Hull Freedom Festival 2013 – 2015

Date: 4 September 2015 to 6 September 2015

Location: River Hull and Hull Marina, Hull, England

Client: Hull City Council

We were asked to reconnect the Festival with its core concept of Freedom, extend its reach, and deepen the engagement of local people in the Festival by creating opportunities for participation. We worked in partnership with the Freedom Festival’s new independent board, with Hull City Council, and with the Arts Council’s Creative People and Places initiative. Our role as Artistic Directors was to apply our skills as festival programmers and event producers to leave a rich artistic footprint, and leave the Festival in great shape in the run up to Hull2017 UK City of Culture.

Freedom.  A big word, a big concept and a festival theme that needs imaginative but careful curation. As the birthplace of slavery emancipator William Willberforce, ‘freedom’ is a value which has enduring resonance in a city which poet Philip Larkin described as ‘being on the edge of things.’

Over three years, our work on evolving the festival saw it transform from a line-up of mainstream pop to an eclectic mix of content that celebrated and nurtured adventurous artistic self-expression and community engagement.

We grew the audience by over 40% in three years, expanded the Festival’s footprint across the public realm, and created key moments that embodied the new identity of the Festival: from a poignant torchlight procession to a site-responsive Light Trail to an explosion of telephone boxes containing sonic surprises curated by sound artist Scanner.

We took the Festival into 3 new strategic partnerships: Without Walls Associate Touring Network; the Global Streets network; and Gi20 (Gone in 20 Minutes), all showcasing new outdoor arts talent. We worked with local partners including Hull venues, music and comedy promoters; employed many local artists; and developed local suppliers to build the capacity of the city. We also trained hundreds of volunteers, and created a dedicated training package for the City of Culture 2017 team. 

Our role as artistic directors was to give both the festival and its board a blueprint for artistic, edgy adventure across a broad spectrum of outdoor and performing arts.

‘Broadcast’ was the chosen theme for 2015 which gave us and our line-up of artists the scope to curate and create a broad range of interpretations. Critical to the success of the festival was its ability to reach a range of audience types of all ages across a number of sites, offering both free access to street performances and paid for events in the Big Top.

Our creative solution was to attract artists and performers who could excite a growing audience and surprise themselves with their creative responses to our brief. Our programme ranged from site-specific installations in the Old Town to pop-up street performance to family-focused events in Queen’s Gardens (Tangle and BBC Make it Digital). Music ranged from Tubular Bells for Two (a recreation of Mike Oldfield’s epic 1973 masterpiece performed by two barefoot Aussies) to a crowd-pulling performance by musical alchemists Public Service Broadcasting.

Walk the Plank also produced the festival’s opening event, Voices of Freedom, a mass choral performance centred on the River Hull featuring Hull’s own Freedom Chorus; and staged Over & Out, a lighthouse-themed drama culminating in a frenzied display of virtuoso pyrotechnics.

This is not the normal message of thanks to you and your wonderful team for producing for us yet another brilliant festival. It goes beyond that. It intends to capture the accumulated gratitude that has built up over the three years you have worked with us, a period that has seen momentous change in the Freedom Festival and indeed in the fortunes of the City of Hull. And the two are, of course, connected. In 2013, when Hull had made it onto the shortlist of four cities – within weeks of Walk the Plank’s appointment as Artistic Directors - the Freedom Festival assumed huge significance. It was a triumph, and it’s no coincidence that the Festival supplied so much of the footage of ‘This City Belongs to Everyone’. So I mean it when I said that it’s not only us at Freedom Festival Trust that owe you a debt of gratitude but the City of Hull as a whole.

Graham Chesters, Chair of the Board, Freedom Festival

Project Specification
Project Scale
Creative Content
Costumes and props
Parades and processions
Site responsive performance