Leeds International Festival runners say all artists will get paid after claims

Organisers of the postponed Leeds International Festival have promised artists that they will all be paid after being accused of "refusing to honour" fees.

Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 4:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 4:44 pm

In an open letter to Leeds BID and other groups which run the festival, more than 20 co-signatories say the organisers do not match up to the event's self-described values of "openness, inclusivity and invention" and asked that BID (business improvement district) discusses its "financial issues" transparently.

The annual Leeds International Festival is a programme of talks, installations and other events designed to "boldly confront the most significant challenges of our time and construct radical new visions of the future", but this year's edition has been postponed indefinitely because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Members of groups such as Closed Forum, Riptide, Sable Radio, Sayang, Our Space, East Street Arts, Tea and Tolerance and others, which applied to be involved in the festival, said that they understand the unprecedented circumstances but add that "it cannot be independent artists who have committed to agreements with the festival in good faith that take the brunt of this financially".

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Leeds BID, the festival's majority funder, has responded by saying that its levy receipts are "significantly lower" than previous years because of the current situation, but that each artist was informed between March 16 and 20 that work undertaken up to the start of that week would be paid for.

It was "working hard to ensure all outstanding invoices are paid in the first instance, and honouring work done to date", said BID.

One anonymous co-signatory said that there are some invoices outstanding from as far back as December.

Leeds BID chief executive Andrew Cooper told The Yorkshire Post that outstanding fees were "less than £30,000" and stressed that the organisation, which is a not-for-profit, had invested more than half a million pounds into arts in the city.

He also said that some staff had been furloughed, so communication between clients and the organisation would be more limited than usual, and asked that anyone with concerns approach him directly.

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It reads: "Leeds International Festival describes itself as: An Open Festival: the product of a city that embodies openness, inclusivity and invention.

"Yet the recent approach to delaying and fundamentally cancelling the festival without properly communicating with, and honouring all work already done by artists and creatives, does not embody those values.

"We recognise these are unprecedented times, and that financially and personally this situation is incredibly difficult for everyone. But it cannot be independent artists who have committed to agreements with the festival in good faith that take the brunt of this financially. That is not inclusive or open.

"As it stands, BID have broken their agreements with the participating artists by refusing to honour their fees for work already undertaken. In some cases, this includes not paying invoices that were due weeks ago. Final payments have been delayed to ‘when the festival can go ahead’, with an undetermined timeline and no new contract assurance issued to give any of the participating artists some security.

"Many of the artists you chose to programme are some of the most vulnerable in society. They applied to be part of your programme because of the values you put at the forefront of your brand. They produced the work within their contracts with trust and good faith that they would be paid for this. Had you acted in line with your brand we would not have been left in this position, to write an open letter, and would instead be working together to help support the festival and the artists who sit at the centre of it.

"We ask that you work with us transparently to discuss the financial issues you face as an organisation and come to an agreement that works to support all parties. Now is the time when we all need to act with generosity, and build back up trust to ensure the festival can happen again in the future.

"Leeds International Festival is owned by the city. We implore Leeds BID and the main festival partners to work with us."

Following its publication, one co-signatory who wished to remain anonymous, said: "We are pleased to say that since the open letter was published some outstanding payments for work already completed have been made.

“Conversations between Leeds BID and a number artists have now restarted and we hope that fair resolutions can be made."

In a statement, Leeds BID said that it has invested £500,000 into the city's art sector through various projects, adding that it "made the difficult decision to postpone all projects and activity last month for an initial period in order to respond to the Governments advice in these difficult times and to protect the future of the organisation and its levy payers' investment".

It continued: "One of the headline events affected is Leeds International Festival, which LeedsBID organises and majority funds.

"The event partners and supporters were informed of the decision to postpone the festival and suspend all activity relating to it and were each then spoken to between March 16th-

20th .

"Artists, performers and speakers were notified that LeedsBID would honour all work done up until 16th March 2020, with a commitment to ensure all outstanding invoices and work done to date would to be paid.

"This position has not changed and the festival remains postponed until government guidance changes and we are able think ahead about events in the future.

"A not for profit, business led organisation, LeedsBID is funded by the levy paying businesses it represents and normally at this time of year, the BID would start to receive its levy payments for the next financial year which enable its investments in a diverse range of plans, projects and activities in the city centre.

"Due to the current situation, levy payments are significantly lower than in comparison to previous years, but LeedsBID is working hard to ensure all outstanding invoices are paid in the first instance, and honouring work done to date. LeedsBID is also adapting to the current lockdown measures as a business and is working with partners to ensure levy is invested to support the city’s economic and cultural recovery.

LeedsBID created this brand new festival opportunity and launched Leeds International Festival in 2017.

"Over the last four years we’ve been extremely honoured and grateful to have worked alongside some extraordinary artists, creatives, innovators and speakers in creating this inclusive

international annual event.

"LeedsBID remains committed to continuing this collaboration of culture and business to celebrate all that is great about the city, with conversations on-going as to viable options for Leeds International Festival returning in the future.

Welcome to Yorkshire, the LEP and Leeds City Council have each been approached for comment.