Ruth Claxton, Associate Director at Eastside Projects and Creative Director at STEAMhouse, explains how STEAMhouse, a coworking and prototyping space in Birmingham, has become a hub of practice and skills development. Having STEAMhouse in Birmingham builds on the city’s industrial heritage as the city of a thousand trades and is helping to revive that spirit by creating opportunities for regional skills development, increasing employability and enterprise.
How did STEAMhouse come about?
My first relationship with STEAMhouse was as an artist needing space to work, to learn new skills and with a desire to continue contributing to the development of Digbeth.
In 2014 I worked with Alessandro Columbano, Michael Dring and Sean O’Keefe to produce the Birmingham Production Space proposal. It was a call to action to bring together manufacturing, creativity and digital to create an unrivalled space of innovation where artists, designers and craftspeople could create new work. A manifesto was created called the Artist and the Engineer, inspired by the city’s coat of arms, to get people thinking about production in new ways and how artists can be a motor behind this. This proposal brought me in to contact with the STEAMhouse team.
Delivering on skills development
Several years on from the initial proposal I think that STEAMhouse is delivering what we thought it would, but these things do take time to develop. STEAMhouse is a great space for practice development, for skills development and for understanding connections and collaborations. I’ve hosted a number of visitors to STEAMhouse from around the country and they can’t believe the facilities that we have, I want people to use them and push things forward. We want Birmingham to be known as the place artists can make it and be successful. First, we need to convince the local community that STEAMhouse belongs here – that’s a key part of our work, the community will shape how the workshops develop, we want to develop a spirit of ‘everybody can be a researcher, everyone can collaborate’ and we want it to be an open, learning space.
One of the areas that we’re keen to work on is getting a common language of understanding between the academic world and the creative community to make the space feel inclusive and remove barriers to involvement and collaboration. Artists have to learn new skills all the time, Workshop Birmingham helps different networks to meet – which STEAMhouse now does too, this means that due to developed problem solving that worlds collide and practice can be developed. STEAMhouse can be the translator in the middle of different types of languages.
Workshops are set up here to make the art world transparent so that people can see how different artists and creatives work. We can provide shortcuts to people learning new skills, this will put bridges in place for people and create new opportunities. Networks are developing and connecting in what would have otherwise been siloed knowledge and skills.
What role does Birmingham City University play in supporting upskiling?
I think an important role for Birmingham City University to play is helping create the environment for graduates to flourish – especially where graduates are not going into big business. I would really like to see the next wave or artists and artist-led organisations coming through.
How can artists and creatives use STEAMhouse?
Artists can change things. I want artists to make use of STEAMhouse to learn new skills in the context of the other people using STEAMhouse, their skills and the opportunities for collaboration. You can learn so much more when you work with people that don’t think like you because you have different conversations, develop your practice, help you to crossover and ultimately make more interesting work – collaboration is key. STEAMhouse has a structure which allows these things to happen.
I would also like it to be more normal for creatives and artists to lead on change and collaboration because I believe that we can change things and add an extra something to the process. There is a movement towards inter and transdisciplinary ways of working and thinking, this will bring tremendous value to society.
This piece is authored by Ruth Claxton – Creative Director at STEAMhouse
Feeling inspired? If you’re interested in a coworking maker space in the heart of creative Birmingham, find out how you can get involved with STEAMhouse by filling out our enquiry form.