The Big Read: Meet Milan Now that The Big Read is in full swing, we take a moment out to sit down with the talented artist who designed the mural on our Atrium wall, Milan Topalovic. Milan also worked with Nechells Primary E-ACT Academy and Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum to design and paint the outstanding BookBench we have here at Millennium Point, inspired by J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. What has your experience been like working on The Big Read 2016? An absolute pleasure! I was initially approached by Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum, who, alongside Millennium Point, were collaborating for an official BookBench as part of The Big Read. Now we have a stunning design that I think everyone involved is very proud of. The silver lining is knowing that the BookBench will be a permanent fixture beyond The Big Read. From a creative arts point of view, especially following so closely after The Big Hoot, this event is fantastic from every angle – it encourages reading, literacy and sparks the imagination, and it gets people to explore the city around them and soak in the culture. Hopefully, it sews a seed to get more young people involved in creative arts which can be so profound in a child’s life, as it was with me. How did you find working collaboratively with pupils at E-ACT Academy when designing the bench? It was so lovely to see a local school get totally immersed with the collection at Thinktank and conjure up some incredible designs, which left me little extra to do when working up the ideas onto the bench. It is brilliant to have the pupils’ work framed and on a prominent display at Millennium Point, as they were the main inspiration for the final design. What was your inspiration behind the BookBench? We agreed early on that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling was a really suitable choice for several reasons, so this became the springboard for all of the designs based on Thinktank’s ichthyosaur and other collections. I also came across a restored picture book from the late 50s titled The Wonderful Egg, which had beautiful colour palettes that strayed away from the more typical primary colour-based stories of current picture books. The styling of the bench is heavily inspired by The Wonderful Egg, where the invented beasts are stitched onto a prehistoric landscape from the story. I am thankful to Millennium Point and Thinktank for making the project happen. I am proud of the pupils as their projections have resulted in a BookBench that is a triumph of the imagination. How did you find the creative process – did it take long to complete? The design came together quite quickly. The back of the design is reminiscent of an encyclopedia of mythical illustrations of beasts and legends. I painted the bench on site and it took approximately 100 hours to complete – I am a night owl so it included a lot of late nights for a great project! Throughout the process, you have been working very closely with the team at Millennium Point and Thinktank, the city’s science museum – what have you enjoyed about working with both organisations? I loved dinosaurs when I was growing up – I was 12 when Jurassic Park came out at the cinema and they have always fascinated me. Seeing a huge triceratops skull at Thinktank was amazing! At the end of the late nights painting, I would always take the same route past the 200 million-year-old ichthyosaur skeleton – it was fascinating to me. Knowing that I would be assigned the task to create a BookBench based on such a cool theme was brilliant and made me think like a child again. I enjoyed leading a creative workshop around the strange beasts at Thinktank this summer, and this ambition by both organisations to engage with the public at every opportunity is something I was really impressed with. Millennium Point and Thinktank have been incredibly welcoming and supportive throughout the whole project and forward-thinking in making the most out of The Big Read event. Why do you think Millennium Point is such an ideal location to host a number of the sculptures? Millennium Point has several spaces to host projects and because of its location, hundreds of people will be able to see new projects, displays, and events all the time. I work with university students at Millennium Point and Parkside and whenever I am going through the building, there is always something new going on, whether it’s cultural events, recruitment fairs, live music, architecture projects or animations, and now The Big Read BookBenches – it is testament to how proactive Millennium Point is in having a rich programme of events. How does it make you feel knowing that your work will be on display for thousands of visitors across the West Midlands to see? Absolutely fantastic! Illustration and art is a tough career so it’s been a great opportunity to put my work on a higher platform. This feeling was multiplied by the working relationship with the clients and the passion that has gone into the whole project at all levels. My style has a warm aesthetic which lends itself to narrative, so it was a lovely surprise to be so heavily involved with The Big Read, creating two BookBenches along with the official trail map cover illustration. What do you think will be the lasting legacy of The Big Read 2016? All of the schools and organisations involved in The Big Read will be adopting the BookBenches as permanent legacy pieces. They will be constant reminders of the power of stories and imagination, and this could have a domino effect over time in getting more young people into reading and creative writing. How important do you think these events are to inspiring young people in the city? I would have jumped at the opportunity when I was young to get my ideas seen on such a big stage, whether it was writing or illustrating characters. Simply having this project is brilliant for the city and I wholly commend Wild in Art for creating these chances to inspire so many school children. I hope all of the benches and the events around The Big Read in the city spark many imaginations and spur people of all ages to invest more in the creative arts. After all, somewhere we may just have inspired the next Roald Dahl… Would you work alongside Millennium Point on similar projects in the future? Yes definitely. Millennium Point has been fantastic all the way through The Big Read and I have enjoyed every step of the creative process. Bouncing ideas with the marketing team and having constructive conversations throughout has been great. Formulating a lovely final design with all parties pulling the same way has made the project such a pleasure to be a part of!