YEP Leeds summit: Spotlight on arts and culture

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With Leeds set to bid for the title of European Capital of Culture 2023, how does the city ensure that arts and culture reach and benefit the wider community?

This question will be at the heart of the next Voice of Leeds Summit, when prominent figures from some of the city’s public, private and third sectors will gather at the YEP’s office to discuss the importance of the arts and their role in community development.

The depth and diversity of Leeds’ cultural offer has never been greater.

The city is home to treasures such as Europe’s oldest authentic West Indian carnival, the world-famous Henry Moore Institute and City Varieties, as well as gems like Left Bank, Slung Low, SAA-UK and Red Ladder.

It boasts famous exports like Alan Bennett and Kaiser Chiefs and is the only city outside London with its own reparatory theatre, ballet and opera companies.

It’s a glittering and distinctive package but the general consensus from both the experts and the public is that the city doesn’t publicise its triumphs enough.

This is expected to be among the topics covered at Thursday’s meeting – the fifth in an ongoing series of YEP summits, organised in partnership with the Leeds Community Foundation (LCF), to tackle some of the key issues facing the city and its residents.

Pyramid of Arts, in Holbeck, is a non-profit organisation that runs arts groups for people with and without learning disabilities throughout Leeds.

Its director James Hill said: “There’s tons and tons of really exciting stuff going on in this city but it needs a bit more of a push to get it into the limelight.”

Sally-Anne Greenfield, chief executive of LCF, will be chairing the Voice of Leeds debate. She said: “The arts scene in Leeds is rich and culturally diverse from leading touring companies to arts projects, festivals and carnivals striving to engage with local communities.”

She added: “We hope that this summit will not only offer a platform to highlight how arts and culture can reach and benefit the wider community but inform local people of the fantastic arts organisations and services that are available to them.”

Also listed as a topic for discussion is what Leeds can do as a city to define itself culturally, in order to win the 2023 bid.

The cost of mounting the bid could be as much as £175,000 but Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture is reported to have attracted 9.7m visitors to the city, an increase of 34 per cent, as well as generating £753.8m for the economy.

The YEP threw its weight behind plans for the city to bid for the chance to join the premier league of global cultural hotspots. If successful, Leeds will host a glorious year of activities showcasing the best of its creative offerings.

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‘We want to shout about how good this art is’

Pyramid of Arts has changed beyond recognition since it was first set up 25 years ago as a weekly arts club for the residents of Meanwood Park Hospital.

The pioneering organisation now runs around 13 sessions a week and boasts around 85 members – people with and without learning disabilities.

It is also behind a three-year programme of creative projects for people with profound or multiple disabilities, who director James Hill explained, “would really not have the opportunity to get involved in creative activities without this.”

It has conducted exchange programmes with similar groups in the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Germany, meaning talented Leeds artists with learning disabilities have exhibited their work overseas. And it has now joined forces with other Leeds arts organisations to put together the Beyond Festival.

The two-week arts festival of work by people with learning disabilities will take place in the city centre in June next year.

However the launch event takes place next month, on June 18, at Holy Trinity Church. It will feature visual arts, film, plus a performance by thrash metal band Ultimate Thunder. James said: “It will be a chance to shout about how good the art is by these artists but also to let people know that anyone with learning disabilities has got the opportunity to get involved in creative activities if they choose to.”