The YARD that MAIA built: Growing an ecosystem of support for artists in Birmingham

At YARD, a prototype artist-led hotel, MAIA is using food, family and physical space to meet the practical and economic needs of artists in the city.

This film is part of LOCAL, a season celebrating community support structures in Sheffield, Birmingham and London.

At the end of October 2021, we took a trip up to Birmingham to meet MAIA, the arts and social justice organisation that we’ve spent years fangirling on social media.

MAIA was started by power-duo Amahra Spence and Amber Caldwell in 2012, in response to conversations they were having post-university about whether it was possible to sustain a career in the arts while being based in Birmingham. From their experience there were few long-term support structures for artists living in the city, and so much talent was being lost to London because of that. 

In 2020, just before the pandemic hit, MAIA opened up YARD, a three-storey arthouse and community space in the inner-city district of Ladywood in Birmingham. Paying homage to the Jamaican households that raised so many in the MAIA team, the space directly addresses the systemic injustices that artists are facing and have done for a long time in Birmingham: lack of spaces, lack of resources, lack of knowledge about how to be an artist in this industry. YARD is a product of the team’s hard graft, but also their care, attention and radical imagination.

YARD is also a prototype for ABUELOS, an artist-led hotel which the team hope to open in the next 3-5 years. Taking its name from the Spanish for grandparents, ABULEOS will be more than just accommodation – they plan for it to be a space where artists will be able to exist, create and feel safe in. The model also captures money that would normally be funnelled out of the city when touring shows and visiting artists stay in places like Holiday Inns or Travel Lodges, instead keeping it within Birmingham’s arts industry, investing it back into the arts community. 

To say that we were inspired by what they are currently doing with YARD, and what we know is coming as part of their 5 year plan, would be a massive understatement. 

Being in the space for just two days was enough to completely shift our perspective on what is possible for artists and creative practitioners. Alongside practical skill shares, they are making space for holistic healing, training programmes, and – of course – food. As Amber says, “You can’t successfully create anything if you aren’t well within yourself.” At the heart of all this is an understanding that when family – in the broadest sense of the word – is centered in the work and in the spaces we create, we are forced to change and challenge what we prioritise, and how we value ourselves as creatives.

As filmmakers in the space, we knew we didn’t want to disrupt the rhythm and pace of YARD and the team working there. So we spent as much time doing yoga, making food and learning TikTok dances, as we did filming and chatting to people coming through the space about what it meant to them. There is a vibe in YARD that is very hard to put into words, or to capture on camera. We worked with an excellent local film crew and employed a range of different formats such as Super8 film, camcorder tape, smartphone footage and digital camera to match the constantly adapting and accommodating nature of the space. 

Just spending a couple days there, it really does feel like a home away from home for us now. We want to keep chronicling the next stages in the life of MAIA, and we can’t wait to visit again as the plans for ABUELOS come into fruition.

This season of storytelling took place over six months, across three cities and involved over 40 contributors. We believe that our communities’ stories deserve this level of care, time and attention. If you agree, become a Skin Deep member and support us with a small monthly donation.

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