be able to interact, exhibit and build relationships with whilst studying with us. The city is a key influence to our courses, and our home here at Margaret Street is in the perfect place to make the most of it…

We joined two students, Hannah and Taiba, on a tour of some of Birmingham’s key art establishments that are only a walk away from the School’s Margaret Street home. All of these galleries are integral to your time on our courses – from visits, live projects, and placement opportunities to graduate schemes.


Ikon is an internationally acclaimed art gallery situated in central Birmingham. The gallery was founded in 1964 by Angus and Midge Skene and four artists who studied or taught at Birmingham School of Art: Jesse Bruton, Robert Groves, Sylvani Merilion and David Prentice.

The programme features artists from around the world. A variety of media is represented, including sound, film, mixed media, photography, painting, sculpture and installation. Education is at the heart of Ikon’s activities, stimulating public interest in and understanding of contemporary visual art. Through a variety of talks, tours, workshops and seminars, our Learning team aims to build a meaningful relationship with Ikon’s audience that enables visitors to engage with, discuss and reflect on contemporary art.

"I really like the Polly exhibition on at the minute – I think it’s because it’s interactive, which is where my interest is with my own work. The fact you can take part in the exhibition itself is interesting, alongside the yoga sessions they’re running next to the work. I don’t think I’ve seen a bad exhibition there – there’s always new contemporary art and it changes quite frequently for a larger institution. They do have a really great talks programme, which is a great way to engage with the gallery." Hannah

"Ikon had a print exhibition last year that was amazing for me. It was interesting to see such depth and detail and also Justin Sanders, our Senior Technician for the print rooms, did a talk before bringing attendees back to Margaret Street to see our facilities." Taiba

Work on show during visit: Polly Apfelbaum – “Waiting for the UFOs (a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers)”

Ikon Gallery 2
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) first opened in 1885. It is housed in a Grade II* listed city centre landmark building. There are over 40 galleries to explore that display art, applied art, social history, archaeology and ethnography.

The art gallery is famous for its Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which are part of largest public Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world. You can also see art and objects spanning seven centuries of European and World history and culture. In addition to the permanent galleries there is a diverse exhibition programme that offers a series of changing exhibitions throughout the year.

"I visit the Gas Hall quite often, which is part of BMAG, as it’s more contemporary art. I enjoy looking at the older pieces in the main exhibition, but I make a real effort to see the work on show in the Gas Hall. You get some big names in there – the Coming Out exhibition earlier in the year had some big artists in there, like Tracey Emin and Andy Warhol. It was an important subject handled really well." Hannah

BMAG Image 1
Digbeth First Friday

Digbeth comes alive on the first Friday of each month with exhibitions, late-night openings, special events, culture in unexpected spaces, live music, street food and more. We visited Grand Union and Eastside Projects, two galleries integral to the area. 

Hannah explains: "The art is very different from the work you see in the Ikon or BMAG, it’s more experimental with many up-and-coming artists. There’s a lot of performance art as well."

"As a course we were taken to Digbeth First Friday in our first week on the course. It can be quite intimidating at first finding the venues, as they’re spread out in different locations. When you get there everyone is friendly and you see people from the art school. I did an internship last year at Stryx Gallery, so it’s great catching up with them too."

Grand Union

Grand Union supports and presents innovative artistic and curatorial practice. They believe that a strong artistic community is an essential part of an integrated city.

They provide support by working with artists, curators and writers, placing an emphasis on commissioning new art, supporting career development and encouraging experimentation. They engage with the public with an ambitious programme of exhibitions, talks and events in the Gallery and elsewhere.

Eastside Projects

Eastside Projects is an artist run multiverse, commissioning, producing and presenting experimental art practices and demonstrating ways in which art may be useful as part of society. Eastside Projects provides vital infrastructure, supports best practice and works to expand the role of the artist run space.

Alongside imagining, testing and modelling a free public gallery, they are engaged in an expanded range of public activities – they make art, curate exhibitions, programme events, devise public art strategies, serve as commissioning agents, create production facilities, produce public art projects, generate and apply research, develop talent, train future art leaders and create structures to support artists locally, nationally and internationally.

Birmingham Art Map

Birmingham Art Map is designed to make it easy to discover, explore and enjoy the great art, ideas, culture and creativity made by Birmingham for Birmingham. All exhibitions and events listed are free unless otherwise stated.