Welcome to this fortnightly edition of TaitMail from the Arts Industry
Friday 30th September 2016

Hull, hell and legacy

Hull has launched its programme for its year as UK City of Culture, or at least the first quarter of it, at a pretty lavish event at which the principal guests were donors to the funding appeal, some leading national figures like Nick Serota, Baz Bazalgette and Tony Hall (does John Prescott still count?), and a generous sprinkling of press and media. It’s a tribute to the director, Martin Green, and the year’s chair, Rosie Millard, that they almost doubled the £18m target for the money raised for the programme, £32m so far and counting.
And, of course, they got the best PR machinery in motion that found us essential background information such as that the founder of the Football Association was born here, Captain Bligh’s HMS Bounty was built here, the Carry On franchise came from the Hull-based J Arthur Rank, the George Hotel has England’s smallest window, the first female pilot to fly solo from here to Australia, Amy Johnson, was born here (the large ceramic moths dotted on walls around the city are a subtle tribute to her – her plane was a Gipsy Moth), and Hull has its own separate telephone exchange and maintains its white phone boxes even though they don’t have phones in them anymore. It’s the city of Wilberforce, Marvell and of course Larkin, and there’s a bid for the Old Town to be made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But that’s the past. Hull wants to be a now place, and since it won the choice of City of Culture 2017 four years ago it has had a £1 billion investment boost, with the latest global giant to come on board being Siemens who want to build offshore windfarms. There’s a new manufacturing plant in Alexandra Dock, a £200m energy plant and a £100m pharmaceutical R&D centre. Even so, Hull still has one of the largest unemployment ratios in the country, so more to be done.
If you go to Hull today it's orange, great chunks of the city closed off by 3,164 orange barriers which, Richard Morrison in The Times tells me, has apparently led to a national shortage of them. There are plans for £100m worth of cultural infrastructure. Places like the New Theatre and the Ferens Art Gallery are being done up to reopen next year, but curiously the £36m 3,500-seat new music venue, The Venue, won’t open till the Year of Culture is over – because, obviously, it didn’t get planning permission until this year. It will therefore be a Legacy Development, and lessons have been learned about Legacy from UK City of Culture 2013, Derry~Londonderry, where there isn’t any except for that bizarrely politically correct name.
The year is going to be great, no doubt about it, and that a billion pounds has been invested in Hull on the back of culture is exactly what the Northern Powerhouse is supposed to be about.
But not all Hullensians, it seems, are convinced. A forlorn looking lady was sitting in the station café with a forlorn looking paper cup of coffee. “You may think it’s great” she says “but you're just getting on a train back to London. That Venue, we had to lose the medieval cemetery beside Holy Trinity (the magnificent cathedral-size 14th century church in the centre) to make space for it. We’re already cultural enough, this isn’t going to be our Hull anymore”.

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