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Special thanks to Birmingham arts writer Rosie Crabbe for this wonderful guest blog on Public Art in Birmingham

Public art in Birmingham is, like the city itself, diverse and varied. It ranges from statues of important people in Birmingham’s history to colourful pieces which tell unique stories. While some stand out straight away, there are others that you may not notice when passing by, especially if you’re in a hurry.

So, read on to find out more about some of our favourite pieces of public art in Birmingham, and where you can find them, many of which are just yards from our Rotunda ApartHotel:

1. ‘A Life in the Year of the Chinchillas’ by Paul Maxfield, 1989

Location: Piccadilly Arcade

It’s easy to miss that Piccadilly Arcade’s ceiling is adorned with a series of paintings. The murals depict scenes from different seasons, and the lifelike characters inside them seem to be aware of the viewer’s presence. One shows a parachutist, whilst another depicts people holding hands. In short, the paintings are a colourful addition to one of Birmingham’s most charming corners.

Start your tour of Public Art in Birmingham with ‘A Life in the Year of the Chinchillas’ paintings by Paul Maxfield, 1989, in Piccadilly Arcade, Birmingham.
‘A Life in the Year of the Chinchillas’ by Paul Maxfield, 1989 in Birmingham’s beautiful Piccadilly Arcade

2. ‘A Real Birmingham Family’ by Gillian Wearing, 2014

Location: Centenary Square

The Library of Birmingham is a must-see for any visitor to the city, and so is this understated yet poignant bronze sculpture in front of it. ‘A Real Birmingham Family’ depicts single mothers and sisters Roma and Emma Jones, and their sons, Kyan and Shaye. In Gillian Wearing’s sculpture, Emma is pregnant with her second son, Isaac. The sculpture suggests that families come in many forms, and evokes the closeness of the sisters.

‘A Real Birmingham Family’ statue by Gillian Wearing, 2014 in Centenary Square, Birmingham.
‘A Real Birmingham Family’ by Gillian Wearing, 2014 in the heart of Centenary Square, Birmingham

3. J.F. Kennedy Memorial, originally by Kenneth Budd, 1968, recreated in 2012 and erected 2013

Location: Floodgate Street

This mosaic was commissioned by Birmingham’s Irish community and originally erected on St Chad’s Circus but was demolished due to redevelopment. Later, it was recreated with new materials and now features the first Irish Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Mike Nangle, alongside Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and other figures. It brings a hopeful mood to the heart of Digbeth where it is now situated.

The J.F.Kennedy Memorial, originally by Kenneth Budd, 1968, recreated in 2012 and erected 2013. This Public Art in Birmingham can be found on Floodgate Street.
J. F. Kennedy Memorial, originally by Kenneth Budd, 1968, recreated in 2012 and erected 2013. Found on Floodgate Street, Birmingham

4. ‘Birmingham Man’ by Sioban Coppinger and Fiona Peever, 1993

Location: Chamberlain Square

This sculpture depicts Thomas Attwood, who was one of Birmingham’s first two MPs and a significant political reformer. It was presented to the city by Attwood’s great-great-granddaughter Priscilla Mitchell. Attwood’s positioning on the steps makes the piece understated and suggests that he was a man of the people. Similarly, the statue below also incorporates a soap box and sheaves of paper emblazoned with phrases including ‘Votes for All’ and ‘Demand for Change’.

‘Birmingham Man’ by Sioban Coppinger and Fiona Peever, 1993 in Chamberlain Square, Birmingham.
‘Birmingham Man’ by Sioban Coppinger and Fiona Peever, 1993 in Chamberlain Square, Birmingham

5. Rhinestone Rhino by Emma Butler, Vikki Litton and Robbie Coleman, 2012

Location: Hurst Street and Bromsgrove Street in the Gay Village

The lifesize ‘Rhinestone Rhino’ was unveiled for Birmingham Pride in June 2012. This four-year project was made using 80 pieces of smashed mirror and several fake diamonds. The sculptors chose a rhino because it symbolised the US gay rights movement in the 1960s. Inside the statue lies a memory stick containing stories, photos, videos, and music from Birmingham’s LGBTQ+ community. 

The Rhinestone Rhino statue by Emma Butler, Vikki Litton and Robbie Coleman, 2012. located on Hurst street in Birmingham's Gay Village.
The Rhinestone Rhino by Emma Butler, Vikki Litton and Robbie Coleman, 2012 located in Birmingham’s Gay Village

6. Hancock Statue by Bruce Williams, 1996

Location: Old Square

This steel statue depicts Tony Hancock, who was one of the best-loved comedians of the 1950s and 60s. Hancock was born in the Birmingham suburb of Hall Green. It is based on a 1950 photograph of the comedian, in which his hand rests on a teacup and he wears a homburg hat and a comically grumpy expression.  

The Hancock Statue by Bruce Williams, 1996 in Birmingham's Old Square
The Hancock Statue by Bruce Williams, 1996 in Birmingham’s Old Square

7. Birmingham Pub Bombings Memorial by Anuradha Patel, 2018

Location: outside New Street Station

These three steel trees are hard to miss as you exit New Street Station towards the Bullring. Leaves bear the names of each of the 21 victims of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings. Created by local sculptor Anuradha Patel, the trees aim to memorialise the people who lost their lives and also inform younger generations about this tragic event in the city’s history.

The Birmingham Pub Bombings Memorial by Anuradha Patel, 2018 located outside Birmingham New Street Station next to Staying Cool's Rotunda aparthotel.
The Birmingham Pub Bombings Memorial by Anuradha Patel, 2018 located outside Birmingham New Street station

8. ‘Industry and Genius’, by  David Patten, 1990

Location: Centenary Square

This sculpture is a tribute to printer John Baskerville, known for his eponymous typeface – it also acts as a homage to the printing process. The standing columns of Portland Stone spell the word ‘Virgil’ in reversed bronze letters, which was the first work Baskerville printed in 1757. ‘Industry and Genius’ takes their names from a poem dedicated to Baskerville.

‘Industry and Genius’, by  David Patten, 1990 in Birmingham's Centenary Square.
‘Industry and Genius’ by  David Patten, 1990 in Birmingham’s Centenary Square

9. ‘The Green Man’, by Toin Adams, 2002, The Custard Factory

Location: The Custard Factory

The imposing, god-like figure of ‘The Green Man’ stands at 12m high in this creative corner of Digbeth. It evokes trees with its rootlike hair and serves as an important reminder of nature as it brings some greenery to a post-industrial part of the city. This sculpture is one Birmingham’s largest, and symbolises growth and rebirth. 

‘The Green Man’, by Toin Adams, 2002. You'll find this Public Art in Birmingham at Digbeth's Custard Factory.
‘The Green Man’, by Toin Adams, 2002. Found at The Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham

10. ‘The River’, ‘Guardians’, ‘Youth’ and ‘Object (Variations)’ by Dhruva Mistry, 1994

Location: Victoria Square

Sculptor Dhruva Mistry won an international design competition for the central water feature in the square which is one of Birmingham’s best-known sculptures. ‘The River’, or as it’s known locally, the Floozie in the Jacuzzi, is currently being repaired, and is scheduled to return in time for the Commonwealth Games in July and August 2022. In the meantime, visitors can still see the ‘Guardians’, two Sphinx-like animals made from Darley Dale stone.

‘The River’, ‘Guardians’, ‘Youth’ and ‘Object (Variations)’ by Dhruva Mistry, 1994 in Birmingham's Victoria Square. A great spot to admire Public Art in Birmingham.
‘The River’, ‘Guardians’, ‘Youth’ and ‘Object (Variations)’ by Dhruva Mistry, 1994 in Birmingham’s Victoria Square. Photo: West Midlands Growth Company

We hope you enjoyed Rosie’s guide to Public Art in Birmingham. Special thanks to Stacey Barnfield and West Midlands Growth Company for the beautiful photography we’ve included. If you have your own Public Art in Birmingham favourites that you think deserves inclusion in our guide, get in touch with your recommendations, we’d love to hear from you.

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