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80,000 flock to Hull's Freedom Festival

  • Date: 16 September 2013
  • Area: North
Lemn Sissay reads Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech

Lemn Sissay reads Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. Credit: Sean Spencer

More than 80,000 people filled the streets of Hull for this year's Freedom Festival, a significant increase on last year's attendance and an indication of how the festival is growing year on year.

The Freedom Festival grew out of commemorations in Hull in 2007 of the 200th anniversary of William Wilberforce's Act of Parliament abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire and has become an annual highlight of the city's artistic and cultural programme. As Hull's premier festival event, it is unique in that it takes places over the whole of the city, involving local professional and amateur arts organisations, businesses and individuals in a celebration of the city's independent spirit and historic contribution to the cause of freedom. Hull is also among the final four cities competing to become the 2017 City of Culture and the winner will be announced in November.

The festival showcased the work of around 100 local artists and this year's programme featured almost 200 performances by local, national and international artists. Highlights included a torch-lit procession of 1,000 people culminating in poet Lemn Sissay reciting Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech and Manchester indie band The 1975 headlining a festival for the first time just as their self-titled debut album went to number one. French theatre company Transe Express took over the marina with the first UK performance of The Drums of Death based on an old Mexican festival of the dead and featuring three metre high skeleton puppets, fireworks, acrobats and a Viking longboat.

The Freedom Festival is one of Arts Council England's National portfolio organisations and also received £240,000 through our Catalyst funding programme. Festival directors, Salford-based Walk the Plank, are also a National portfolio organisation. The festival receives additional funding from Hull City Council and sponsors KC, University of Hull, Keepmoat, Wykeland, Hull College, ABP Ports, The Deep, Compendium Living and the Spencer Group. It was also supported by a significant grant from the James Reckitt Library Trust.

Karen Durham, Relationship Manager, Combined Arts, Arts Council England commented, "Hull has a history and culture unique in our region and recent cultural and artistic developments with the Freedom Festival have enabled the great art and community spirit of the city to be showcased. The Arts Council is always looking to increase opportunities to make sure people can enjoy great quality arts experiences, and to support the cultural ambitions of communities, towns and cities, so to see the figures of 80,000 people attending this event is just fantastic. This year's festival has been a real partnership effort - the people of Hull, the artists, arts organisations, sponsors and local authority have all been involved in making this work. The new Freedom Festival board, working with Walk the Plank, have done an incredible job and we are delighted to be able to support the festival - and are already looking forward to next year's event."

Graham Chesters, Freedom Festival Board Chair, said: "This year's Freedom Festival - with a new board and new festival directors - has surpassed our expectations, which were already high. It's been a wonderful collaboration, not least with the people of the city of Hull. It's a testament to the Arts Council, the City Council and all our other funders that they have kept faith with this unique festival, with its determination to promote the cause of freedom and with its community spirit. But we aim to do even better next year. Put the dates in the diary now! We'll see you in our quirky and wonderful city, 5-7 September 2014."