History and Arts
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is an iconic stop here for guests to the city. This has been an especially busy year for the museum as visitors have have come to take part in the city’s observances of the events of 1963.
The museum’s timeline of exhibits is outstanding. Depictions of civil rights pioneers such as Rosa Parks, segregated drinking fountains, and the disparity in schools for black and white students are stark and unblinking for guests of any color.
The Birmingham Museum of Art is considered by many to be among the best art museums in the southeastern United States. Albert Bierstadt’s “Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California,” painted in 1865, is perhaps its jewel, regarded as one of the most significant American paintings to date. Southern folk art, including the museum’s quilt collection and the works of two African-American artists who were both self-taught, is also a mainstay.
Bill Traylor was born a slave in Alabama in 1854 and did most of his work on the streets of Montgomery while in his late 80s. When he died in 1949, he was 95 years old and had created hundreds of drawings. Only after his death did the art establishment recognize his talent, and his work now appears in the Birmingham Museum of Art and others, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Thornton Dial was born in 1928 and spent most of his adult life in nearby Bessemer, Alabama. His work is primarily sculptures created with cast-off objects such as metal scraps or bones, and his drawings and paintings are internationally regarded as well.
Birmingham’s new Uptown District was created to bring additional excitement to the area around its Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. Anchored by the new 294-room Westin Birmingham, Uptown was the culmination of years of planning for improved use of properties near the complex. Between the Westin and the 757-room Birmingham Sheraton, the city now has more than 1,000 rooms within an easy walk to the convention center for meeting delegates.
I joined Ashford, Hamlin and Gretchen Scott, complex sales manager for business travel at the Westin, for lunch in the Todd English P.U.B. (Public Urban Bar). This upscale restaurant and bar was created by Todd English, a James Beard award-winning celebrity chef and author.
Already a new afternoon gathering place for young professionals, who meet there after work, the restaurant is adjacent to the Westin and across the street from a plaza that is slated to house new retail stores and restaurants being envisioned for the district. A distinctive list of beers on tap supplement the chef’s progressive take on American pub fare.
With the existing downtown museums and Five Points added to Birmingham’s newest visitor attractions, the city’s current incarnation may not need reinventing for a long time to come.
Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau