Hull named UK City of Culture 2017: It’s about celebrating the genius of a city

Good on Hull for its accolade. But if the title is to mean anything, it has to be about more than just hosting events

Share

I like the sound of Councillor Stephen Bayes of Hull City Council. You may have heard him put in a brief appearance at 8.56am on Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, as John Humphrys introduced an item about Hull being named the UK’s 2017 City of Culture. Their conversation went as follows.

Humphrys:  Congratulations, Mr Bayes.

Cllr Bayes: (long pause) Thanks very mooch.

Humphrys:  I imagine you’re all pretty pleased there.

Cllr Bayes:  (much longer pause) Yes, the party’s still goin’ on…

The discussion then switched to a lady from Derry/Londonderry city council, who explained how much they’d enjoyed their year as City of Culture, before returning to Mr Bayes. But he’d gone, vanished away, leaving the impression in listeners’ ears of a man in alderman’s robes, an hour into an early-morning party (the announcement had come at 7.45am,) who’d just spotted a tray of prosecco and a bowl of pretzels across the room and had dashed off to secure them...

Culture! How we love it. It doesn’t just entertain us, it makes us feel good about ourselves and our communities, and if you’re lucky enough to get the “UK City of” appellation, it brings a colossal wedge of cash. Sharon O’Connor, the Derry council spokeswoman, reported that they’d secured £166m in capital and revenue investment, to be spent over the next 10 years. No wonder Councillor Bayes and his mates have been carousing so strenuously in the chamber.

But are we talking about culture here, or something else? The UK City of Culture idea came from Andy Burnham in 2009 when he was still Culture Secretary: he suggested the designated city should have the glory of hosting events such as the Brit Awards, the Turner Prize and the Man Booker. A steering committee went further and decided the winning city should choose what it fancied hosting from a list of “core events” run by the BBC, Channel 4, Arts Council England, Sony, the Poetry Book Society, the UK Film Council, the Tate, Visit England, Visit Britain, the Museums Association, the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.

Like a child in a sweetie shop, the winning city can raid a pick’n’mix counter of concerts, readings, exhibitions, lectures and celebrations of dwile-flonking in the shires, stage them all in their town hall or butter market, and cry, “Look at us – Culture Central! We’ve staging the Brit Awards! We’ve got Lily Allen performing at the Arndale Centre!”

I’m reminded of Barry Humphries’ creation, Sir Les Patterson, the Australian cultural attaché (currently back in the West End in all his priapic glory,) who used to bang on about Australian art and theatre and ballet, before ringingly concluding, “We got culture, ladies and gennelmen. We got culture up to our arseholes!”

When I learn that one of the cultural events which Derry is so proud to have hosted was the “Greatest number of [Little Orphan] Annies ever seen together in one place”, I can’t help wondering if a Broadway musical based on an American strip cartoon has much, if anything, to do with the Ulster town. When I hear that one of the arty displays that impressed the judges was an aerial homage to the Hull-based poet Philip Larkin, I wonder if it’s snobbish to say, Stop stop, you’ve got it all wrong.

Winning the right to host events, whether it’s the World Cup, the Olympics or Eurovision, is the result of showing how efficient you can be. Being named City of Culture suggests something quite different. It’s about celebrating the genius of a city and it should come up from the grassroots; it shouldn’t be imposed from above in pre-digested arty events. Culture isn’t an evening of interpretative dance – it’s the changing habits and preoccupations of a society: how we speak, and dress, whether we go to church or to sporting events, what makes us angry or apologetic, what we eat in the morning and drink at night, our sense of courtesy, the things we revere, the reason we walk around with our trousers falling off, the expectations we have for our children. That’s what should be celebrated.

I hope that in 2017, Cllr Bayes and his crew of planners manage to celebrate Hull’s cream telephone boxes, the letters page of the Hull Daily Mail, the conversations you hear in the Prince’s Avenue bars, the accent that always elides the H from the city’s name, and the locals’ feelings about folk living on the other side of the Humber, just as much as they welcome the Turner Prize and the Museum of the Year Award into their civic heart.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee