When we launched our Letting Culture Loose campaign almost a year ago, we wanted to show what Leeds 2023 Year of Culture was all about and to demonstrate that there really will be something for everyone.
We want to celebrate all forms of culture that make living in Leeds special. Whatever your passion, whatever gets you out of bed in the morning and brings you joy – we want to shout about it. It might be food, sport or everyday creativity; anything from dancing and singing to knitting and reading.
Since that campaign launch, we’ve spoken to hundreds of people, community groups, businesses and more across the city, finding out what ‘culture’ means to them and feeding that into the programme.
We want everyone to have the opportunity to experience something extraordinary and to create new memories of something special that they’ve been a part of; that feeling of “I was there”.
We want to celebrate culture in people’s neighbourhoods; to create events in every ward of Leeds, whether that be in parks, playgrounds, community hubs or on the streets. People are much more likely to take part if it’s right on their doorstep.
Culture is a magnet on so many levels, from bringing together neighbours on a street, to attracting businesses to locate their headquarters in a city.
We know culture can make a place more attractive to live and work, and businesses know this makes for a happier workforce. The knock-on benefits for related sectors, such as hospitality and retail which desperately need some support right now, are real.
We and many partners want to use the year to create a real shift in Leeds’ confidence. It’s our time to show off what an incredible city we have.
We can be bold and confident about what’s going on and celebrate our proud history and heritage; a place where 170 different languages are spoken. That fact alone says so much about Leeds.
For Leeds 2023 to make the difference we want, it’s got to have a lasting impact. A funfair that rolls into town and out again is not what we have in mind.
Our plans will be revealed in September but they include 12 fantastic events across the year spanning all art forms, as well as a partner programme working alongside the brilliant cultural organisations, artists and grassroots groups in the city.
We will soon be recruiting a volunteer workforce for 2023 which we hope can create new opportunities for people to engage with our great cultural organisations in the city long after the year itself.
More cultural ‘years’ are being planned, all within a short journey of Leeds and we’re backing those too. Bradford’s bid for UK City of Culture in 2025, Kirklees’ year of music in 2023, Calderdale and Wakefield too has a year of culture planned for 2024.
These events are no coincidence. It’s the result of a lot of hard work that’s been going on for many years by regional leaders and local authorities. All have understood the value that culture and the heritage of West Yorkshire can play in making a great place to live, work, study and just be.
Leeds 2023 can be a runway for these other years. The skills, experience and opportunities we’re creating will help people to get into employment for the longer term too, retaining talent within the region, so that people don’t have to move away for work.
Just look at The Piece Hall in Halifax which now attracts major film stars and national figures. It shows what can happen when you dream the impossible and set out to make it happen.
There will be loads of unexpected positive outcomes of Leeds 2023 that we haven’t even thought of yet too. By being bold and brave, it creates a chain reaction. Leeds 2023 is part of that and when we pass on the baton, it will be exciting to see what the next generation will bring.
Leeds deciding to ‘do it anyway’ and hold a year-long celebration of culture at a time of uncertainty was a bold and brave step to take.
More than 70 per cent of Leeds people have already told us they want a year of culture. It says so much about the city when we tell the world we’re letting culture loose for a whole year and we want everyone to come and be a part of it.
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