Escaping Past Identities: Hull’s Freedom Festival and the City of Culture 2017

2nd-4th September 2016

For the last few years, as a student and then a graduate from the University of Hull, I have seen firsthand how underrated the city of Hull is and how people’s perceptions are still influenced by old criticism, such as being top of the list in the 2003 book Crap Towns. This is an identity the city has struggled to remove itself from over the last decade. I find myself defending Hull to people all the time; I loved living there and all the students I know did too. In fact when you live there for a while you seem to form a deep connection to the city, you want it to succeed, for people to look past the negatives and for it to be recognised for how great it actually is. You begin to root for the underdog. The Freedom Festival works to do this and demonstrates the potential of the city. It has been going for several years and aims to highlight Hull’s unique identity and make the city ‘a recognised home of artistic freedom.’ In its three-day run this year it attracted nearly 73,000 visitors despite Saturday’s heavy rain. I was one of those people eager not to let the rain stop me from seeing the music, installations, art, street theatre, spoken word and dance. The weekend provided a huge variety of acts performed by people from all over the world, from the spectacular performance of As the World Tipped by Wired Aerial to the somewhat strange and comedic street theatre The Spurting Man.

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Demand Change, Wired Aerial presents As the World Tipped

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A group of children enjoy getting soaked, Avanti presents The Spurting Man

Hull has been named UK City of Culture 2017, a move which will hopefully provide the city with the funds and development it needs to get further away from that Crap Towns identity. This year’s Freedom Festival was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the city’s potential and with the right strategy, what can be done on a bigger scale next year and into the future. With the festival’s array of performances and installations there was something for everyone and as a result it attracted a diverse audience of all ages and a mixture of locals and tourists. It proved to be an inclusive event, with something for everyone to enjoy. Hopefully this can be replicated with the City of Culture events.

This year the festival was mainly based around the Fruit Market, which after its revamp, is set to become the city’s art and culture quarter in coming years. The festival showed the potential of the area and its already burgeoning creative atmosphere with its independent galleries, cafes and Fruit, a cultural space featuring live gigs, cinema screenings and much more. The festival also encouraged the visitor to explore the city, with events taking place in Queens Gardens and even Albion Street car park. It gives you a different perspective of the city and how its spaces can be used. For instance, Queens Gardens was used for the building of Olivier Grossetête’s People’s Tower, an impressive collaboration with the festival’s visitors to build a large structure out of cardboard boxes and tape.

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Olivier Grossetête presents The People’s Tower

The festival also puts the city’s well-known structures into a new light. An impressive example of this was the placement of Ray Lee’s installation of giant kinetic sculptures, Chorus, under the Tidal Barrier. In addition, the new open-air amphitheatre Stage@TheDock opposite The Deep, became an integral part of the festival showcasing performances such as The Spurting Man and HURyCAN Dance’s Asuelto. Its location, as well as emphasising the impressive structure of The Deep, connected the area between the Tidal Barrier and the Fruit Market by providing a cultural performance space.

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Ray Lee presents Chorus

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HURyCAN Dance presents Asuelto (UK Premiere)

The brilliant performances and the evident potential for the City of Culture left me excited to go back next year. Next time, I want to show off the Freedom Festival to my friends and I hope others who visited feel the same way. With 2017 only a few months away, the people behind the City of Culture in Hull must build on what the Freedom Festival has established over the last few years and produce similar results on a bigger scale, all while encouraging the arts and culture in the city to flourish. Hopefully the year will provide a new beginning for the city, full of investment and growth, much like the European Capital of Culture did for Liverpool in 2008. It’s a chance to show the country and the world what Hull is about and why those who live there for a while, like me, form such a love for the city.

Enjoy my compilation of highlights from the weekend combined with Joe Hakim’s inspiring words about Hull from the Speak Out tent:

 

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