MANCHESTER has suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Hull has aviator Amy Johnson, and Liverpool has politician Bessie Braddock - and now Leeds will join cities across the UK by honouring one of its finest women with a prominent statue, right in the heart of the city.
After a campaign by Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves and your Yorkshire Evening Post, a new specially-commissioned sculpture championing the achievements and recognising women in Leeds will be sited at the new Gateway Court at Quarry Hill, close to Leeds Playhouse and Leeds Arts University, which is managing the project.
The search is now on for the artist who will create the piece, and a shortlist of six will be unveiled in December. The final piece should be chosen by June next year, with the sculpture in place a year later.
The campaign to erect a statue honouring a woman linked with the city was launched on International Women’s Day last year by Ms Reeves, the YEP, and Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake.
Then, we asked our readers to name the women they thought should be recognised, with Jane Tomlinson, Sue Ryder, Dame Fanny Waterman, Isabella Ford, Beryl Burton, Nicola Adams and Jo Cox picked as the ‘magnificent seven’.
The subject of the statue is still to be decided, but whoever is chosen, the aim is re-address the gender imbalance in public art in the city; celebrate multiple womens’ achievements; and offer a creative model which could be added to with further statues in future, an artists’ brief launching the hunt for a sculptor said.
Ms Reeves said: “It’s incredibly exciting that after many months of planning with Leeds Arts University and Leeds City Council, we are another step closer to creating a city centre sculpture that truly celebrates the women of Leeds.
“The achievements of women have been under-represented in local art and culture for too long but the Artist’s Brief, which invites artists to submit their ideas for a sculpture commemorating women’s achievements, is a fantastic opportunity to develop the city’s cultural offering.”
Leeds Arts University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Simone Wonnacott said she was looking for work that would “stimulate debate and inspire the next generation of women to be bold and confident in what they can achieve”.
She added: “It has been a pleasure to be involved in this project, particularly since some of the world’s most significant sculptors are alumni of Leeds Arts University, including Barbara Hepworth.
“The project will offer a new opportunity for established, and up-and-coming, artists to propose how we can celebrate women’s contribution to Leeds with an innovative and thought-provoking new sculpture.”
Coun Blake said the project would create a “lasting cultural and artistic monument” to the achievements of women in the city whilst inspiring women of the future “to believe that anything is possible”.
She added: “The history of Leeds is filled with remarkable stories of women who have defied traditions, pushed boundaries and accomplished truly remarkable things in the face of all doubt and adversity.”
YEP editor Hannah Thaxter said: “This is fantastic news. The Yorkshire Evening Post readers were behind this right from the start, and came up with some fantastic suggestions of women who deserved to be honoured. We have a proud history of strong women in Leeds and it’s right that this statue will recognise the achievements of women in general and be a modern piece of artwork in keeping with the kind if city we are.”
The selected artist will be paid a fee of £10,000 for the piece, which is expected to cost around £40,000 to be produced. A major fundraising campaign will be launched to coincide with an exhibition of shortlisted artists next year.