A new Nativity – calling artists for a contemporary commission

This is a new opportunity for artists/makers/craftspeople/blacksmiths/jewellers to create a new Nativity set that will be shown within Birmingham Cathedral during the Christmas season – to launch in December 2025.

We want to focus specifically on makers/craftspeople/blacksmiths/jewellers to bring to the fore the specific trades and specialisms of Birmingham and the wider West Midlands.

It is an exciting opportunity to make a substantial work that reflects on themes of centring marginalised voices from across the world and bearing witness to global events. Birmingham Cathedral is entirely open to ideas and concepts and looking forward to working with artists on this important project.

Background to the commission

Birmingham Cathedral respects the creative vision that artists working in all disciplines bring to sites and contexts and is establishing a programme of creative projects that explore its important heritage, theological role and its vital city centre location.

The cathedral wants to continue this contemporary programme by commissioning a new Nativity for cathedral, following on from 2022’s hugely impactful Common Wealth Table. It is hoped this new work will form a key focus of our Christmas celebrations, with the ability to be used yearly, possibly focussing on a new story or theme on an annual basis.

The Nativity will become the focus for the cathedral’s Christmas celebrations and will hopefully be interpreted widely by artists/makers/craftspeople/blacksmiths/jewellers. It will need to provide an area of focus for during the period – positioned at the front of the Cathedral altar between Christmas and Epiphany, and then moved to the East End from Epiphany until Candlemas (see above pictures for size and scale and position during Christmas). Figures would need to be easily moveable and storable for the rest of the year – but for this special period in the church’s calendar, be able to be restaged annually with the ability to possibly explore different global stories that may have been in the spotlight throughout the year. We are however open to artists’ interpretation and encourage you to think creatively and ambitiously. The Birmingham Cathedral steering group are eager to receive ideas that are inventive and not restricted by narrow interpretation.

We hope also to run workshops with cathedral user groups with the artist to talk through possible themes and ideas around global concerns and the importance of bearing witness as part of the process, so please also keep this in mind when thinking about your proposal.

The existing Nativity figures at Birmingham Cathedral – Christmas 2023.

The Nativity – specifics of the Commission

The cathedral has developed this commission in response to meetings with its Arts Steering Committee, with support from Chapter.

We see The Nativity as an ambitious work that speaks intelligently to this context and will provide an annual contemplative spectacle for the next couple of decades. It will be a place where stories can be told, when global plights can be commemorated, where communities can focus their thoughts around Christmas activities. We are keen to see a wider, global majority focussed story represented in proposals.

As mentioned above, we would also like to create moments for communities to shape ideas through preceding workshops whilst you are thinking about the creation of the work: please consider this when thinking of how you may approach the brief, but it can also be developed as ancillary work by the cathedral.

Material

The Nativity can be interpreted widely by artists: we do want to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability but also recognise that for longevity and mobility different approaches may need to be used. Metals of any description may be an approach, given the focus on regional key crafts. Mother of pearl/ nacre is also a substance that is shared by traditional trades in both Birmingham and Bethlehem, so this may also influence your thinking.

Size/length

We see this as substantial with each character being approximately life-size and visible from the back to the front of the cathedral (hence image of Canon Missioner in accompanying images for scale). It would initially be composed of a minimum of 8 figures: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, three kings and two shepherds – plus scope for incorporating animals/ stars etc if desired.

The Budget

The budget is still tbc but as a guide we are assuming the budget will be approx £20,000. This will need to cover all the costs of the commission, including artist design fees, travel and expenses (and any accommodation), and the making: materials, installation and any storage needs.

Please note the budget is still subject to funding applications. The budget estimates must include VAT.

The existing Nativity figures under the tower at Birmingham Cathedral – June 2024.

Selection Criteria

The shortlisting will be undertaken by the steering group based on the following criteria:

  • The originality, creativity, and skill of the proposed work
  • The engagement with and response to the themes of centring marginalized voices and bearing witness to global events
  • The viability of the proposed work to be completed within the budget and timeframe
  • The practical suitability of the proposed work for use in the cathedral

Submitting an expression of interest

Birmingham Cathedral is working in partnership with Arts&Heritage on this contemporary commission. Birmingham Cathedral and Arts&Heritage are inviting through open call responses to this brief via a short expression of interest. We particularly encourage applications from artists/ makers/ designers and jewellers from the West Midlands.

Expressions of interest should state why you are interested, 300 words outlining your initial thoughts, a paragraph on your previous experience and links to/ images of examples of previous work which respond to similar briefs/ themes. Expressions of interest should be submitted by 30 August 2024 by emailing enquiries@birminghamcathedral.com.

Site visit

A shortlist of 4 selected w/c 4 September will then be invited to submit fully costed proposals by 15 January 2025.

A contribution of £500 will be made toward your costs for this. A final decision on which proposal to take forward will be made by the steering group in January 2025.

Timescale

Deadline for expressions of interest: 30 August 2024

Shortlisting of EOI and 4 x successful applicants informed: w/c 9 September 2024

Proposal Development: October 2024 to Jan 2025

Deadline Proposal submission: 15 January 2025

Decision commission: End of January 2025

Funding confirmation: January 2025

Making of work and workshops: February – November 2025

Work installed: December 2025

The Nativity stained-glass window at Birmingham Cathedral.

Enquiries

Please contact enquiries@birminghamcathedral.com about this commission. We look forward to receiving your response.


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