Putting the city on the map as Leeds International Festival returns for 2019

Some of the highlights of previous festivals.
Some of the highlights of previous festivals.
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The city is putting itself on the cultural map with the third Leeds International Festival.

A ten day programme of speakers, debates from sport to politics, interactive games, art installations and music will take over some of the city's most popular locations with more than 45 events.

Gemma Holsgrove, festival executive, for Leeds International Festival.

Gemma Holsgrove, festival executive, for Leeds International Festival.

And as the 2019 event promises to be bigger and better we speak exclusively to the people making it happen.

In 2017 LeedsBID, with other organisations in the city, put on a festival in response to local businesses and levy payers asking for an annual event to boost the city's profile and its profits.

That was for eight days with 35 events at 18 venues.

That number was increased last year and as the Leeds International Festival starts to become a nationally and internationally recognised event, for 2019, there is a global range of acts, hailing from Meanwood to Australia.

A piece from an exhibition by an art student at a previous festival.

A piece from an exhibition by an art student at a previous festival.

And while it is an international festival, it is the inclusion of local acts and people that Leeds International Festival has been particularly keen to curate this year.

In December, Gemma Holsgrove was appointed as the first Festival Director in a move by LeedsBID to help the event grow and develop both culturally and strategically.

Andrew Cooper; chief executive of LeedsBID explains: "Businesses were saying 'please put some of the investment into getting new things to happen in Leeds'. We didn't have a festival in the city that celebrates the cultural DNA and could we create one and between Christmas and Leeds Indie Food, there was a natural gap in the events calendar."

The appointment of Ms Holsgrove has already seen a different approach before the festival, which starts today until May 12, even gets underway.

There was an open call for groups and artists to put forward ideas for the 2019 programme and that was held in Leeds attracting artists from Meanwood and Australia. Interplay Theatre at Armley is collaborating with a virtual reality experience, for example, students from the University of Leeds are involved in a two day 'hackathon', while a pop-up Discovery Zone is being staged on Briggate and Hyde Park Picture House will also be a venue for events this year.

It is part of a specific focus to involve Leeds residents as well as international speakers and performers.

She explains: "The open call was for the city of Leeds, saying what do you want to put on and giving artists an opportunity to showcase things they might not otherwise have been able to. It brings people here, exposing Leeds to things that we would not have been able to.

"We want it to be a festival for everybody and there is something for everybody from academics, to family friendly, to quirky and edgy and all this reflects what Leeds is about. We have been overwhelmed with the amount of people that have come forward with ideas."

Mr Cooper added: "People are starting to get what we are trying to achieve and it takes a while. You have to keep going at something for people to get it and for it to be recognised in the events calendar. The support from businesses, the cultural, arts and digital sector just shows it is an event for Leeds and not just the organisation running it. It is not elitist, not exclusive but engaging and inspiring and getting people to think about the world differently."

Leeds International Festival comes as research shows that events and experiences are needed to help town and city centres thrive, as they raise profile, footfall and spend where otherwise it might not be as forthcoming.

Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership said: "Leeds International Festival continues to celebrate all that is innovative about our region. This distinctive festival has grown from strength to strength, and this year’s diverse programme is sure to attract new local, national and international audiences."

We share ambitions to be bold, collaborative and distinctive both as a region and LEP, and I am delighted that we are supporting the festival for the first time this year.”