UK's Birmingham Town Hall Symphony shines spotlight on forgotten female performers

Music, like many other aspects of society, can often suffer from gender bias. 

Town Hall Symphony Hall in Birmingham, UK wanted to educate and challenge their community around a perception that the most famous performers at the venue over history have been men - such as Buddy Holly, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Mendelsson, Elgar and Dickens. Thankfully, a number of iconic women, both musicians and social campaigners, have also performed at the Birmingham Town Hall Symphony Hall - like Nina Simone and Sandy Denny.

For International Women's Day, the Town Hall created a 10 second animation project, displayed across key advertising sites around the Birmingham city centre. In a very impressive manner, the project championed their famous women performers.

Reinforcing the importance of historical representation

Aiming to reach a large audience, the IWD animation was placed in central, highly visible advertising spaces around the city and sat alongside well-know adverts for larger companies such as McDonald's and L’Oreal to emphasise its equal importance.

A graphic designer for the campaign comments on the importance of championing forgotten women performers and how this has been a learning journey, not just for the general public, but for the campaign creators too. “Historical representation really matters. I feel that part of encouraging the next generation of talented women to be confident, and believe in themselves, is to keep reminding them the stage belongs equally to them as much as it does to anyone. It is inspiring to think of Nina Simone coming to Town Hall, I only wish I could have seen the concert. I felt really strongly that her visit to Birmingham deserved to be remembered and celebrated, and we can still learn from pioneers like her,” she said.

“I found out during the course of research that many people who worked for the organisation were not aware some of these performers had played Town Hall in the past, so it was a journey of discovery for us as well as our audiences. By encouraging people to remember and think about some of the women who have played a role in Town Hall’s history, my hope was that it would help to inspire upcoming female performers, and keep encouraging audiences and co-workers to continue thinking about the gender balance in music, both historically and currently, and to keep working towards greater diversity on our stages, across all music genres."

Celebrating different female experiences

The animation complimented a range of other activities Town Hall organised for IWD, including free jazz and family music events, a collection for local charity Cysters who aim to prevent period poverty, and a series of blogs leading up to the day that explored the history and significance of suffragette meetings held at Town Hall. 

“Going forward, we are making a conscious effort to celebrate the female composers featured in our classical music season across the year," added the graphic designer. "Next year’s International Women’s Day will be celebrated with a recital from international concert pianist Gabriela Montero."

Further IWD activity diving into Birmingham's suffragette history

For International Women’s Day they also dived into their archives to explore Birmingham Town Hall’s rich history as a hub of speechmaking, protesting, and campaigning in the suffragette movement, which won the vote for most women just over 100 years ago.

In fact, the Birmingham Women’s Suffrage Society (BWSS) was established in 1868 as a local committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (NSWS, precursor to the NUWSS). Eliza Sturge, related to the family of famous Birmingham social reformers and slavery-abolitionists, became secretary of the BWSS in 1869. On Friday 6 December 1872 Eliza Sturge addressed a crowd at Town Hall and gave a speech on women’s suffrage.

Check out their excellent #THSHLookingBack Instagam timeline project that culminated with a timeline of suffragette activism at Town Hall, from it’s opening to the present day.

So, lots of very important feminist history indeed regarding Birmingham Town Hall - and some great activity for the communuity of Birmingham to help forge a balance for better.

IWD Suffragette
Image sourced from LSE Women's Library

Birmingham Town Hall thanks the following people for their work on the project: Annette Bowery (design and animation), George Davies and Charis Jardim (web research), Lauren Morton (charity collection) and Mary Wakelam-Sloan (jazz programming).


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