Will City of Culture title boost Hull? - Museums Association

Will City of Culture title boost Hull?

Hull hopes to follow in the footsteps of Derry-Londonderry by reaping the economic and social benefits from being designated the UK City of Culture for 2017. By Sharon Heal
The announcement that Hull will be the UK’s City of Culture in 2017 was greeted with whoops of delight on Humberside – and a little bit of slack-jawed incredulity elsewhere.

The title was bestowed at the end of last year following fierce competition between Hull, Dundee, Leicester and Swansea Bay.

Hull has been plagued by a poor reputation. Geographical isolation, poor infrastructure, a declining economy and the decimation of the fishing industry have created a city with a reputation for being down on its luck. A fact reflected, perhaps ironically, in the theme of its bid: “A city coming out of the shadows.”

It is hoped that the City of Culture title will lead to a reversal in Hull’s fortune. But how have other title-holders fared?

The UK City of Culture concept was developed after Liverpool’s successful reign as European Capital of Culture in 2008. Despite initial scepticism, the year was deemed to be a hit for the city, bringing in an extra £750m to the region, as well as boosting tourism and helping to restore Liverpool’s tarnished image.

Inward investment

There is no direct funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for the City of Culture, although minister for culture Maria Miller says the title can bring inward investment.

She says the 2013 UK City of Culture, Derry-Londonderry, demonstrates the huge benefits that the title brings including “encouraging economic growth, inspiring social change and bringing communities together”, although Miller failed to visit the city in 2013.

Before the year kicked off, Derry-Londonderry was known for two things: shirt-making and the Troubles. Shirt manufacturing is no more, but the legacy of the Troubles simmers, and the City of Culture title was designed to move the city’s image on.

There were considerable successes. The All-Ireland Fleadh brought 400,000 visitors to the city, while the Lumiere light festival attracted 170,000 in November. Hotel occupancy rates have broken records and the title is estimated to have contributed an extra £60m to the local economy.

However, it has not all been plain sailing. There has been tension between the Culture Company, an independent organisation set up to deliver the programme, and Derry City Council. Three members of the Culture Company resigned last year amid concerns that the legacy plans were being abandoned.

There is also discontent that the Ebrington gallery, a former military barracks that was converted at a cost of £2.5m to house the Turner Prize, will become office space once the show closed. Derry-born artist Willie Doherty described the decision as ludicrous.

Meanwhile, the City Factory Gallery, which housed Doherty’s retrospective show as part of the City of Culture programme, has funding only until April.

However, Northern Ireland culture minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, says the city’s legacy plans are firmly in place. She says £2m has been set aside to run projects and that a new company will be established to deliver the legacy.

Confound critics

For 2017, Hull plans to confound the cynics with a programme of festivals, community projects and national and international commissions (see box).

Both Liverpool and Derry-Londonderry hosted the Turner Prize as part of their programme of events. A Tate spokeswoman says details have not yet been announced about where the prize will be in 2017, but a source close to Hull’s bid says it is not a foregone conclusion that the city will host the prize.

It seems that whatever happens in 2017, Hull will be City of Culture in its own unique style.

Hull City of Culture 2017

  • Five national and international commissions, 12 artist residencies, 25 festivals and eight major community participation projects.
  • Four Rivers opening ceremony.
  • Looking Up: a celebration of Hull’s architecture.
  • Flags, Wind and Waves festival.
  • Roots and Routes food festival.
  • Larkin’s Lamp poetry festival and retrospective.
  • Sonic Lumiere party and light show.

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