Boundless Creativity in Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama

Birmingham Museum of Art

Alabama’s vibrant and bold local arts scene is unstoppable

It’s official: 2016 has been declared The Year of Alabama Makers by the Alabama Tourism Department to pay tribute to the craftsmanship and creativity of local artists, chefs, furniture makers, sculptors, winemakers, designers and innovators. “The Year of Alabama Makers will celebrate everything from Gee’s Bend quilts, Mercedes SUVs and craft beer from the Back Forty brewery in Gadsden to Muscle Shoals music and Harper Lee novels,” says Brian S. Jones, public relations director of Alabama Tourism Department. “The department will be highlighting the people and companies who are bringing imagination and art together with commerce and manufacturing.” The pinnacle of this proclamation is the Southern Makers festival, which encourages creativity and ingenuity by gathering the state’s best talent, or makers, in their respective trades. Makers and their supporters were expected to join forces for interaction and artistic inspiration April 30−May 1, with events in Montgomery, Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville. This should come as no surprise, since visitors to Alabama are often delighted to find a vibrant and bold art scene, especially in the cities of Birmingham and Mobile.

Birmingham

Naked Art GalleryNaked Art Gallery, Birmingham

In Birmingham, art is commemorated in various ways, from fine museums to nationally noted culinary brilliance. “From culinary arts to juried art festivals, Birmingham is filled with many artistic expressions of the city and the world,” says Dilcy Windham Hilley, vice president of marketing and communications at Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau. “One of our finest attractions is the Birmingham Museum of Art and its wide-ranging collections that represent cultures from many countries.” In a city that appreciates art, The Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA) boasts an impressive 26,000-piece collection from ancient to modern times. Acclaimed as one of the country’s finest regional museums, BMA features paintings, sculpture and decorative arts from Pre-Columbian, Native American, American, European, Asian and African cultures. The Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden exhibits colossal permanent pieces, including a water wall created by Elyn Zimmerman in the 13,000-square-foot upper plaza. An enclosed area in the center of the garden contains temporary exhibitions and art-making activities in the Lower Gallery. Numerous meeting sites, including garden spaces, can accommodate up to 1,000 guests for receptions and 300 for seated dinners, while the Steiner Auditorium seats 340 for meetings and presentations. A unique and popular arts destination in Birmingham is the Naked Art Gallery. Its colorful walls and atypical approach to art have garnered attention from Turner South, The New York Times and Delta Sky magazine. The Naked Art Gallery has also been featured in the national travel guide, Eccentric America. The primary focus of this vibrant gallery is on function, meaning art that can be useful as well as aesthetically pleasing. Featuring works by some 60 Southern artists who use mostly recycled materials, the gallery’s name encourages visitors to simply view art with the naked eye as opposed to veiled interpretations. Works here are reasonably priced because the gallery believes that everyone should be able to own art. Space One Eleven is a visual arts organization that provides professional opportunities for artists, creates a forum for public understanding of contemporary art and offers arts education to area youth. The philosophy here is that art is wherever you find it because it is informed by place, time and experience. The organization is managed by artists and celebrates cutting-edge art that stretches the imagination. All of these principles are successfully incorporated into community programs sponsored by Space One Eleven.

Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts CenterAlys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center, Birmingham

The Abroms-Engel Institute for Visual Arts at University of Alabama at Birmingham houses university galleries, as well as its art and art history departments. Across the street is Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center, which shares public space with the institute. The Visual Arts Lecture Hall and lobby/atrium are also available for smaller group meetings and receptions.

Picturesque Stays

Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain BrookGrand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, Birmingham

The rolling hills of Alabama are home to the majestic Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa, which hosts a vast collection of art and photography by celebrity artists. The AAA Four Diamond resort was designed to resemble a grand castle. Adding to its facade, a kilted musician appears from the surrounding wooded area to entertain guests while playing the bagpipe. The sparkling new Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook opened in October. Adjacent to Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the 100-room boutique hotel celebrates ingenuity and creativity throughout its spaces. Featured in the gallery are national, international and local artists, as well as culinary and wine-blending classes. The gallery often hosts exhibits and receptions, and all art at the Grand Bohemian is available for purchase. With 12,000 sq. ft. of lavish meeting space, including a striking ballroom for up to 649 banquet guests, this site is exceptional with the inclusion of culinary team-building activities. Farm-to-table culinary offerings and rooftop dining with panoramic views add to the allure. Culinary arts are equally prevalent in Birmingham. Groups can participate or simply observe at the hotel’s cooking school and open kitchen galleys. Its restaurants include the legendary Hot and Hot Fish Club, where eating spaces are designed to showcase works of well-known artists and sculptors. Other famed artisans have created harvest tables and chairs, an iron chandelier and a signature line of pottery dishware that is still in use.

Mobile

Mobile Museum of ArtMobile Museum of Art (photo by Blue Room Photography)

A major cultural center along the Gulf Coast, Mobile lays claim to numerous art museums and galleries, a professional ballet company, an opera and a symphony orchestra. The city on the bay also is recognized for its historical and artistic architecture and frequent art, music, food and film festivals. “Our ever-expanding creative community is a thriving, vibrant part of the Mobile experience,” says Stacy Hamilton, vice president of marketing and communications at Visit Mobile. “Mobilians are born to celebrate, from food to art and music. We are the birthplace of America’s Mardi Gras and our historic coastal city continues to be a metropolis inspired by a vibrant arts culture.” Boasting historical and contemporary offerings, Mobile Museum of Art is the Gulf Coast’s largest museum between New Orleans and Tampa. Its impressive collection of 10,000 permanent works navigates centuries of art and culture, including 19th-century American landscapes and realist paintings from the Works Progress Administration era. This collection is so vast that the exhibit is displayed on a rotational basis. The 95,000-square-foot lakeside museum also houses considerable collections from the Southern United States and Europe, in addition to non-Western art and contemporary works. The Mobile Museum of Art is a spectacular venue for up to 400, and there is additional theater space and a balcony that can hold up to 200. The Larkins Auditorium seats 80 at tables, 130 in chair rows and 100 standing guests; the conference room seats 22 with 10 additional side chairs. The first and second floor galleries can accommodate more than 400, and the entire museum can be leased for larger gatherings. Alabama Contemporary Art Center in Cathedral Square focuses on novel and eclectic pieces with modern appeal. Visitors will enjoy wide-open views of downtown from the center, making it a scenic meeting venue. The Gulf Coast’s largest medley of local art, Cathedral Square Gallery showcases a range of pottery, ceramics and fine jewelry, as well as photography, woodwork and painted art in various media. The gallery hosts an annual juried art show called “Colors of the Coast” and also participates in the monthly ArtWalk with resident artists’ work displayed and available for purchase.

Art Festivals

Arts Alive MobileArts Alive!, Mobile

On the second Friday of each month, the downtown entertainment district hosts ArtWalk, a celebration of artists, craftsmen and musicians that flood the area with their creativity. This highly anticipated event lures several thousand locals for a night of cultural camaraderie and entertainment. Designated districts and artwalks have become increasingly popular, and fashionable galas unite communities and offer enrichment and appreciation for the arts. Groups can gallery hop to see the latest openings that quite often turn into a cultural street party. Arts Alive! is a fun-filled weekend celebration of the arts that is held each spring and fall at Greater Gulf States Fairgrounds. This exciting festival highlights multimedia, visual and performing arts in various genres by local and regional artists, along with creative and interactive encounters for all ages. For more than 10 years, Arts Alive! has been instrumental in promoting art in Mobile and surrounding areas through profound creations and experiences that have benefited specific causes.

Wrapping Up

The influence of Alabama’s prolific art scene is evident in its communities and has become a main tourist attraction. Meeting groups are encouraged to experience the arts for themselves.

A Legendary Trail for Golf Enthusiasts

Alabama golf Any golf enthusiast is bound to have heard of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. The network of courses, located outside Montgomery in nearby Opelkia, comprises the largest golf course project ever attempted in the world. The golf trail is the brainchild of David Bronner, CEO of Retirement Systems of Alabama, who wanted to bring forth a tourism amenity that would rival those in the neighboring retirement communities of Florida. Famous golf architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed the monumental project that would encompass 468 championship holes in 26 golf courses across 11 sites in the state. Several hotels and resorts lie adjacent to the golf courses. Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel & Conference Center at Grand National rests on 2,000 grassy acres along Lake Saugahatchee and faces the golf trail. The 114-room property offers 15,220 sq. ft. of meeting space divided among 13 meeting rooms.

Major Meeting Venues

Birmingham

Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center High-tech performance center; European-designed Jemison Concert Hall seats 1,319, with 464 in orchestra and 483 in balconies; theaters seat 351; recital hall accommodates 166; stunning decor. Bessemer Civic Center Two-story glass and brick facility; within walking distance of hotels, restaurants and golfing; recently refurbished 13,000-square-foot main hall. Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Contemporary hotel in Uptown Entertainment District; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 220,000-square-foot exhibition hall; smaller meeting areas include arena, concert hall; home to Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Cahaba Grand Conference Center Premiere event venue; more than 47,000 sq. ft. of conference space; 23,000-square-foot ballroom; small board meetings for up to 50; events can host up to 2,000 guests; free parking; audio/video team. Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham-Downtown-Tutwiler National historic landmark; opened in 1914; close to Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; 149 guest rooms; 7,607 sq. ft. of event space; fitness room. The Harbert Center Sophisticated downtown location for corporate and social events; banquet seating for 400 guests; receptions host up to 500; atrium; four halls; library; terrace.

Mobile

Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center Premier convention facility; downtown waterfront location; 317,000 sq. ft. of function space; two ballrooms, each 7,750 sq. ft.; 45,000-square-foot terrace. GulfQuest National Maritime Museum Adjacent to convention center; accommodates up to 2,500 guests in entire facility; Riverfront Promenade/Amphitheater hosts up to 1,000; three-story rotunda holds 250; museum access during business hours. Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel Adjoins Arthur Outlaw Convention Center via skywalk; 44,000 sq. ft. of function space; largest event space holds up to 1,320 guests; live music at Fathoms Lounge; 28-story hotel has nautical theme; 363 guest rooms. Saenger Theatre Historic landmark built similar to European opera houses; home of Mobile Symphony Orchestra; recent upgrades to VIP facilities; sound system and stage; seats 1,921 in auditorium. The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa Beautifully restored historic hotel; only AAA Four Diamond restaurant in Mobile; 26,000 sq. ft. of event space; 21 meeting rooms accommodate up to 1,000 attendees; full-service spa; 238 guest rooms. USS Alabama Battleship Top tourist attraction next to historic war planes; 36,000-square-foot Aircraft Pavilion hosts up to 1,200; fantail on back deck accommodates 500; wardroom hosts 150; field available for large events.