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Community engagement teams have been visiting every neighbourhood in Hull to make sure no one misses out on this year’s programme of culture. Martin Green explains how they hope to build interest in the arts. 

Photo of performers and family at a bus stop

Let there be no doubt, the response from the people of Hull to the city being UK City of Culture 2017 has been fantastic. Their support for the bid, along with that of the council, was key to its success, and following the announcement in 2013 this enthusiasm has been unwavering. The reaction to our programme announcement in September was even better than we had hoped for.

Central to developing our programme of world-class arts and culture is ensuring it stays true to its locale and that it speaks of Hull and the people who live here

At the same time, we aren’t naïve enough to think that programming 365 days of transformative culture in Hull is guaranteed to bring out people who have never previously ventured into a theatre or gallery. One survey indicated that involvement in arts and culture in Hull is significantly below the national average, with the city among the 20% lowest-scoring local authorities for attendance or participation in arts activities.

From the outset we have been committed to ensuring that everyone living in Hull has the chance to participate in the year, regardless of where they live and their social, educational or financial circumstances. This includes offering a mix of free and low-cost events, staging productions in familiar settings, such as schools and shopping centres, and literally taking work to people’s doorsteps, with the aim of challenging perceptions of what art and culture is and also building ticket-buying behaviour. The goal is to increase participation in arts and culture across the city by 7%.

Involving local people

Central to developing our programme of world-class arts and culture is ensuring it stays true to its locale and that it speaks of Hull and the people who live here. Local artists have an important role throughout the year and key events are being produced that involve local people in their development.

Since 2013, our energetic and knowledgeable community engagement team has been going into every neighbourhood, building links, finding out what people are excited by and what the barriers are to them participating in this year of transformative culture.

Our opening event Made in Hull has been designed to have the widest possible appeal. Taking place over seven evenings from 1 to 7 January, it sees international and local artists transforming locations around the city centre using state-of-the-art projections, lighting, archive materials, music, sound and live action to tell the story of the past 75 years of Hull in spectacular style. Staging an event that is free and in the public realm, rather than an opening ceremony in a venue, means we can invite everyone living in the city.

Through our Creative Communities Programme we are funding 60 new projects, in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund, which will unleash the creativity of people living in every corner of the city. Many are inspired by local stories and the communities themselves, ranging from photography exhibitions, fine art, beermats and billboards, to music and food festivals, choral and orchestral concerts to audio-visual installations, extraordinary parades and even a replica Gypsy Moth.

One project by the Goodwin Development Trust, I Wish To Communicate With You, will see the Thornton Estate get a full-colour makeover when local residents create a large-scale light installation. It is inspired by Hull’s connection with the sea and traditional seafaring communication methods, with window panes fitted with tinted filters, revealing a skyline awash with colour as darkness falls and the lights come on.

Neighbourhood events

Back to Ours will take top-notch productions into the heart of neighbourhoods around Hull. This series of events follows significant consultation and research we commissioned that revealed two thirds of Hull residents haven’t attended or participated in arts or cultural activity in the past 12 months.

Community roadshows helped us gain an understanding of current and potential demand, and what artforms people would be prepared to try if money and location were not factors.

The result is three festivals during the February, May and October half terms. Each will see schools transformed into cinemas, shopping centres into theatres and social clubs into big tops. Residents in different parts of the city can look forward to high-quality shows ranging from comedy, cabaret and circus to theatre, dance and film.

Be inspired

There are many other opportunities for people living in Hull to get involved in and be inspired by being UK City of Culture. In addition to our volunteer programme, which is recruiting an army of thousands of volunteers, the No Limits learning programme will reach all 63,000 schoolchildren across the city, as well as those who have fallen through the gaps of formal education.

Being UK City of Culture is a once in a lifetime opportunity. By introducing new audiences to cultural activity at affordable prices and in accessible places that are local to them, our ambition is to increase their desire to participate in future activities and embolden them to try new experiences, helping to build a legacy for culture in the city.

Martin Green is CEO and Director of Hull UK City of Culture 2017.

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Photo of Martin Green