TROVE’s and Aedas Presents’ idea for Thrift Radiates Happiness couldn’t have come at a better time. With the RIBA focussing more and more on Public Programmes across the regions, being able to work with TROVE and Aedas Presents on this project was a great opportunity for us to get out there and support a great project that brings together so many aspects of what’s important to us.

RIBA West Midlands had previously worked with Aedas, holding events at their Colmore Plaza offices – from strategy workshops with the RIBA President to LEGO workshops and drawing exhibitions as part of Love Architecture Festival 2012 – and I had always been a fan of their art programme ‘Aedas Presents’ that Kate Eagle ran with Charlie Levine. 

Still, why Thrift? It’s a great chance to bring something unique and special to a public audience and is at the same time utterly relevant and every-day, touching on themes of art, investment and architecture.

While architecture occupies a fascinatingly ambiguous place on a sliding scale somewhere between art, culture & design, and construction & the built environment; aesthetics and commerce, its commonalities and symbiosis with ‘art’ and ‘culture’ are hard to overlook. 

Just like arts and culture, architecture makes a crucial contribution to people’s experience of a city, the happiness and connectivity within communities and overall influence on aspects that make cities tick: social cohesion, crime, health, well-being, visitor economy.

But just the same, these major impacts are often invisible or intangible, and especially in cash-strapped times like these it’s fashionable to question expenditure on things that are often perceived as luxury, such as the arts, or good design – even if they are in fact part of the solution.

Thrift Radiates Happiness touches upon all those themes in one masterstroke. 
It opens a central landmark in Birmingham City Centre, right at the heart of one of its cultural centres – alongside the Symphony Hall, the REP and the New Library – that has previously been closed to the public. By doing that it not only breathes life into a piece of urban fabric that has somehow become invisible to passer-bys, but also illustrates the opportunities that these empty gems can hold: they can be concert venues, galleries, theatre stages, film screens, dance floors, debating chambers.

It thereby alludes to something that is key to what architecture is in part about: being a purposeful, well-designed frame to be used and enjoyed by people through how they utilise the building and in turn shaping their lives. It shapes the experience of the space itself and whatever is happening within it, forms memories in a place that gives identity and character to a city and its inhabitants.

And even more, Thrift Radiates Happiness gives us food for thought on a very current topic: what is the worth of money, what do we invest in and why, how can we keep providing for arts and our environment despite the economic circumstances through partnerships, and which role do art and architecture play in providing meaning and shaping the every-day reality we live in?

Carina Schneider, RIBA West Midlands


'Labour & Perseverance (Municipal Bank, Birmingham, November 2012)', Elly Clarke, Photograph, 2012
Elly Clarke is an artist & curator based in Birmingham & Berlin. She is interested in the impact of mobility (of people, information and things) upon sense of self, both when alone and as part of a community, and in the identities we forge both online & offline.

Participation & collaboration play a key role in Clarke’s practise. From The Broadway House Photo Project, (connecting the community through the distribution of cameras and an exhibition) to Moscow to Beijing (trying to bridge the cultural and linguistic gap that stood between Clarke and her fellow passengers); from The George Richmond Portrait Project, (tracing portraits by Victorian portraitist George Richmond RA (1809-1896) to private homes), to her curatorial work via Clarke Gallery (most recently FRAME_birmingham), she is interested in setting up situations that encourage encounters that unearth narratives which might not otherwise be told.

Clarke is also interested in the shift from analogue to digital photography and its impact upon our sense of history, archiving, memory and language.  And in our ever shifting relationship with history in general - through art(ifact), language and architecture. 

Municipal Bank, Broad Street, Birmingham.
14th – 17th March 2013

An RIBA event, curated by Charlie Levine / TROVE
in association with Aedas Presents, BAA and BCC.

Thrift Radiates Happiness is the first contemporary arts exhibition ever to be held at the Municipal Bank in central Birmingham, UK.  This exhibition presents works based on the British class system, the ever-present UK recession and investment in art and the world economy.

With the main foyer space hosting a specifically commissioned sound piece by Elly Clarke, the offices off this central entrance will house pieces of work by Tom Crawford, Caitlin Griffiths, Ellie Harrison and Nicole Wilson, all of whom work with and present works based on commerce, current economical issues, up-cycling objects and investment.

For the second part of this exhibition audience members will be invited to 'invest' £2 for which they will be given a number to a safety deposit box, within which will be a limited edition print by one of the contributing artists.  Their £2 investment immediately rising and resulting in an original piece of artwork made for the exhibition by artists and architects. 

Charlie Levine
The Birmingham Architectural Association (BAA) aims to bring together the local architectural community – practitioners, academics and students, through organising an annual lecture series and other events to generate debate and discussion on current issues and future trends.

All of our events are open to the general public.

The BAA seeks to celebrate and promote excellent architecture within Birmingham and the West Midlands region.

The BAA was formed in 1874 and is the Birmingham branch of the RIBA West Midlands regional office.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

The Royal Institute of British Architects champions better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our members. We provide the standards, training, support and recognition that put our members – in the UK and overseas – at the peak of their profession.

With government, we work to improve the design quality of public buildings, new homes and new communities.

We also hold one of the largest and most important collections of architectural drawings, photographs and archives| in the world, and stage talks, exhibitions, events| and awards| (including the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize) that help people see their surroundings in a completely new way.

Aedas, a leading international design practice, offers services in architecture, interior design, master planning, landscape, urban design and building consultancy within Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

Aedas Presents’ has enabled the work of more than 30 artists from West Midlands’ universities and colleges to be showcased to over 2000 of Birmingham’s business and arts community at its Colmore Plaza home.

Aedas Presents is the brainchild of global architectural practice Aedas and independent curator Charlie Levine.  Key supporters include the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design at University College Birmingham, the Birmingham Library and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

It was founded to support and showcase the work of emerging artists, students and graduates from local universities and colleges and to help them get on the first rung on the career ladder. 

Thrift Radiates Happiness is an exhibition that sits either side of a full stop.  It arrives at the end of the Arts Council Funding Aedas Presents was granted in 2010 and the end of the use Aedas’ Birmingham office space in 2012.  

It is, however, also the beginning of something new.  Thrift Radiates Happiness builds on the arts and architecture relationship bridged by Aedas Presents. 

Aedas Presents was founded by Kate Eagle, marketing manager for Aedas West Midlands, and Director of TROVE, curator Charlie Levine in 2010.  Its original aim was to bring exciting emerging artists into a corporate space, offer first solo show opportunities and challenge Aedas’ audience, visitors and employees with something new.  Aedas Presents combined both business and art world, with audiences growing for each exhibition.

With their last show in the Birmingham Aedas office in May 2012, Kate and Charlie began to consider other options for their partnership, and wondered how they could build on the success of the Aedas Presents original 18-month programme.   It was over a glass of wine one lunchtime that Charlie spoke to Kate about the possibilities of using the Municipal Bank in 2013 for an exhibition.  Knowing, though, that without proper funding and partnerships, the building could never be opened up and programmed to its full potential, Kate instantly suggested that it become a TROVE / Aedas Presents project.

It was through this already established and respected partnership that additional project partners came on board.  It started with Gavin Orton, then the Director of the Birmingham Architects Association, followed by Carina Schenider and Matt Dobson at the RIBA West Midlands, and finally the Library of Birmingham archives. 

It is through these partnerships, conversations and skill sharing that Thrift Radiates Happiness has come about.  Its overall aims are to present high quality, accessible art in an amazing surrounding.  Both the art and architecture will compliment each other, and all partners will be given the opportunity to use the building for their own audiences as well as open the building up to the public, passer by, art and architect enthusiasts as well as local historians and general interested parties.

Thrift Radiates Happiness aims to be a platform for future projects.  Not necessarily in the Municipal Bank, but rather between associates, partners and helpers on the project.  Thrift Radiates Happiness will open up communication and marketing channels, its potential for future collaborations and crossover projects is huge, with new conversations already happening between the partners for future activity in the West Midlands.

This project highlights the need for cross-disciplinary conversation.  Art and architecture meeting in this type of activity is beneficial to all parties.  Business and the creative industries helping each other out is integral to their survival.  It is fitting that this exhibition takes place in a bank.  Cash, funding, the recession and commerce are the themes found within the art exhibition that will take place.  But they are also highlighted in the partnerships, some of which have offered monetary support, others advisory support and all offering enthusiasm for the project.  Just knowing everyone involved is passionate about the building, the exhibition and each other, can only lead to exciting future projects, conversations and alternative models for producing arts and creative industry activity in the region.

Charlie Levine




Thrift Radiates Happiness is an art and architecture event launching in March 2013 at the amazing Municipal Bank building in Birmingham, UK. This page will keep you updated with information about the project as it progresses.