Beep Beep – We’re Back!

Written by Aksana
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28th October 2021


Following the wonderful success of this summer’s Bus Boycott Block Party, we’re On Our Way to convert bus stops along the iconic 74 route into galleries. We’re able to do this due to additional funding from Transport for West Midlands and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. You can expect to see a lot more of us on Soho Road!

This project itself grew from a lot of conversations. In a way, they technically started during the third lockdown when Diandra and I first joined China Plate. We spoke to as many local organisations who were working hard to make their community feel like a community. They kept their area moving at a time when COVID affected their personal and professional lives. They spoke about how much they wished Birmingham could change for the better. When Diandra and I spoke to artists, they too spoke about how not only can we not go back to the broken old “normal.” They wanted the sector to be brave and think more imaginatively about issues that faced us. This is especially when arts venues were closed to the public, and we were consuming culture and art from our screens.

On a personal level, this project combines my love of history with public transport. My friends will tell you that I’m known for my monologues on how life-changing good public transport is. This is especially when you can’t drive. Bus routes impact how we form memories and our self-confidence to travel. It enables us to access more things – like seeing our loved ones, going to see a gig, or to work. In doing so, it makes the city and towns we live in feel like our home. The 74 route in particular is amongst National Express’ busiest ones, and it’s one a lot of Brummies have fond memories of. When we were having a lot of these conversations in February, there was a lot of howling laughter and reminiscing over the after-work bants, the teenage soap drama, and the struggle of carrying Nan’s shopping when she reunited with her friends at a bus stop.

The public transport memories that were replayed in these conversations reflect how public transport is rife for story-telling. You don’t know the person who’s sitting next to you on the bus or the train. Although, it’s not unfamiliar for someone in the Midlands to start chatting to you. And how many of us have daydreamed and missed our stop?

When you move from imagined stories to the real, public transport is a big part of working class communities’ heritage. You couldn’t tell the histories of those who are Black and POC without public transport. The Bristol Bus Boycott in particular, is an example of one. It inspired the musical China Plate is developing and our Birmingham artists too.

A young woman sitting on a bus smiling at the camera.

Altogether, the conversations, histories, and lived experience was the perfect cocktail for On Our Way. There is this growing revolution within us to make art that’s for a social good. We are especially quite conscious of the impact the pandemic has had on our wellbeing, our high street, and our confidence in feeling comfortable when we’re out and about. So what could a post-COVID recovery strategy look like if we worked holistically and combined the arts, communities, and public transport together?

That’s how the idea of creating bus stop galleries came to be. Since I’ve pitched it, it’s been amazing to see how much this has come together and grown with the people we’ve got on board. This includes our wonderful Nilupa Yasmin, our Artist-Curator of On Our Way.

She was one of the artists we had conversations with back in February. Her work weaves together the different threads of what makes you you, and a part of a community. We commissioned Nilupa to design the pilot bus stop gallery in time for our Bus Boycott Block Party. In its intricate details, you can see Nilupa’s process. This bus stop is a sponge reflecting all the things that are nearby – from the barber’s blue shawl and scissors, St Michael’s Church, and the furniture shop opposite. The patterns generated from taking pictures of what’s local has created a bus stop that is a bright kaleidoscope of one part of Soho Road. It’s definitely a bit of sunshine on a rainy day.

A bus stop decorated with a repeated patterned vinyl. A young woman can be seen through the pattern standing at the bus stop.

From now until next year, we will be working with different community groups to take over more bus stops on Soho Road. Each group will work with Nilupa across workshops to co-create the artwork that will be printed and wrapped around their bus stop. The plan is that their designs will reflect their interests, their identity, and how they relate to the local area.

We’re incredibly excited to see what will happen, and most importantly, to be working much more closely on Soho Road and the people who make the area what it is. They’re all absolute legends. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey and if you’d like to hop on board this programme, get involved as an individual or as a community group, please get in touch with me via [email protected]

On Our Way is created by China Plate in association with Birmingham Hippodrome, supported by The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), Transport for West Midlands, Garfield Weston Foundation, National Express West Midlands, Soho BID and using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Photos © Ahsen Sayeed