A day of culture in Hanley Sean dissington @analoguEseaN

On Friday April 28th the city of Stoke-on-Trent officially became a competitor city for the title of City of Culture 2021. To celebrate, much fun and culture had been planned for the following day, so I spent the day in Hanley to soak it all up.

3 Bethesda

Some say we are too busy looking backwards, and perhaps there's truth in that. As a city we do remember old slights, the marks that politicians have left either by ignoring the city or by imposing their ideological visions upon the country that hurt us in favour of others. Some things though we are right to remember. We are right to remember the industrial giants that grew from here. They took clay and they made it beautiful and the world clamoured to get what they had made. From Red Square to New York, Stoke-on-Trent stood for the finest in ceramic manufacturing. This tile on 3 Bethesda caught my eye, beautiful despite - or because of its imperfections. It feels like a metaphor for our city.

There's honour in standing up for what's right

This display in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery resonated with me, especially on such a day of culture. As a city built on industry; coal powered much of our economy for decades, it built communities, identities and dreams and its' loss was felt bitterly. As a working class city it caused a working class identity crisis that, as in many other cities, is still unfolding.

Art will find a voice

I'm an urban creature, the countryside is a mystery to me. I'm glad it's there; apparently it performs many important environmental and social functions, but I'm the sort who misses the comforting orange glow of the city at night. Nothing says city like graffiti, and whilst I know that many disapprove; being so proud of a space, so connected to it that you write your name on the streets - on your streets must be magical. It must be like when you wrote your name on your beloved new pencil case at school! There is a democracy to graffiti that some arts lack, the audience, the accessibility. Many in Stoke have fallen for the owls that appear around the city, these characters are a familiar sight in a changing city - an old friend that we get to see every day.

'Ay up!

"Ay up duck!" Few greetings place everyone on the same level plane as this. Visitors to Stoke speak of it as an enduring memory, that we speak to strangers - and call them duck! The friendliness of Stokies is world famous, its oft said that we'd go to the opening of an envelope - true or not, we are certainly inquisitive by nature.

Artists at large

We have a lot of artists here. Pack animals, the artists are seldom found alone. The ones pictured above were telling the story of the Chartists' 1842 revolution - an act of working class defiance in the name of fair pay. 1842 was originally performed at the closeout performance for Jimmy Cauty's ADP Riot.

Piccadilly, at the heart of the Cultural Quarter is packed with people building their own future.

We act first and ask permission later. Never a people to be "backwards at going forwards" we embrace historical political apathy - it's just the excuse we need to get on with building our own future. Across the city are thousands of independent businesses and in the heart of the Cultural Quarter is a street full of them.

Being the centre of attention is never tiring

It's not often woodland animals walk through Hanley, but when they do they have style, and plenty of sass.

Albion Square hearing poetry

Fresh from their rendition of the Chartists, Richard Redwin, Martin Gooding and Ben McDonald-Evans joined by Gabriella Gay spoke to us. Shouted from polished concrete pedestals and eloquently spoken to the whole crowd these poets told stories. But the most telling story was these poets themselves, because it wasn't a love of Stoke that brought them here - it was family or university, but they paid us the biggest compliment they could. They stayed. When the whole world is your oyster you can go anywhere, wherever you stay gets bragging rights. We've plenty to brag about.

We wow with words, we paint with light

The final performance was beautiful. Loud, colourful and passionate with humour and drama. Fireworks, drums and dancing lit up the crowd. The audience was a mixed crowd, from widely varying backgrounds. Many were clearly new to Stoke, others betrayed by their accents as Stokies through and through but all were wowed. As much as culture and exactly what it is have been - and will be, the subject of much debate this was a fascinating experience for many; perhaps the first time they had seen the city "letting its hair down". This new Stoke, the Stoke that has stopped apologising, the Stoke that says 'we can', the Stoke that understands that investment is critical - but isn't the be all and end all; this new Stoke is a great place, and it's ours to enjoy.

Whatever your gripes, wherever you feel we need to improve our city, understand this. Only by backing the bid will we send a message to the country that we are proud and passionate about where we are from, and where we are going. Together we make the city.

www.sot2021.com

Created By
Sean Dissington
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