Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake pens her latest YEP column.
A record number of people visited council-run museums and galleries in Leeds last year.
The city’s nine much-loved sites welcomed just under an astonishing 1.7million people in 2018 - a figure 23 per cent up on the previous year.
The list of sites includes Temple Newsam, Kirkstall Abbey, Abbey House, Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds Industrial Museum, Thwaite Watermill, Lotherton and Leeds City Museum.
All of these are well worth a visit and if you’re yet to do so, I fully recommend them.
Last year was particularly memorable.
Our museums played a huge part in commemorating the centenary of the First World War Armistice, as well as 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote.
We are right to treasure our museums in Leeds, as underlined by a national report last week from the Museum’s Association. Nationally museums are in crisis. Many rely on local authority funding, but over the last decade they have fallen victim to austerity and cuts. Nearly two-thirds now charge and many have cut staff and opening hours.
National Government funding for museums massively favours London. Only two outside of London receive direct funding from the Government (Royal Armouries in Leeds and National Museums in Liverpool).
There is a real danger that the rest of the country will fall further behind London and risk becoming a cultural backwater.
Why is culture important, why should it receive funding at a time when austerity has gutted other budgets over the last decade?
The traditional answer about how culture makes life worth living isn’t enough on its own. It is right we look at other impacts, such as what it does for the aspirations of young people, its impact on the economy, jobs and its impact on people’s health.
The Government’s own Health Secretary just last year explained how access to arts and social activities is scientifically proven to improve people’s mental and physical health.
We know how important attracting visitors to Leeds is for our economy and jobs. Tourism visits are worth £1.7bn to our economy and support 20,000 jobs here, and that figure is growing.
2019 is such a big year for Leeds. We’ve already had the Tour de Yorkshire, but still to come is the UCI Road World Championships, the World Triathlon Series, the Cricket World Cup and Ashes and Leeds United’s centenary.
We have a great cultural scene in Leeds, with lots to be proud of and lots to look forward to as we head towards our year of culture in 2023.
The Council will do all it can to support Leeds museums, galleries and events because of all the positive impacts they have on jobs, health and young people.
However, we need the Government to do the same, reverse the cuts and put an end to the current system that massively favours London at the expense of elsewhere.