Hull’s moment – T minus one day…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

“The first step – especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money – the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Every time I take a seat in the theatre I hope I will witness the most life-affirming piece of work that has ever been created. When I plonk myself in cinema flip-up velvet I expect to see the greatest story ever told. When I hold a book in my hands I want the words that I read to move me, change me, make life worth living just that little bit (or a lot) more. When I stand in front of a piece of art, I want my understanding of life, the universe and everything to be enhanced. When I gaze at the TV my fingers are crossed that whatever I watch will blow my mind away. In the company of comedians I want them to be hilarious, thought-provoking and brilliantly cranium bending. I’ve never gone to a gig without wanting it to change my life, and the tunes and performances to stay with me forever.  I’ve never put the needle on a record, a cassette in a walkman, a cd in a player, pressed play on an mp3 without absolutely wanting shivers to run up and down my spine and for this to be THE tune. When I go to a club night, I want to dance like nobody is watching and to feel the best I’ve ever felt. And so on and so forth…

I want to be someone who believes in the transformational power of the arts, entertainment and culture. And I do believe. Because I know what the finest art can do, and what creativity can do, and that by creating an environment in which the arts are embraced and accessible to all, and one in which artists can thrive and not only develop their work but find an audience for it, our cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes is enhanced, positively. I’ve known this since I watched my dad paint when I was a toddler, and when I saw my sister dance, and when an uncle of mine threw a book at me that opened up the world to a whole trip of self-discovery that is still ongoing.

I was asked to contribute some words to some 2017 thing a couple of years ago, in which I stressed that the year itself isn’t necessarily for people like me, who somehow have managed to burst out of council house accommodation in the city and fumble a kind of living out of the arts for a while, but for the next generation of talent. I honestly and whole-heartedly believe that is the actual point, without wishing to become some Whitney Houston-style saccharine evangelist for ‘the kids’. Apparently some of those at 2017 towers nodded sagely at those words of wisdom, with at least one punching the air and shouting “Yes!” That’s what they’re like, positive lot that they are.

And so, with one day to go, I am genuinely excited by next year and what it means to Hull, and the changes that it will bring, some of which are so tangible (the public realm work, for one, which is mighty fine, and I love those mature trees) that they can be seen already. Being the 2017 UK City of Culture is the right thing for the city, at exactly the right time. We’ve been waiting for this, the planets most certainly aligned, there’s been a groundswell of grass roots movement over the last decade and our cup overfloweth with the necessary ingredients to put on a decent show.

And I would say that it will be “amazing” but there’s something about that word, and other similar adjectives, and their overuse, that is starting to irritate me. Already. And the year’s not even started yet. As I indicated in par one, I want the year to be absolutely the best, and I’m sure it will be fab and groovy and excellent and put a big smile on faces, and I’ll be going to as much of it as I can, bank balance and time permitting. But the arts are a funny thing. Some of it will fail, and should be allowed to fail, because that is the nature of the beast. We want our artists and art to take risks; otherwise, we’ll be left with meaningless pieces of work that don’t say owt* to anybody; generic pieces of entertainment that follow a predictable trajectory and are hollow at their heart, and are not reflective of the city in which they are produced. But, fucking hell, there’s a big team of producers working on this, curating** their arses off, so I’m sure they’ve got that covered. Yes? Yes.

The absence of good critical voices, in and outside of the city, constructively articulating their thoughts and feelings on the year and the programme and those artists engaged with and producing work for 2017 is, I feel, something of a concern. We need commentators willing to move beyond the “amazing” and the regurgitating of whatever message is thrust at them in press releases and in well-composed boiler plates and notes to editors  towards something more sophisticated; critical thinking. Sans a substantive level of critical thinking we will never be able to recognise the value that this new ultra cultural world is making to Hull and its people. We will be left with generic pieces of coverage that follow a predictable trajectory and are hollow at their heart. A bit like a review in The Stage. And I should know, I wrote plenty of them, and realised at the time that they were utterly pointless beyond being a record of an event, devoid as they were of any critique lest it damaged someone’s ego (“not worth the paper they’re printed on,” an actor once shouted at me, when I omitted his name from a review, the only weapon I had in my arsenal when the talent wasn’t up to scratch).

And when I talk of critical thinking, I most certainly do not mean negative commentary and “slagging off” just for the sake of pissing the people involved off. I mean genuine critique. Actually grounded in engagement with whatever piece of art we’ve consumed and not passively accepting everything we’re told about it but questioning, evaluating, making judgements, and finding connections. Shock horror, this might mean being open to other points of view and it certainly means not being blinded by our own biases, although inevitably there’ll be a lot of subjectivity.

There is a strange vibe around any comment, currently, that isn’t stressing how great everything will be in a tub-thumping way that the 2017 comms team would stamp their approval on. It’s a bit like the American attitude to patriotism, where anyone that dares to suggest that the “land of the free” might be anything but is metaphorically decapitated and has their head metaphorically thrust on a metaphorical stick for all to metaphorically point at and metaphorically mock***.  But critical thinking, well, it opens up the debate. And that’s the point. But I’m sure these concerns are being addressed and that critical voices are being nurtured in some 2017 sausage machine somewhere by a big team of critical voice nurturers down High Street. Yes? Yes.

All that said, I’m not saying that my efforts to blog every day in 2017 – 365/2017, as I’m terming it, like some sad passive victim of Americanization – will add anything to the debate. I’ll probably just post a few pics and tell you how good it all was, and will probably succumb to bribes, gratis drinks and free tickets along the way and I’ll end up becoming the very thing I despise****.

Nah, it’ll just be a record of a bloody good year.  With all the laughter and tears that might bring. I want to be entertained, moved, surprised, shocked, stunned, find out more about myself, life, the universe and everything, hold hands at events with the people I love and for the city to get the leg up it rightfully deserves. And for it to make a long-lasting, life-enhancing difference to every single person in Hull. Even those “long-in-the-tooth cynics”***** that you find down every street. For, if one group or person feels marginalised by 2017, the year will have failed.

Bring on the party and be good, very good.

*Owt – anything.

**Curating – programming. ‘Curating’ is like the ‘amazing’ of the arts job title world.

***Sorry, overly-laboured metaphor.

****I won’t. Promise.

*****As written about by the Rev. Matt Woodcock in his great piece about our under-rated city for the Yorkshire Post here.

Notes to editors

Dave Windass thoroughly enjoys writing notes about himself in the third person at the foot of blog posts.

In 2017, he will be co-producing the twice-yearly Heads Up Festival, part of the Hull 2017 UK City of Culture programme and produced in conjunction with Battersea Arts Centre, brought to the city by Ensemble 52 since 2013.

He also works for First Story, currently working, as part of 2017’s No Limits programme, with five secondary schools in Hull.  First Story changes lives through writing. We believe that writing can transform lives, and that there is dignity and power in every young person’s story.  First Story brings talented, professional writers into secondary schools to work with teachers and students to foster creativity and communication skills. In 2017, First Story will be holding three large events in Hull; a Regional Writing Event at The Deep, the Young Writers’ Festival at the University of Hull and the launch, on June 21, of National Writing Day.

For 2017, he was one of two consultants on a Hull City of Culture map that was put together during the bid process and subsequently circulated far and wide. Some of his ideas were in the 2017 bid document that bagged the prize. He’s contributed a few strap lines that may, or may not, be on banners and posters around the city.  He wrote some elements of the training for Hull’s 4,000 incredibly smiley and quite brilliant 2017 volunteers.

Other than that, he is not involved in the 2017 programme of work at all, unless there’s a last-minute call. Partly, and mainly, this is his fault. But it is also, to a lesser extent, the fault of the people that told him to be patient and wait and that they would let him know when he could have a chat about what he wanted to do. Unfortunately, they left it too late. C’est la vie. Nana korobi ya oki.