HULL is to be the UK City of Culture in 2017. Only those living
in the other shortlisted locations can fail to be delighted. The
announcement has been a splendid Christmas present for the
north-east of England, and a formidable achievement for a city
assessed by a television programme in 2005 as the worst place to
live in the UK.
The award is richly deserved. Hull is the city where the poet
Philip Larkin made his home for 30 years. The bands Everything but
the Girl and the Housemartins were nurtured there. Hull Truck
Theatre has a 40-year history of bringing new audiences to funny
and fast-moving plays. Tom Wells, one of the brightest of a new
generation of playwrights, is from Hull, and his Jumpers for
Goalposts is currently playing in London.
The idea of a City of Culture dates from 1985, when the Greek MP
Melina Mercouri argued that the economic benefits of the European
Union had been stressed so forcibly that the potential of its
culture to enrich people's lives had been ignored.
She proposed that, each year, a city should be nominated
European Capital of Culture, a focus for a range of outstanding
arts events. In 2008, it was Liverpool; it will be 2023 before a UK
city is next chosen. It was a year so transformational for
Liverpool's identity, however, that the then Secretary of State for
Culture, Andy Burnham, instigated a quadrennial UK City of Culture.
The first to be selected was Derry/Londonderry, and this has been a
year of exceptional art and performance.
By mid-December, the present Culture Secretary, Maria Miller,
had not visited Derry during its festival year. She had, she told
the BBC, been "too busy". She did, however, congratulate Derry on
the economic impact of 600,000 tourists who have visited. The
government press release states that it "has already seen the
economic and social benefits. For every £1 invested, [the] UK City
of Culture is expected to generate £5."
What can have so occupied Mrs Miller's time that she could not
attend the UK's most important arts event? Did she perhaps miss
Derry's "Humdinger!" festival of children's books because she was
busy defending libraries against closures by local councils?
Apparently not. Did she forsake the city-wide Fleadh because she
was opposing the collapse of state-funded music education during
governmental reforms? No, evidently. Neither libraries nor music
lessons generate an economic return of 500 per cent. They have been
left to wither.
Culture is not a commodity. Its worth cannot be measured by its
potential to make money. The arts teach us how to be human. They
define our place in the order of things - in relation to each
other, to the rest of creation, to eternity. Culture is about
wonder and worth. I confidently predict that residents of Hull will
be talking about those benefits at the end of 2017. No one will
have lasting pride because they made a few quid.
Our Secretary of State for Culture reminds me of Simon the
Sorcerer, whose story is told in Acts 8. Dazzled by what the Holy
Spirit was doing to uplift the converts of Samaria, he spotted a
money-spinner. He made the apostles an offer to purchase it.
Peter's furious response was: "May your money perish with you
because you thought you could buy a gift of God with money. You
have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not
Peter Graystone develops pioneer-mission projects for the