Phil’s Forty, 17: Save the Arts


It’s 40 years this year since Phil Ascough, our most prolific freelance contributor, arrived in Hull to begin a new episode in his journalistic career. Having spent two years on the weekly Doncaster Gazette, Phil headed east to the Hull Daily Mail. Apart from three years on the Royal Gazette in Bermuda and a short spell at the Teesside Gazette, he’s been here ever since. He worked for the Yorkshire Post and the BBC before returning to the Mail and becoming business editor. He moved into sports media with the Press Association in Leeds and then Howden, and set up his own PR consultancy in 2010. To mark the anniversary he has set out to write 40 essays looking at his career, our city and its people.


Moved, experiences of the arts
HULL IS THIS editor – photographer Jerome Whittingham – interviewed 30 Hull ‘movers and shakers’ about when the arts had ‘moved’ them. The Moved project took place ahead of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. ‘Moved’ is an Untold Hull project, for Hull Libraries. Photos: Jerome Whittingham, @photomoments

A weekend Tweet from the Editor of this esteemed website set me – and hopefully many others – thinking when he flagged up the economic impact of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture and urged people to get behind the current national campaign to #SaveTheArts

The big stats for the year were total visitor numbers of more than six million and the value of tourism calculated at £300m. Over the longer term there was an increase in annual visitors to the city of 1.3 million since 2013, and nearly 800 new jobs created in the cultural and visitor economy over the same period, 

The figures came from the University of Hull’s impact report on Hull’s year as UK City of Culture and it’s likely the longer term impact was even stronger – many bar and restaurant operators will tell you that 2018 was more lucrative than 2017… before the wheels fell off.

I could go on about the various reasons for the collapse of the culture and hospitality sectors – they extend way beyond Covid-19 – but let’s not get too political. Concentrating on the here and now, we have performance venues closed, festivals cancelled, practitioners limited to showing their talents in online shows, tech crews and other backroom staff sitting idle.

When Malcolm Scott launched Fruit Trade Music back in 2013 it was with a dream of providing a platform for local talent and for young people who would never dream of taking to the stage but who could carve careers behind the scenes. It made a difference, as did the activities of The Warren. Their Three Minute Heroes project, which makes the important link between music and mental health, is another which has been hit by the lockdown.

Little did the Editor know when he was gazing into his Twitter ball that the Chancellor would announce plans for a support package for arts and culture worth £1.57bn. Or maybe he did. Maybe he has a hotline to the Treasury. Or maybe the government compensated for its failure to offer a slot to ask a question at one of those Downing Street briefings by leaking details of the announcement to HULL IS THIS as well as to the FT.

But all of that is as unlikely as the £1.57bn being enough to fix all the problems and of the cash trickling down from the Royal Albert Hall to the many independent artists, performers and other creatives who generally live and work hand-to-mouth and are finding it increasingly difficult to reach the latter with the former.

So the Editor’s tweet is as valid now as it was before the funding was leaked, and the reference to City of Culture more so given the confirmation that Coventry’s City of Culture term will be pushed back.

Never mind all that stuff about whether Hull is still City of Culture. The fact is it was City of Culture for 2017. There won’t be another until 2021 and for perfectly logical reasons Coventry doesn’t want to pick it up until May.

Let’s see if we can fill the vacuum, find some cash from the public and private sectors and put on a few events which showcase the skills of our local, independent creatives, many of whom didn’t get a fair crack of the whip first time round.

Yes it will cost money but, as those stats from the University illustrate, arts and culture more than pays its way.

For another example cast your mind back ten years to Larkin with Toads. Yes, it really is that long ago!

The 40 giant fibreglass toads landed on the streets of the city on 17 July 2010 and stuck around until 25 September. That evaluation report shows that more than 120,000 people took part in the toad trail, 83 per cent of cafes, restaurants and sandwich shops sited near a toad saw an increase in customer numbers.

The shift in public opinion was remarkable. Led by a sceptical media many people resisted the idea and some were vociferous in opposition to spending public money on models of toads in difficult times. Thankfully, business responded, Larkin with Toads became reality and the people loved it.

The evaluation found that 73 per cent of people through the toads were good. The 10 per cent who thought they were bad are probably still at home sulking. The idea of further public art interventions was backed by 90 per cent of respondents.

Independent research found that Larkin with Toads generated half a million quid for the local economy and the PR value totted up to another half million. With 2022 marking the centenary of Philip Larkin’s birth I reckon we should bring the toads out of hibernation. Maybe even put a toad on the moon.

But certainly, absolutely, definitely come up with some cool stuff in our city, use whatever comes our way from the Chancellor, come up with creative ways to find a bit more and do all we can to #SaveTheArts.

And for inspiration have a look at this: http://philiplarkin.com/larkin-with-toads/

Also, see the Editor’s Moved project here: Moved

Phil Ascough