Culture? In Hull? UK City of Culture 2017 aims to win over sceptics – BBC News
Hull may not be famed for its culture, but it is hoping its status as UK City of Culture in 2017 will transform the city’s image and fortunes for years to come. But building work on some facilities will not be finished for months, and some locals have yet to be won over.
“Here for the culture. You’re only here for the culture. Here for the cuuultuuure”
On 23 November 2013, three days after Hull won a government competition to find the UK City of Culture for 2017, Hull City AFC fans bellowed this chant towards supporters of the visiting team that day, Crystal Palace.
It was self-deprecating. It was ironic. Hull City did not play cultured football, and surely no-one would travel from London to Hull for the actual culture.
Three years on, the slogan “You’re only here for the culture” is printed on colourful T-shirts and fridge magnets in the Hull 2017 merchandise stand in the city’s branch of House of Fraser.
But part of the irony has been replaced by something else – pride, perhaps; triumphalism, even.
Hullensians will wear those T-shirts knowing that some people they pass in the street will have travelled to the city from another part of the country for the culture, and only for the culture. Some might have even come from London.
That is the intention behind City of Culture. To bring people in who may not have visited before, and to change the minds of people who had a fuzzy image of this East Yorkshire port city, informed mainly by negative things – the decline of the fishing industry, being named the worst place to live in the UK, the number one Crap Town.
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- Why City of Culture will change Hull
- Hull’s City of Culture plans unveiled
Hull is the second UK City of Culture – a title that is being awarded every four years. The first was Derry-Londonderry in 2013.
Hull’s reign begins on 1 January with an outdoor spectacle telling the story of the city using projections on buildings, and a firework display at 20:17 GMT that they say will be bigger than London’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.
During the year, the Royal Shakespeare Company is taking up residence, drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo have been loaned by the British Museum, Opera North is turning the Humber Bridge into a giant musical instrument and 60 arts projects will be embedded in local communities.
If you are sceptical about how much culture Hull has given the world over the years, go to Trinity Market, an indoor arcade in the old town.
This is Hull’s unofficial walk of fame. On the walls between and above the record shop and sweet cabin hang more than 180 black picture frames containing photos of anybody and everybody from Hull who has gone on to great things.
Pioneering aviator Amy Johnson is next to David Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson, anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and actress Maureen Lipman.
There is poet Philip Larkin, film director Anthony Minghella, playwright John Godber and actor Barrie Rutter.
Sandwiched between pop groups The Beautiful South and Everything But The Girl hang Hull Kingston Rovers legend Roger Millward and trailblazing gay poet Elsa Gidlow.
The frames were put up by Steve Mathie, who runs Spin-It Records and has published a book titled The Famous Side of Hull.
He says visitors to the arcade fall into two camps. “You’ve got people [from outside Hull] who are surprised, and you’ve got the local people who are proud,” he says.
“They bring visitors in to have a look and say, ‘Look, this is what Hull’s done’. All day long you’re hearing, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that’, which is really nice.”
He says being City of Culture is about more than the shows that will be staged over the next 12 months.
“It’s going to take the city forward and the city’s going to be big,” he says. “It’s going to be very successful.
“Next year, that’s just the whistles and bells. The firework display that’s happening on New Year’s Day – that’s the start of the next 10 years for Hull.”
But not everybody is going to be buying the T-shirt.
To get ready for 2017, the council has spent 2016 digging up and relaying many of the city centre streets.
The orange roadwork barriers have become a major source of pain and have soured City of Culture before it has even begun for some who live and work in the city.
Next to Spin-It Records, Deborah Denby has run Debbie’s Sweet Cabin for 25 years. The disruption caused by the building work has meant her trade is down 75% this year, she says.
She initially thought City of Culture might be good for Hull. “But at the moment I don’t think so,” she says. “I was excited. I’m not now.”
The council’s mantra to business owners like Mrs Denby is that it is “short-term pain for long-term gain”.
“Yeah, that’s all they’ve said to us. ‘Ride the storm.’ Easier said than done, believe you me,” she says.
“We wanted to be positive and the majority of businesses will still want to be positive, but all the hard work we’ve put in over the years, and then they’ve just knocked it like that, doing all this work together. I hope they can prove us wrong.”
In the train station, a City of Culture booth has been set up to give information to visitors and locals alike.
Part-time taxi driver Barry Jackson, 65, one of the volunteers manning the booth, is wearing a purple woolly hat bearing the hand-stitched slogan: “Hull City of Culture”.
“This came from the highest authority,” Mr Jackson explains. “My wife. She made it.”
Most people who come into the booth want to see City of Culture work, he says.
“They want to see it expand the city, media-wise [for it] to be known better. They want the good parts to be seen.
“Every city’s got its bad parts. But we’ve got a lot to give here. You will get your complainers. They’re few and far between. When we first started, there was a few of them. We hear hardly any now.”
His fellow volunteer, retired plumber Alan Balcam, fetches a poem by Margaret Crossland titled This Is Hull. “Or to put it in the vernacular – This Is ‘Ull.”
The poem talks about how: “We hate orange barriers/As they dig up the town/We all like to grumble/As we traverse around.”
But also how: “Our time in the spotlight’s/Arriving at last/Look to the future/As well as the past.”
The council says 65% of the roadworks will be finished by 1 January, including all the routes for the opening outdoor spectacle. The rest will be completed by Easter – but the council also stresses the 25m scheme was always planned to be carried out in two phases.
“We are trying to do what would under normal circumstances be a three- or four-year programme of works,” according to Councillor Martin Mancey, the cabinet member responsible for public realm works.
“We are trying to cram that all into less than two years, obviously because we want to maximise the advantage we’re gaining from this in terms of all the City of Culture visitors coming next year.”
As well as smartening up the city centre, the council has given the Ferens art gallery a 5.1m refurbishment. It will reopen on 13 January with pride of place going to its prize acquisition – a 14th Century masterpiece by Pietro Lorenzetti.
The Lorenzetti will be accompanied by four loans from the National Gallery and others from the Victoria and Albert Museum, Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham.
The council also runs the New Theatre, which is having a 16m facelift to make it fit for major touring shows – but that will not be ready until August or, more likely, September.
And a brand new 3,500-seat concert and conference complex – named Hull Venue – will not open until early 2018.
“In an ideal world of course everything would have been completed by 31 December and all the new venues would be open,” Mr Mancey admits.
But he adds: “This is not all about what goes on between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017. This is about planning for the future and ensuring that significant visitor numbers keep coming back to the city because they see it as an attractive place with a lot to offer.”
City of Culture director Martin Green stresses that all plans are running to schedule – even if that schedule says certain things will not be ready for the start of the year.
“Projects like this kick off the growth and renaissance of cities for the next 25-30 years and if you’re serious about that then you build that for 30 years,” he says.
Mr Green says he is not disappointed that the New Theatre will not be available to stage shows for most of the year, insisting it “works very well” to have focal points throughout the year.
“If everything happened on 1 January, you’d have nothing to say for the rest of the year.”
Two redeveloped venues have already reopened. The University of Hull’s 400-seat concert and film venue Middleton Hall and the Brynmor Jones Library, where Larkin once worked, were part of the university’s 200m redevelopment.
From 3 January, the library’s gallery will host an exhibition of drawings by some of the greatest artists in history. Look along the rows of frames and the star names come thick and fast – Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso, Rubens, Rodin, Moore…
They have been loaned by the British Museum, and the director of the university’s art collection, John Bernasconi, says Hull’s year as City of Culture had inspired the university “to aspire to a higher level than we might otherwise have done” when staging exhibitions.
That becomes slightly less impressive, however, when you discover that this is a touring exhibition and the last place it was seen was that other underappreciated coastal hotbed of culture, Poole in Dorset.
Martin Green takes pride in the fact that there will be at least one cultural thing happening in Hull every day during 2017 – and usually more than one.
There have been other grumbles, though – all of which Mr Green bats away.
Some artists who have lived and worked in Hull for years complained at being turned down when 750,000 funding was shared between 60 community arts projects. But there were 650 applications, Mr Green says.
The ticketing website was not working properly at first. There were “some teething problems” but it will serve the city for years to come and is now fixed, he promises.
Some have said the line-up is a bit too high-brow. But 15,000 tickets for ex-Housemartins and Beautiful South frontman Paul Heaton’s stadium homecoming sold on the first day; Richard Bean’s new play The Hypocrite – a co-production between the Hull Truck theatre and the RSC – has just extended its run by a week; and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, featuring Hull-born Spiders From Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey, sold out straight away.
“I think broadly people are excited, they’re ready,” Mr Green concludes.
“My job now is to make sure we deliver on the promises and ideas. I’m confident we can deliver what we’ve promised to deliver.”