Leeds’s higher education sector today united in one voice behind the city’s European Capital of Culture ambitions - and urged the Government not to waste the chance to rewrite the country’s relationship with our continental neighbours post Brexit.
It’s the first time that the city’s universities and colleges have come together in such a way, and the move comes as the Government gets ready to state its intentions over its current obligation to host the prestigious year of activities in 2023.
The organisations have already pledged £375,000 to the initial stages of Leeds’s bid, as well as in-kind support through research, hospitality and international connections via their networks and alumni.
Gerry Godley, principal of Leeds College of Music, said: “As we get closer to a decision on this, I think it’s really important to articulate again the impact that the designation [could have], not just for this city but for any UK city.
“Brexit is a vote to leave the EU, it’s not a vote to leave the continent.
“We are in one of those rare moments in history where culture and politics get very aligned.
“And we should not underestimate the impact that culture can have as a forum for resolving some of these big questions that we are facing as a society.
“Pre the referendum, we might have thought that Leeds being the European Capital of Culture was a rather nice thing to do, but actually it’s become a little more visceral now.
“It becomes a space in which to have that conversation about what a relationship with mainland Europe looks like for the UK post Article 50. There are really compelling reasons why this city could and should do it.”
The YEP reported yesterday that civic leaders, business chiefs and culture bosses have penned an open letter to Karen Bradley, the secretary of state for the arts, urging her to put aside the country’s Brexit hangover, and to launch a new journey to “promote the cultural excellence and diversity of the UK to an international audience”.
An announcement on whether or not the Government will keep its obligation to host in 2023 is imminent.
It follows weeks of growing uncertainty fuelled by reports that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had warned Government colleagues against scrapping the contest completely.
Other cities which are not in the EU have previously hosted the title.
Andrew Fryer, dean of film, music and performing arts at Leeds Beckett University, said: “We already have a very good relationship with Europe. We have many partners across Europe, particularly in my school. “The breaking down of boundaries that we have been doing for a long time is something we intend to carry on.
“It makes no difference the position we have on Brexit. We still need to work with Europe.”
Professor Frank Finlay, Cultural Institute Director at the University of Leeds, said: “I am hopeful, but of course I have no influence over what the Government decision will be.
“There is very compelling evidence of the very real benefits generated by virtue of a city being awarded European Capital of Culture status.
“We know that there are lots of collateral benefits generated for tourism, for legacy and infrastructure and also for the economy. It’s an opportunity to promote the city on an international stage as a very vibrant, diverse and dynamic place to come and study, work and live.”