Leeds 2023 will display the city's ambition and culture to the world - Ruth Mackenzie

Leeds 2023 artistic associate Ruth Mackenzie looks back on her experience of London 2012's cultural programme and tells us how culture can change a city.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 11:45 am

When I was 24 years old, I got the chance to work in West Yorkshire at the University of Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill, where I met Kully Thiarai. I’ve followed her work ever since, both as a friend and as a huge fan.

Read More

Read More
Northern School of Contemporary Dance principal Sharon Watson on the importance ...

I’ve been given the opportunity to work with her again on her team’s thrilling plans for Leeds 2023 as one of their new Artistic Associates, giving my support and advice as they head towards the year of culture.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Piccadilly Circus Circus event takes place in London's Piccadilly Circus in September 2012. Picture: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

I’m so excited to get started because I know just how transformative culture can be for a place and its people.

In Bradford, Kully and I worked in youth clubs and community centres, learning from the young people about the issues that mattered to them, and above all about the power of the arts to address the challenges of the city and its communities.

The importance of listening to the communities we were working with has stayed with me and has helped me with every job I have had ever since, perhaps most notably as Director of the London 2012 Festival, the official cultural programme of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Like Leeds 2023, London 2012 was a once in a lifetime opportunity for communities, families and artists to think about their ambitions for their city, for themselves and for their children. And of course, to be inspired by remarkable artistic events, not just as audiences but also as a way to share their own creativity.

We defined London through the power of large scale cultural events in public spaces, all free to ensure everybody could afford to come, and all shared online round the world.

Three million people across the UK took part in visual artist Martin Creed’s piece for the opening day of the Olympics. We rang bells all over the country, from Big Ben to bicycle bells and doorbells, united in the countdown to the unforgettable Opening Ceremony.

With BBC’s Radio 1, we brought the Big Weekend to Hackney, and for me, the significance was not just giving the local community a line-up of their dreams – topped by Jay Z – and making sure all the tickets were free for local residents – but offering young people the chance to train with the BBC and learn about the music industry.

They worked alongside the musicians, backstage producers and technicians, to develop their own skills and for some to start the path to new careers.

And I’ll never forget Piccadilly Circus Circus, a free festival of international circus developed for London families. It told a story of a dynamic, beautiful, open city whose culture was a magnet for artists and visitors round the world.

We were both local and global, serving London’s families and reflecting the values of the city to the world.

It’s with these incredible memories of 2012 that we now turn to Leeds 2023, knowing the potential of what lies ahead. I’m so excited to be working with Kully and the team to find the ambitions and priorities of all the communities of Leeds, to build a programme for the people of West Yorkshire in the same way as we did in London.

Leeds 2023 will show the world the ambition as well as the culture of Leeds, and leave a lasting legacy for the city and its communities – I can’t wait!

Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.