Slap on the sunscreen and soak up some culture in the great outdoors - Ruth Pitt, Leeds 2023

It’s time to get outside, have fun and be creative, writes Leeds 2023 chairperson Ruth Pitt in her latest column.

Monday, 7th June 2021, 11:45 am

Leeds 2023 has just launched its new Letting Culture Loose campaign and the recent fine weather underlines the promise of things to come. It’s not hard to make a case for outdoor culture when the sun is shining and the kids are off school.

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Get dressed up Leeds, we're going out - Ruth Pitt, Leeds 2023

The past few days have given us a tantalising reminder of what outdoor socialising used to feel like and here we are, looking outward instead of inward at last.

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One of the crochet designs from Hookers and Clickers that now greets visitors to Armley Park.

Okay, so the kids are back at school now and we still don’t really know what returning to normal might look or feel like in any great detail. But just to see friends playing in public parks and families picnicking in shady spots is a joy to behold.

If there’s one thing lockdown has taught us, it’s how to make the best of being outdoors. Fabric gazebos have landed in gardens all over Leeds like Martians from outer space. We’ve all worked out the value of woolly scarves, lightweight deckchairs, cosy coverings for our knees – turns out you don’t have to be in your ninth decade to channel a natty tartan rug.

Outdoor culture is one of the best beneficiaries of this new-found alfresco fun. Take cinemas for instance. A million years ago in 2019 I went to see the Lady Gaga film A Star Is Born at the Luna cinema in the grounds of Harewood House.

We had food, drink, rugs, deckchairs and a big smile on our faces as the temperature dropped and the moon rose to signal the start of the film.

It was the coldest night of the year and we nearly froze but it was fabulous, so it’s thrilling to have seen the screen returning to Harewood from Thursday last week with a great line-up of modern movie classics and hopefully not a touch of frost in sight.

Our theatre, dance and opera companies have all found ways to embrace the great outdoors with pop-up performances and travelling shows in the past year. Across our communities schoolkids are working with their teachers on outdoor arts projects.

And don’t even get me started on the joys of visiting municipal parks and gardens, literally one of the most creative things you can do with your time. Such colours, such patterns, such fun.

Sport, of course, has the great outdoors in its DNA. How thrilling to have seen the World Triathlon Championships returning to Leeds over the weekend and be reminded how welcoming our city is when it opens its outdoors to some of the greatest athletes in the world, including many of its own.

Public art is finding a new place in our outdoor hearts and minds too, gracing streets and open spaces in a myriad of surprising and lovely ways.

One of a series of new commissions for Letting Culture Loose saw Leeds 2023 and Assembly House in Armley team up with the local Hookers and Clickers knitting and crochet group to produce two great big horse sculptures festooned with crocheted artwork in the park, which I particularly loved.

It’s all going on outdoors in Leeds this year, so find your thing, slap on the sunscreen and enjoy yourself. Beats snoozing on the sofa any day.