Creative Black Country: art in unusual locations

Creative Black Country: art in unusual locations

By Ecorys UK


Ecorys shares Creative Black Country's experience of building non-arts partnerships with landlords and the Midland Pub Association. Discover what they learned through their successful artistic programme across seven Desi pubs.

Creative Black Country (CBC) is one of the 21 Creative People and Places (CPP) programmes funded by Arts Council England. CBC is delivering arts and cultural activity across the Black Country, with the overarching aim of getting more people and communities in the Black Country experiencing and being inspired by the arts. Specifically, the project aims to:

  • help people within the Black Country to promote and commission great art
  • develop people’s skills and confidence so they can choose the art they want to see
  • create long-lasting partnerships between the arts sector and the voluntary, private and public sector
  • increase the appetite for the arts across the Black Country

Over the past two years, CBC has supported the development and delivery of the ‘Desi Pubs’ project, which is a project that aims to share and celebrate the largely untold story of the ‘Desi’ Pubs (pubs which are owned by Punjabi families serving local ales with authentic Punjabi cuisine) and the communities who have used them. The project brought together five artists and seven pub landlords to collaborate on artwork that tells the story of how the Black Country’s failing pub culture was reinvigorated by Asian landlords, opening up the pubs to all communities.

Drawing on interviews with CBC staff, artists, and landlords, in addition to feedback from pub regulars and observation of the Desi Pubs launch event, this case study focuses on how non-arts partners have collaborated with Creative Black Country and artists to deliver artwork in unusual locations across Sandwell. In particular, the case study examines the process of how partners came together to design and develop the project, highlights the strengths and challenges of delivering artwork in unusual places and what has been achieved.

Key Findings

  • Over the last two years, non-arts partnerships with landlords and the Midland Pub Association have been supported by CBC to deliver a successful artistic programme across seven Desi pubs in the Black Country area, including artist residencies, a documentary and a BBC radio series. The project was exhibited in May 2016 at the Southbank Centre’s ‘Alchemy’ event in London, attracting over 10,000 visitors across 10 days.
  • The Desi Pubs project has helped to ignite an ambition within the landlords, pub association and the pub regulars to continue the theme, by commissioning new artwork for their pubs and expanding the project across all of the Desi pubs in the Black Country, thus expanding the ‘arts in unusual places’ theme.
  • The project has received unprecedented regional, national and international acclaim, with a range of media outlets discussing the story. This had led to increased interest in the Desi pubs phenomenon, as well as the pub landlords and the pub association now contributing towards a book (curated by CBC, Rope Press and New Art Exchange) which will consist of photographs, personal stories, the artwork, recipes and stories from the Desi pub owners.


The Black Country is an area to the north-west of Birmingham, covering the areas of Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall. As a traditionally industrial area, the history of the Black Country is often associated with the manufacturing industry - particularly the ironworking foundries and forges. Following the Second World War, many migrants from South Asia came to the Black Country to work in the foundries. Despite facing racial hostility and violence, many of these migrants went on to establish communities across the West Midlands and today, the Black Country has an ethnically diverse population.

Traditionally, the Black Country has had little arts infrastructure in place; stakeholders reported that there are a number of key arts organisations but they are separate and lack connectivity. During the last decade, a high profile arts project, ‘The Public’ gallery in West Bromwich attracted widespread criticism from local people after it failed to open and engage the public, despite receiving significant levels of public funding on a yearly basis. By failing to connect with the local community, a level of suspicion was produced in the public about public arts and arts events.

The outcomes of this project revealed a need to involve local communities in the arts process, to rebuild trust and engage with them:

"It's not about inflicting art upon people, but creating great art from people's lives and experiences and turning them, if you like, and their stories into art." CBC

The CBC programme has three key strands:

    • ‘groundworks’ (which engages community groups to experience art)
    • ‘commissions’ (linking exceptional artists to community representatives)
    • ‘learning’ (developing new ideas and reflecting on experiences)

The Desi Pubs project sits within the second strand of work, as a large-scale, ‘landmark commission’ and was developed in 2015. CBC came at the right time for the Midland Pub Association; the landlords identified that they wanted to do something to celebrate the Desi pubs in the Black Country. As many of the foundries had closed and been demolished, there was feeling amongst landlords that a big part of their heritage had been lost. A project around the Desi pubs would help them to share the history of the pubs with the local communities, capturing the struggles and successes of the last fifty years to restore some of their heritage.

Download the case study to read on:
Creative Black Country: art in unusual locations (PDF)

Image courtesy of Creative Black Country. Photo: Outroslide

Resource type: Case studies | Published: 2017