How York has gone from dull to dazzling in 20 years

Clifford's Tower lit up during Illuminating York 2013. Photograph © Allan Harris on flickr
17 Mar 2014 @ 10.24 am
| Opinion

Clifford's Tower lit up during Illuminating York 2013. Photograph © Allan Harris on flickr
Clifford’s Tower lit up during Illuminating York 2013. Photograph © Allan Harris on flickr

Miles On Monday

The weekly thoughts of York writer Miles Salter

There was a time, 20 years ago, when York was fairly dull. In March 1994 I was a few months from completing my degree at York St John University, before shuffling off to Hull where I lived for the following eight years.

In ’94, York was a far less interesting town than it is now. Fibbers had been open a year or two. The Barbican was here. But many other aspects of York’s culture didn’t exist, including the Food And Drink Festival, City Screen’s Coney Street base, Aesthetica Short Film Festival, Illuminating York and much more.

In the two decades since, York has become a far more vibrant, exciting and engaging place. We are now being seen on the national stage in a way we weren’t years ago.

Within the last couple of weeks, comedian Russell Brand has been here and the Lib Dems have had their conference in the city.

In the summer the Tour De France will kick off in York. The city is becoming – at last – more ambitious, and is realising its potential as a city of real international significance.

Kersten England, City of York council’s boss, has picked up gongs from the Financial Times, who recently recognised York’s potential as one of Europe’s premier cities.

What’s exciting is that York is becoming a more dynamic cultural city.

The plethora of writers, artists, musicians, journalists, storytellers and more that live in the city (some of whom stay after attending the town’s two universities) are now residing in a town that is more culturally relevant than ever.

Packing a punch

We may not – yet – be able to compete with Edinburgh, Manchester or London, but we are starting to punch above our weight.

In late January this year, Visit York unveiled ambitious plans to make York’s tourism industry worth a billion pounds by 2024.

It’s an ambitious plan. But by using York’s pulling power for tourists, its history, its fantastic venues and easily navigable town centre, they might just pull it off.

The growth in cultural tourism in York has already been tremendous – from a value of £55 million in 1987 to £443 million in 2013.

In a city where traditional employment has struggled, cultural tourism is becoming more and more important, a fact not missed by Visit York’s visionary chairperson, Jane Gibson.

Gibson, who previously worked on an arts festival in the north of england, understands the leverage that the arts can bring.

I want to live in a culturally engaged city, and the arts are key to making a place dynamic and interesting

York is also becoming more switched on as a media city. The University of York’s film and TV centre is developing partnerships with the BBC and other broadcasters. Stuart Goulden at One and Other has, in recent months, been working on a bid for York to be UNESCO City of Media Arts.

This week, I’ll be at the launch of York Literature Festival 2014 where a sold out audience will assemble to hear writer and broadcaster Germaine Greer.

With nearly 3,000 tickets sold or allocated at the time of writing, 2014 is our most successful year it date. I feel strongly about the festival because I want to live in a culturally engaged city, and the arts are key to making a place dynamic and interesting.

There’s a lot of work to do in developing the festival, but in 2014 York feels like a far more engaging place than it was 20 years ago. This is fantastic news for the city.

York’s leaders must all stay focused on this in the years ahead, grabbing the opportunities that our town presents with both hands. Because, let’s face it – the opportunities are too good to be missed.



4 thoughts on “How York has gone from dull to dazzling in 20 years

  1. My husband & I (both flag-waving Americans) toured York years ago (1984). It was a wonderful city – very clean and so medieval. Hell – Andrew wasn’t even the Duke of the place yet! To complain of all the slights and errors is simply cowardice. Get up off your arse (Americans call it ass), and do something! Apply for a loan and start up a pub (called a bar here). Rally Elvis Presley fans to a memorabilia show, write a one-act play and stage it in a local park -charging a can of food for the benefit of the elderly. There is so much to do ANYWHERE to eleviate the stench of boredom and to inhibit if not totally conquer the rage. Til then you stinking Brit (why don’t you people bathe and use deoderant????) SHUT THE F*CK UP!

  2. Miles Salter is wrong on so many counts. The fact is that the Tour de France kicks off in Leeds – not York – and that Kirsten England commutes to York from Bradford. I have to agree more with Paul Cordock and John, above, than with Miles Salter. The sad fact is that York is a very dull town in which to live these days. Salter is wrong on so many counts. 20 years ago, City Screen DID exist – in the Tempest Anderson Hall at the Yorkshire Museum – and York had 2 other city centre cinemas too. We also had a thriving Arts Centre on Micklegate, a branch of the Goethe Institute on Micklegate, the Impressions Gallery [ for 30 years it was the most important – internationally – contemporary photography gallery outside of London until the Lib Dem council – yep, that lot of scoundrels who were at the Barbican the other week – pulled the grant so Bradford council stepped in and offered them a purpose built, bigger and better city centre venue instead] and the much lamented John Bull, which staged plays by Alfred Jarry in its beer garden [York now displays its ignorance by saying “Alfred who?” Back then it never did – York knew EXACTLY who he was!] before the pub got pulled down for a car sales forecourt. There were 2 extra museums, too – the York Story and the one in St Williams College all about the Minster. AND the library – and its events – were much better than they are now. You could also see more and better contemporary art in more galleries back then – the one in the Shambles, the one in Minster Yard and the one next to the Norman House in Stonegate. All of this came on top of the council closing down the York Festival, which had it still been in existence would now be a serious national cultural event – its director, Gavin Henderson, went to Brighton and started another one off there, and look how major that has become – at the expense of York!! “Aesthetica” magazine could, sadly, exist anywhere – there is nothing unique to it being in York – and, frankly, they are guilty of the same cultural ignorance as Mr Salter at times; last year, when they interviewed the “London based” artist Paul Farey, not ONCE did they mention the fact that he was Leeds born and bred – and this, if “Aesthetica” was “rooted” in York, would have been obvious by the way in which Farey talks! God forbid that they ever get excited about Harland Miller, the York born artist who had a major show at the Baltic a few years ago and whose website only needs a cursory glance at to let you know how major he is, some one who is totally neglected in York. How come writers such as Howard Marks, Antony Dunn, Steve Ellis and Ian Duhig have all felt the need to leg it from York? The replacement [like the Quilt Museum was supposed to be a replacement for the loss of Impressions!] writers are, frankly, minor self publicists more in favor of celebrating the staus quo than making things better. Likewise, the York Food Festival remains the same year after year after year – and not one voice of resistance was raised when Scotts butchers [one of Rick Steins “food heroes”] closed down and took the world famous York Ham with it!! You could buy that in York LESS than 20 years ago, but not now! No, Miles Salter – you are very, very wrong. York is NOT better – culturally – than it was 20 years ago. In fact, its like living in bloody Beamish at times! If you want to bang your dumbed down drum, fine – go ahead! Its only the likes of yourself who’ll be listening to it. Yorks needs better than this. The city needs to professionalise its cultural offering quick but, even more so, it needs to ensure that is has one – towns, cities and, increasingly, villages nearby have a better cultural offering than York does these days [and please, before you start, HERITAGE – which York has loads of – is different to CULTURE – which we have little of]. Now I’m no fan of nostalgia [its an enemy!] but even I have to get a little starry eyed about York’s lost past in this context – a past that needn’t have been lost at all, but patting yourself on the back about how York has improved over the last 20 years is a feeble thing to do – its also downright untrue; why is the last train back from Leeds from a Michael Nyman gig always full of Yorkies eh? ‘Cos there’s no suitable venue or, for that matter, cultural programmer who know who he is!!! You could do better to check out the words of the late great John Barry in Eddi Fiegel’s “A Sixties Theme” biography of the Yorkie that gave the world “Midnight Cowboy” and “Goldfinger”. His verdict? “York is the most beautiful city in the world”, he says on page 12, “the most extraordinary place. But its sad as well, to live there – that’s something else. One of my earliest childhood memories is of the sun going down, and it was as if the whole town had gone to sleep…I used to think to myself, surely the rest of the world can’t be like this”. And he went, too. So many people leaving, I suppose, makes room for apologists like Miles and his rose tinted spectacles! Take a closer look around you, boy!OH, and the Rialto, that wonderful Art Deco cinema on Fishergate that was ran by John Barry’s dad, used to be an orchestral venue where the Beatles etc, etc. etc. played until a few years ago when it was pulled down, not, as many people think, to make way for the Mecca Bingo hall – but for the car park beside it! Now, THAT’S what you call an improvement!!!

  3. Great. If Miles Salter thinks that it’s worthwhile celebrating the arrival of the rebarbative Russell Brand and a political party that will be thrown into the dustbin of history at the next general election, we are well and truly f****d.

  4. Come off it, this smacks of hype, no doubt driven by a certain ‘movement’ in York.

    York has never been dull, and we’ve had past periods of much better cultural and economic growth and activity.

    Tourism and culture is not making up for the relative under-performance of other sectors.

    From the 1980’s we saw massive growth in business/commercial/retail development in York. Clifton Moor, Monks Cross, York Science Park, Holgate Park (with CPP), Kings Pool (with MAFF/DEFRA), Clifton Hospital Business Park, Designer Outlet, Poppleton Park, plus much more housing than the last 7/8 years.

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