Freedom Festival launched with appeal to businesses

THE man behind Hull City of Culture 2017 has promised business leaders “the most extraordinary programme of art you have ever seen” as he called on their support at the launch of this weekend’s Freedom Festival.

The Long Walk to Freedom, the focal point of Hull's annual Freedom Festival's opening night

The flagship festival - one of the factors which won Hull the sought-after title last year - promises an eclectic mix of art, dance, music and theatre with one highlight tonight’s outdoor spectacular Spellbound, a blend of song, shadow puppetry and pyrotechnics.

All eyes will be on the festival this weekend, the first since winning, to demonstrate the city can live up to the title.

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Organisers have set themselves targets to bring in more the 80,000 people who came last year, and want to increase by several thousand the number of outside visitors.

Martin Green, former head of ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, promised to deliver 2017 “in a stonking way” - joking: “I like throwing rather important people out of helicopters, so watch your back.”

He told the city’s Bondholders, a network of 230 businesses working to promote the region, he wanted them on board to create a “lasting legacy” that will benefit everyone.

Lottery funding distributors - with responsibility for £1.5bn expenditure - have been visiting the city in the past week and organisers are confident they will get the £18m in the budget for the programme and possibly more.

Andrew Dixon, who is helping raise money for 2017, and was instrumental in the successful bid, told an audience on Thursday night: “They are just blown over by it - it seems they want to be part of it. I don’t want to be over-optimistic, people want to make sure this works. But this is Hull’s time, it is our moment.”

This year’s festival promises to be the biggest yet, and is also laying the ground for budding local artists, including those who featured in last night’s Long Walk to Freedom, a homage to Nelson Mandela.

The festival’s opening event, a trail featuring specially-commissioned artworks in snickets and alleyways in the Old Town, began with the welcoming of the Freedom Flame - a Dutch flame symbolising the end of occupation during WW2.

Today promises events for the family and all tastes with everything from flying trolley dancers to contemporary open air No Fit Circus, a hit at the Edinburgh Festival, performing in Queens Gardens, and four music stages featuring the best in local talent.

Tonight hotly-tipped London rapper Kate Tempest, youngest ever person to win the Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry, will headline the new Bridge stage. Tomorrow’s end of the festival will be marked by A World of Colour, a procession wending its way through the Old Town to the Marina for a paint-splattered finale.

Graham Chesters, chair of the festival board, said: “We have a lot of dance which is dominated by local dancers and music which is dominated by local bands. It feels different this year because we have more time to prepare . Last year there was a lot of pressure as we were being presented as a showcase for City of Culture.

“The pressure is slightly different - we are not part of a competition now because we won it, but there is still a lot of challenge to demonstrate that we can be City of Culture.”

The festival was born out of the events staged to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition in slavery in 2007. Hull’s William Wilberforce, both politician and philanthropist, who was one of the lead campaigners in bringing the barbaric trade to an end.