Reaping the rewards

Director of Hull UK City of Culture 2017 Martin Green reflects on the success of the programme six months in.

When we set out to create our 365-day programme for Hull UK City of Culture 2017, a key ambition was to bring great art to the city as it took its rightful place in the national spotlight.

For too long, Hull’s qualities as a cultural city with a fine heritage had been overlooked, and its appointment as UK City of Culture offered a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance its reputation as a place to visit, study, live and do business with.

But as well as wanting to attract visitors, there was a commitment to ensuring that as many people living here as possible would have the opportunity to participate. We are therefore delighted with the recent figures showing that one in 10 people living in the city took part in or experienced at least one Hull 2017 event in the first three months of the year.

At least 450 events, exhibitions and cultural activities took place during the first season, attracting over 1.4 million visits, with many drawing large, often sell-out audiences.

This positive trend has continued with more than half a million visits to Hull’s museums and galleries in the first four months of the year. Ferens Art Gallery and Hull Maritime Museum have seen year-on-year increases of over 500%.

It is confidently predicted that 2017 will be easily the most successful year ever for the service in terms of visitor numbers. A total 37,510 people saw a production at Hull Truck Theatre between January and June, an increase of over 8,000 people on the same period in 2016, with an average of 40% being new visitors.

It is too early to calculate what the final impact will be, but the indicators are looking good, including benefits for the local economy. Hotel occupancy was up 13.8% in our first season, Made in Hull, which ran from January to March, compared to the same period in 2016. Hotels are also twice as likely to see their occupancy go over 80% as they were in 2016.

Of Hull’s businesses, 37% reported an increase in turnover and 27% saw an increase in profit on the previous year, with 40% able to offer staff additional hours. Meanwhile train passenger journeys to the city are up around 13% on the previous year.

This serves to show that culture can bring positive benefits to the city, including to the bottom line.

None of this would have been possible without the vision and ambition of Hull City Council. It was they who created the bid that we have taken as the template to create the year-long cultural programme.

It was the council that invested tens and tens of millions into improving the public realm, which has created the perfect stage for so many of this year’s events, and funded cultural infrastructure that includes redeveloping the wildly successful Ferens Art Gallery, the soon-to-reopen Hull New Theatre and a brand new conference and performance venue that will open next year.

They have also just successfully bid for £15 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help them develop a Maritime Heritage City. All of this is part of their longer term legacy plan, which will ensure that Hull’s reputation as a world-class cultural destination will continue to grow.

Another key factor has been the involvement and interaction of local people. The programme includes a wide variety of cultural activity to involve, excite and inspire communities living in every neighbourhood and to attract people who have never previously ventured into a theatre or gallery and regardless of social, educational or financial circumstances.
Also critical has been the support of a mix of more than 70 funding partners, which has allowed us to raise £33 million to deliver our year of transformative culture.

All these elements underline that being UK City of Culture is not about a single agency delivering a programme, it is about people coming together, as individuals as organisations, as artists as audiences, to make something that is really special, which can change perceptions about a city for people living there and visitors.