No, it was always clear that 2017 was not going to be a vintage year. And so it proved – from the ongoing political ineptitude regarding Brexit, to the horrors of the sexual harassment scandal it is a year we would probably all like to put behind us.
However, there was one tremendous good news story that raised itself head and shoulders above everything – and worked as a fantastically bright and heart-warming antidote to all the darkness. I’m talking about Hull’s barnstorming tenure as UK City of Culture.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with the praise – for the programmers, the army of volunteers, the supportive local citizens and the legion of home-grown and international artists who contributed to what turned out to be a hugely impressive and diverse twelve months of top quality arts and cultural events.
Suffice to say it was a success in myriad ways. And the excellent news as we go forward in to 2018 is that Hull aims to build on that success. The organisation set up to deliver the City of Culture project, Culture Company, intends to continue commissioning world-class arts programming and cementing the city’s reputation as a centre for culture and creativity.
Statistics were released last week in relation to Hull 2017’s successes and there were a couple which jumped out at me as most inspiring and uplifting. One was that at least nine in 10 Hull residents experienced the hundreds of new commissions and artworks created. The other was that the 85 events in the Back to Ours festival which brought circus, comedy, theatre, music and film to schools, shopping areas, community centres and other non-traditional arts venues, were seen by more than 8,000 people, a proportion of whom may not regularly engage with the arts. And while there have been obvious economic benefits too, that kind of meaningful contact is priceless.
In a year sadly too often characterised by intolerance and prejudice of all kinds, what Hull City of Culture – and other similar events all over the region, country, in Europe and the wider world – proved time and again is that the arts bring people together. Culture has the unique power to create community cohesion on a local, national and global level. And there is clearly an appetite for it. As Martin Green, director at Hull 2017, says: “the people, places and spaces are ready for more and that’s what they’re going to get.” That gives us all a much-needed glimmer of hope for the future. Happy new year everyone.