In the latest in our series putting the spotlight on Hull, Alex Wood looks at how young artists and artisans are using the forthcoming UK City of Culture to promote their work.
Its nondescript entrance gives no clue to what goes on inside. But as soon as you step in there’s art everywhere - marching up walls and plastering ceilings.
This is the Beverley Road home of Hull’s Ground art collective. Up and running a year now, there are studios upstairs and exhibitions downstairs, where there’s everything from a bright blue drumkit - it arrived and never left during their opening festival - to a large Risograph printing press which can turn out large volumes of artist’s books and prints inexpensively.
One wall is covered in drawings, the work of people who come along on Tuesdays. “Anyone can come and have a cup of tea and make some art,” says William Vinegrad, one of six recent arts graduates who came together to pursue their collective love of art-making.
The 26-year-old, who grew up in the area, admits he wouldn’t have returned to the city, had it not been for City of Culture. For him it could be a ground-breaker - a chance to dedicate himself full-time to art.
He met fellow members Louis Dorton, his girlfriend Lilly Williams, and Louis’ sister Ellie, while studying Fine Art at Newcastle University.
“I didn’t have much motivation for university, but it’s what everybody does,” admits William. “I knew I was into art. But I gained a lot of artistic sensibility and came back looking at things in a completely different light.
“To come back and have this buzz around 2017 makes it an exciting time to be here as an artist and gives you a lot of motivation to get your work out there. Without it Hull would still be stagnant and you’d be showing your work to the same group of people.”
He is looking forward to City of Culture stirring things up: “Things like the Turner Prize are going to confuse people in a good way - in Newcastle it attracted 200,000 people - and I find it exciting because no one knows what is going to happen.
“It is magical that in this current economic climate, a dead end northern city has been given this gig.”
An exhibition of his work is planned at Queens House in January, with the collective putting on its second “Mammal Jam” exhibition in the same month - last year’s featured spoken word, film, puppets and jam sessions.
William works in different mediums including photography - he shows me cleverly-composed images which transform humble weeds using techniques and filters, perspex and water droplets to name one - into quite different objects, clouds and trees.
“I look at intricacies in nature - weeds in particular interest me. Hopefully with this exhibition I will be able to sell some work and people can order some prints and create sustainability because I am hoping to go full-time as an artist,” he says.
“We want to open a book shop downstairs with everything from radical texts to comics and art publications. There’s a niche for us.”
Film-maker Alex Davies, 29, a member of Humber Film, is another example of how 2017 is helping staunch the flow of talent from the city.
Alex is involved in doing animation work for Made In Hull starting on January 1st and also on a recreation of Forgotten Town, a song by The Christians, which reached number 22 in the charts in 1987.
Songwriter Henry Priestman was born in the Hull area and the song’s lyrics: “How can I get out? There’s no way I can get out!” sum up a desperate desire to escape a dead-end city.
Henry is now giving it a fresh twist for 2017, as part of a Humber Film-led project, awarded one of 60 creative communities grants by Hull 2017.
A documentary covering the making of the video and the many community groups taking part will run on social media up to the release of the music-led film.
Alex says there are a lot of people who would have moved on, but are staying in Hull to see how 2017 plays out.
“I had an opportunity to move to London to do some film work there but as this has panned out I thought this is the place I need to be right now, because of how much the city is developing.
“I am working on all the kind of things I am excited to be working on. I am not flying by my coat-tails - I am getting paid to do the things I like.
“Once January comes around and everyone sees the opening ceremony I think people will be reminded of the fact there is so much more to this city than the last 20 dreary years and the last 10 slightly better years. There’s this massive exciting heritage which needs to be unpacked again.”
Humber Film is a collection of like-minded individuals who have taken up generously cheap office space at the city centre Kardomah94 arts venue. They include Rank Foundation award-winning film-maker Paul Leeson Taylor, who is directing the video.
He has been taken aback by peoples’ desire to take part: “We are hoping to have a very large orchestra and choir. Over 50 community groups will be taking part. Going out to see some of them you realise there is this massive wave of enthusiasm.”
For chocolatier Jon Collins, 2017 also presents a huge opportunity as well as a gamble.
The workmen outside his new shop on Humber Street are making such a din it’s almost impossible to hear what he is saying.
It will be a close run finish to getting everything fixed before he opens on Monday. “If it doesn’t work I am in big trouble,” he admits.
But he says if he can’t make it in 2017 - the first three months will celebrate ‘Made in Hull’ - then when can he?
Jon still has a stall in the indoor market, but took the decision to open a flagship store in the heart of Hull’s new arts and cultural quarter, formerly one of the oldest street-based fruit, veg and flower markets in the country.
He will be joined by other “pioneer” businesses - to his right possibly a brewery, then a tapas bar, and high-end offices across the street. For the time being though it is a building site.
Humber Street has never been the easiest place to access because of the barrier of Castle Street but he’s hoping the accumulation of new businesses will make it a “destination.”
Downstairs in the newly converted warehouse, he will sell patisseries, hand-made chocolates and chocolate-making kits; upstairs he has a kitchen where people can learn how to make their own chocolates. People can sample his wares next week - including single origin hot chocolate.
“We are pretty much the only shop in the area and, yes, I am bothered about footfall, but what we are hoping is this will be a destination, and every time something new opens it becomes more of a destination. It deserves to be,” he says. “There’s a lot of money being spent in this area. We looked at staying just in the indoor market but with 2017 just around the corner, this is my chance to showcase what I am capable of and what I am passionate about.
“I think 2017 will be a springboard for many people.”
City of Culture 2017 countdown
25,000 free tickets are being made available next week for a huge fireworks display to rival London’s which will kick off the year-long arts festival on January 1.
The display over the Humber starts at 8.17pm and will have a specially commissioned soundtrack featuring musicians and bands from Hull’s pop history.
It will come at the end of the first day of Made in Hull, a spectacular multimedia journey into more than 70 years of Hull’s history curated by Hull-born documentary filmmaker Sean McAllister. It is being staged across the city centre from 4pm to 9pm and will run until January 7. Anyone can turn up to this at any time. Tickets for the fireworks are being released in two batches on November 2 and November 5.