UK CITY OF CULTURE Everyone back to ours
Hull is preparing to throw its doors open to the world as it looks forward to culture providing the economic boost it badly needs. Simon Tait reports
It’s 10 or 11 weeks to the start of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture but it seems like it’s here already. The unpretentious little city – population 258,000 – is abuzz with the announcement of the artistic programme, a programme that is so full it was decided to released details at three month intervals. So the schedule announced by director an CEO Martin Green takes only up to April. But more of that later.
Kingston-upon-Hull was invented by Ed- ward I as a supply base for his campaigns of Scot hammering, at the spot where the rivers Humber and Hull meet the North Sea and through the Middle Ages it became the main port for imports of cloth, iron ore, oil seed and timber from northern Europe. It, and its merchants, grew rich. When Charles I tried to take control of the city’s arsenal in 1642 he was turned away at the gates by the governor, Sir John Hotham (more of him later), laid siege and after five weeks was de- feated, thus providing the first action of the Civil War. Later in the 17th century the poet Andrew Marvell was Hull’s MP. So was William Wilberforce a century later, launching his anti-slavery campaign from here.
With whaling coming to the port in the 18th century it continued to flourish, and fishing generally became Hull’s main source of prosperity through the 19th century with railways making distribution relatively easy. And with prosperity went civic priced marked by the creation of buildings like the majestic Guildhall which would be a grand parliament for many countries.
After the First World War new housing estates were built and there was more urban development, but overfishing in the 1920s and 30s set off an industrial decline. In the Second World War Hull was devastated by bombing raids, only London got worse, and post-war reconstruction was slow and laborious, while fishing declined more. The old docks were closed, a new dock to handle container traffic opened in the 60s, and Scandinavian super-ferries operate from there.
But unemployment is now among the highest in the country, and the floods of 2007 made thousands homeless. Hull needs this boost.
Its history is now its fortune, and there’s a bid for the Old Town to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town is being restored, and it is charming. At the pier people have got into the happy off throwing their loved ones’ ashes off the end, and they return annually to leave flowers as they would at a grave. It has England’s smallest window, a peephole for the porter at the 18th century George Hotel to watch the coaches unloading. Amy Johnson was born here, and around the town now large multi-coloured moths commemorating her – the plane in which she flew solo to Australia in the 1930s was a Gypsy Moth. The old fruit market, Humber Street, was to be demolished ten years ago but the recession did for the development plan, so now the shops and warehouses have been restored to be breweries, a chocolatier, a new contemporary art space, the Humber Street Gallery, and even the world’s first Museum of Club Culture.
The City of Culture has already worked its magic, with more than £1 billion of industrial investment coming in since it was announced in 2013, and there’s a £100m cultural infrastructure programme under way.
The Ferens Art Gallery has been refurbished and reopens in January, as does the New Theatre after its make-over. Much of the city centre is covered in orange barriers, however, while work goes frantically on to be ready. The £36m Hull Venue music and events centre, though, won’t be – it doesn’t open until 2018, so becomes a “legacy project”.
“Hull has always had a unique cultural voice and in 2017 it will roar” said Martin Green, beneath a sign saying “Everyone back to ours in 2017”. It has given us poets like Marvell and Stevie Smith, but Hull’s cultural patron saint is probably the university’s former librarian, Philip Larkin, whose statue now greets visitors at the railway station. Hull University has been a major contributor to the planning and programming of the year.
Green has raised £32m for the programme, almost twice the £18m target. The Ferens’s opening high- light will be the revelation for the first time of its acquisition, the exquisite 1320s painting by Pietro Lorinzetti, Christ Between the Saints Paul and Peter, after four years of conservation and research. The gallery will also have an exhibition of the work of sculptor Ton Mueck, Francis Bacon’s Screaming Popes paintings and the first showing of Spencer Tu- nick’s photographs from his 2016 Sea of Hull commission in which Hullensians in their hundreds posed nude.
Hull playwright Richard Bean has written a new play, The Hypocrite, about the place’s heroic Roundhead governor Sir John Hottam which will have its world premiere at the Hull Truck Theatre. Barry Rutter and his Northern Broadsides will return the play that in 1992 they shocked the world with, Shakespeare’s Richard III delivered in broadest Yorkshire dialect.
One of the most extraordinary musical events will need no con- cert hall. In April the orchestra and chorus of Opera North take to the iconic Humber Bridge to present a new piece by Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen and collaborators Jan Bang and Eivind Aarset, with the sounds of the bridge itself caught by Hull-based sound artist Jez Riley, all experienced by the audience through earphones during a walk across the 2,200 metre bridge, the longest single span suspension bridge in the world.
There will be large photographs projected on to buildings in the Made in Hull installation by the film-maker Sean McAllister.
But the programme as announced reaches only into the spring – the next quarter will be announced in February – and the year itself is only a preliminary. Hull’s chief executive, Matt Dukes, said it starts a ten year plan, and lessons have been learned from the first City of Culture of 2013, Derry-Londonderry, where little of the year remains.
“As city we have embedded legacy at every stage of our UK City of Culture journey from bid- ding though to readiness, and that remains a key focus as we prepare to deliver a spectacular artistic programme” he said.
Image (c) Hull 2017