Leeds – Capital of Culture 2023?

Perspectives · 20th February 2015

Published in: The City Talking

As part of the consultation period on the whether or not Leeds should bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023, The City Talking magazine have been commissioned to hold the #Leeds2023 Conversation. This is our contribution…

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As plenty of people have expressed already, it’s clear there are already some strong arguments as to why Leeds could bid to be Capital of Culture 2023. Events such as Overworlds and Underworlds, Light Night and the impressive Theatre of Illuminations or, of course, the Tour de France, have all shown that Leeds can handle large-scale cultural events, and that they have the ability to touch thousands. It’s also the successes (and I’m sure the lessons learned) of these and other city-wide projects that could prove invaluable in writing a successful bid.

If the figures from other cities’ experiences are anything to go by the economic case for investing public money seems reasonably clear. The timing straight off the back of a very successful Grand Départ makes a lot of sense. And all of this is without touching on the fact that Leeds is home to a host of world-class dance and theatre companies, new media and design agencies, artists and museums – all of which would have plenty to both give to and gain from a successful bid.

But it’s not just big names and institutions that would benefit. The cultural foundation of the city is built on the shoulders of a wide network of individuals and smaller organisations.

Through the Creative Family Tree – a self initiated project begun last year to both showcase and promote collaboration between the city’s huge creative network – we’ve discovered hundreds of individuals and organisations quietly going about their business under the radar, working to make Leeds a real hub for the arts. Should the bid go ahead, I hope that it’s this network the council will look to, consult with, learn from and support.Creative Family Tree Self Initiated Print & Campaigncreative family tree

Showcasing the established, big names will draw attention, and this is important. But it’s the less well-known members of the creative community who could reap the most benefits and potentially have more to give. These are the people making creative risks with little or no safety net and making them work – often on shoestring budgets. It would certainly be interesting to see more funding going to independents directly, rather than through the filter of larger organisations.

The list of reasons goes on – the many youth and community projects, for example, or the strength of the creative education and university programmes that bring so much to the city could also benefit substantially. An increased awareness of the quality of the arts scene in Leeds can only help bring talent to the region, and further build the city’s reputation.

However – there’s one other good reason I believe a bid could be important to Leeds.

Earlier this year we received an email from a Parisian design student, Ambre Lormeau, interested in coming to Split for an internship. She had an excellent portfolio – fitting for a masters student at the top of her class at a leading university – and was looking for a design internship specifically in Leeds.

Our first question – and the first question of other people we told – was ’why Leeds?!’

Why not London? Or Manchester? Surely she had friends here? Or a relative with accommodation, so she could stay for free? Maybe she was trying to see more of an English partner?

Well, no.

To Ambre, Leeds was (and after four months, still is – you can read her blog about working in Leeds here) an exciting, dynamic city, growing to become a centre for arts and culture. It was also a city that had a human scale to it, that was welcoming and friendly.

And the thing is, when you look at all the reasons we could bid to become Capital of Culture, she’s right.

Maybe there’s something about Leeds that makes celebrating our city’s achievements difficult. (I’m sure our innate northernness, combined with being perceived by many as Manchester’s weaker little sibling, can’t help.) Perhaps it might be a tall order for any single initiative to change this, or perhaps you believe, like I do, this shift is already starting to happen.

But if there is anything that could be the catalyst for a change in mind set, that could help us to celebrate more of what we already have right in front of us – there can’t be many better opportunities than this. Surely in response to the question ‘Why Leeds?’ the answer should be ‘Why the hell not?’

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What do other people think of Leeds – Capital of Culture 2023? Read more contributions on The City Talking’s #Leeds2023 page.