Fire Up The Incubators
Winning the City of Culture for 2017 may well be the most significant thing to happen to Hull this decade, which is saying something after the scare Hull City gave Arsenal in the 2014 FA cup final. For one year, Hull will be the UK centre for arts and culture, giving the city a much greater international profile. People will literally fly halfway around the world just to visit Hull. The legacy of 2017 will hopefully be a vibrant cultural sector, which may in turn, help change the image of the city for the better and attract more investment and build greater prosperity.
For some, this may all seem a bit too good to be true and sure enough, there are rumblings of concern in some quarters. What seems to be exercising the minds of the local arts community and many local citizens is the worry that the City of Culture will simply mean loads of outsiders coming in to ‘do’ all the arty stuff while we locals are mere onlookers or members of the audience. This is something we need to think about.
Let’s be honest, we didn’t win the City of Culture bid because Phil Redmond and the other judges thought that Hull already had a world beating local arts scene. If this was the case then we wouldn’t need City of Culture status. All we’d need is a half decent promotional budget and maybe a five star hotel and then the glitterati would no doubt come flooding in, or at least visit now and again. Secondly, outside of London, I would suggest that no English city has a world class arts scene capable of supporting a year-long City of Culture programme without the support of ‘outsiders’.
The City of Culture isn’t about putting on a local talent show. It is about holding the biggest and best arty-party of 2017 and to do that we are going to need outside help and it needs to be world class. So we shouldn’t be overly concerned about those big ticket events being run by and featuring professionals from outside Hull. It isn’t an admission of defeat and we aren’t being robbed of local jobs. Here’s a way of measuring where we stand. If you are an organiser do you have Sir Peter Bazalgette’s personal phone number? If you are an artist does he have yours? And if you’re wondering who the hell this guy is, well that’s another matter.
And yet, it’s still our party. Whoever wrote the bid and however well it was done, the people of Hull won it. Don’t take my word for it, Phil Redmond made that perfectly clear when the result was announced. We may need the City of Culture, but we also REALLY want it. And when the well-earned hangover has worn off in January 2018 Hull’s cultural scene needs to be bigger and better, and we need to have great memories, of what we saw and heard but also what we did and what we can continue to do in culture, the arts and beyond.
Hosting City of Culture isn’t in itself enough to create a positive and sustainable legacy. Thankfully no-one has come out with the old adage that a rising tide raises all boats, at least not yet. If they do here’s an answer – that’s great as long as you’ve got a boat. In order to develop and sustain a vibrant creative sector well beyond 2017, we need structured, well supported creative paths and artistic opportunities. And we need to make use of those opportunities to create great art and put on better events. We need to be doing these things up to and during 2017 if we are going to do them after.
We should, of course, be realistic and we need to be fair, both to ourselves and to the City of Culture team. None of us expect to be asked to step in at the last minute and programme the opening ceremony, but we also shouldn’t be satisfied with standing by the side of the road hoping to sell a few beads to the cultured tourists.
Derry-Londonderry (so good they named it twice) was the last UK City of Culture in 2013, a city previously best known to many for its role in ‘the Troubles’ and ‘Bloody Sunday’. 2013 undoubtedly helped to give the city a new image but it’s legacy was perhaps best summed up in the words of actress and singer Bronagh Gallagher; “Think of Derry as a child with a new voice. A place of thousands of nests with wee eggs about to hatch.” To make the most of our year in the spotlight we need to give serious consideration to the process of incubation.
Rant over 🙂 Discuss!