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mac (formerly Midlands Arts Centre) is a non-profit arts centre situated in Cannon Hill Park, Edgbaston, Birmingham, England. It was established in 1962 and is registered as an educational charity which host plays, concerts and films shows; and holds art exhibitions, music classes, and workshops for all ages.
The centre re-opened in May 2010 after a £15m facelift. It has four performance auditoria, rehearsal and media studios, a cinema and art gallery.
The idea for an arts centre in Cannon Hill Park was the result of a meeting between local residents; theatre writer and director John English, his wife, Mollie Randle and local politician Frank Price in the late 1950s. Eventually 8.6 acres of land in Cannon Hill Park was made available by Birmingham City Council in 1962 for this purpose. It also housed the Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre under John M. Blundall.
In 1965 director Mike Leigh went to work at the theatre and had the opportunity to start experimenting with the idea that writing and rehearsing could potentially be part of the same process. Between 1972 and 1987 it was the home of the Birmingham Youth Theatre, a company aimed at encouraging and nurturing talent amongst people aged 15 to 23 in the wider community. This company was founded by local teacher Derek Nicholls, who later became Director of the MAC. Success stories from the youth theatre include Adrian Lester and Andrew Tiernan.
The centre closed in April 2008 for a £14.8 million refurbishment. It reopened on 1 May 2010 with a weekend of events and activities to reintroduce people to the new and newly refurbished spaces.
mac has been transformed into a spacious and fully accessible cultural complex, impressively equipped to redefine the expectations and opportunities of an arts centre for the 21st century.
The development has increased the public areas by 40 per cent, simplifying navigation around and between spaces while maintaining a human scale and elements of the character and eccentricity for which mac is renowned.
The centre had grown in many stages since the early 1960s, creating a warren of small spaces with constant changes of level that fell far short of modern standards of accessibility, presenting the architects with a major problem.
The basic design solution was to create a new central ‘box’ to pull together the disparate elements that were being retained and create significant new spaces, including two new rehearsal studios in a formerly unused roof space. The apparent simplicity of this solution masked the major challenge of connecting the various first floor levels by introducing an imperceptible lateral slope.
Sources of inspiration include mac’s natural setting and its ground-breaking creative engagement with Birmingham’s communities. mac is located in Cannon Hill Park, one of the largest and most popular of Birmingham’s public parks, 1.5 miles south of the city centre, a close neighbour of Edgbaston Cricket Ground and readily accessible from the new mixed development at Edgbaston Mill. Extensive glazing at all levels in the foyer areas brings the park into the building, with the re-landscaped terrace at ground level creating a physical connection between mac and its environment. Internally and externally the building is finished in a range of materials, including steel, slate, wood and stone, designed to weather and change appearance organically over time.
Internally, the wood panelling in the café, stone work and carpeting in the foyers is all part of a major creative project led by artist Myfanwy Johns and incorporating designs from the women of the Bosnian Cultural Centre Midlands. The carpet provides a vibrant ribbon of colour running through the muted natural tones of the other materials.
A new covered bridge across the River Rea forms the main entrance to the building, leading into the extensive open and light space of the ground floor foyer, housing sales and information points, a new café bar - with a major sculptural commission by artist Laura Johnston - and galleries leading through to a smaller bar area.
Adjacent to the new Bridges café bar, the Hexagon remains the most architecturally distinctive element to survive from the 1960s. Previously an almost freestanding structure it has been largely enclosed by the new development. This part of the building contains the refurbished Hexagon Theatre and the Bryant Suite meeting rooms (named for long-standing supporters of mac), whose wood and glass construction allows tremendous views across the park.
Another new bridge connects the upper level of the Hexagon to the first floor foyer, giving access both to mac’s substantial new exhibition gallery, which will be one of the largest contemporary art spaces in the West Midlands, and its larger Theatre, which has been stripped, re-equipped and linked to a new audio-visual media suite enabling remote recording of live events
In addition to the new spaces, pre-existing visual arts and performance studios have all been refurbished and other areas converted to create meeting rooms, which like many of mac's facilities will be available for hire. All levels are now connected by lifts.
A future aspiration is to build a new medium-scale auditorium on the present site of the outdoor Arena, thus fulfilling the original vision of mac's founders, John English and Mollie Randle. The building has been designed to make a simple connection with this new addition if and when funding becomes available. English was also Founder of Highbury Theatre Centre in Sutton Coldfield and it was here in which he began his career within both the theatre and in the arts. Both he and his wife counted these two places as their greatest achievements.
- "Remember mac – 48 years of history". Retrieved 6 March 2013.