I do enjoy some good fireworks. So it was a relatively easy sell to get me to wrap-up warm on 1st January and head out to celebrate the start of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture with a huge firework display on the banks of the river Humber. We joined huge crowds at our vantage point on St Andrew’s Quay (not being among the fortunate 25,000 to get free tickets for the city’s historic waterfront), and just about managed to get a decent view of the display. It all started at 20:17 (of course), and marked the beginning of 365 days of events of all shapes, sizes, tastes, colours and sounds.
The display was great. But for me but it didn’t really capture the imagination, nor express the hope and expectation that has hovered over the city since it was awarded the City of Culture designation in November 2013. This, on the back of issues over ticketing, delayed and disruptive works in the city centre, Hull’s main theatre not reopening until September 2017, and a new 3,500 seat concert venue unlikely to be opened until at least 2018, had left a suspicion in some minds (OK, my mind) that Hull might be about to fluff it’s lines as it took to the national and international stage for this once in a lifetime opportunity to display it’s wonderful and varied culture and history.
Four days later, and my sense of apprehension and slight disappointment was blown away in a myriad of colour, sound and light as I experienced the fantastic Made In Hull; a multi-media depiction of the story of Hull and its people, located on a trail that took you through parts of Hull’s Old Town. There was much to admire, with the projection of Arrivals and Departures (depicting the ebb and flow of people into Hull from around the world) on The Deep particularly effective. There was also the opportunity to pose and have your image immediately projected onto the walls of Humber Street; instant art!
But without doubt, the centre piece was Zsolt Balogh’s stunning and incredibly moving We Are Hull. Projected onto the classical facades of Hull City Hall, the Ferens Art Gallery and Hull Maritime Museum that surround Queen Victoria Square, this thrilling show in panoramic sight and sound depicted key parts of Hull’s story. The city’s maritime history, the destruction of the Blitz and subsequent post-war rebuilding, the sacrifices of the long-gone fishing industry, Hull fair, sporting success, famous Hullensians past and present and a nod to the new and growing wind turbine manufacturing hub all featured in a display that provoked tears and cheers from the tens of thousands who visited (and revisited) during the week.
And this takes me to the really surprising, heartwarming and remarkable part of the whole experience. It was the people. The sheer number of people. People who laughed, cried and beamed with pride at their city. At their Hull. The place of their birth, or the place where they have found themselves and put down roots. It all helped to create a wonderful atmosphere that bodes well for the rest of the year. I suspect there are many like me who got home and immediately started looking at what other events are coming up, in the hope of repeating the experiences of this first week.
There is no standing still. Within hours the projection and sound equipment had all been removed to make way for a 75 metre turbine blade being erected in Queen Victoria Square as part of a temporary art installation. As pictures of the The Blade were being shared across social media it was satisfying to reflect that finally Hull was trending for all the right reasons.
I remain dubious as to the real and lasting impact that titles like City of Culture can have on a place (don’t mention the 1991 World Student Games to anyone in Sheffield). Only time will tell whether 2017 really proves to be the moment when Hull ‘comes out of the shadows’ and sees the tangible social and economic benefits that the organisers hope for and that this much-maligned (often unfairly) northern coastal city desperately needs. However, things are off to a fantastic start, with Hull and its people embracing the City of Culture opportunity.
And to those of you further afield? I hope that you consider a visit (or two) to Hull during 2017. Come for the day or the weekend. See a concert or visit the museums and art galleries. Experience live music and street art. You can even come and run a marathon! You won’t regret it, and we’d love to see you.
Hull 2017: everyone back to ours.