Leeds 2023 what's on: 11 highlights still to come including a huge sculptural forest taking over City Square

The first phase of Leeds 2023 has come to an end – but people of all ages can still look forward to more than 10 key events as the city’s year of culture continues.
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Headingley Stadium was the setting on January 7 as thousands of people came together to celebrate the start of Leeds 2023, a 12-month programme designed to showcase the city’s creativity. The first three months was designed to ‘awaken the artist’ in Leeds residents, with many of those in the opening crowd ceremony having submit their own creative pieces to win a free ticket.

The second part, which runs from May 1 to August 31, will encourage people to find wonder in the everyday and the unfamiliar. It will see the year of culture continue with new commissions, collaborations, performances, festivals, exhibitions and events.

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Kully Thiarai, Leeds 2023’s creative director and chief executive said: “We spent the first part of this year awakening the city, as much to itself as to the wider world. Now it’s time to play together in this brilliant city. Part 2 – Playing – invites you to explore the city in new and different ways, unleashing your imagination and finding wonder in the familiar and the different. There is something for everyone and so much to see and do.

City Square, which is currently undergoing a major redesign, will become the venue for a huge sculptural forest later this year. Picture:  Simon HulmeCity Square, which is currently undergoing a major redesign, will become the venue for a huge sculptural forest later this year. Picture:  Simon Hulme
City Square, which is currently undergoing a major redesign, will become the venue for a huge sculptural forest later this year. Picture: Simon Hulme

“Come and enjoy Children’s Day as reimagined by children at Roundhay Park or cheer on the barn-raisers as they raise the roof on Cinder Moor in 24 hours. Learn new skills, make new friends and test out new ideas. Playing together allows a whole new word to be opened up to us. You can take part in workshops and participatory events across the city or settle into an evening of music, of dance, of theatre, or just wander through Leeds and find the newest mural or artwork.”

Highlights for Leeds 2023: Part Two – Playing

- The WOW Barn: April 30 to May 21, Cinder Moor. A 24-hour spectacle, during which The WOW Barn will be raised by 300 women, girls and non-binary people from across West Yorkshire. The temporary pop-up venue will host the first Women of the World Festival in Leeds on May 13. Designed to be a catalyst to new levels of activism around gender justice, the WOW Barn will be open to everyone. The line-up includes WOW founder Jude Kelly CBE, Stopcocks’ Hattie Hassan MBE, chef and broadcaster Andi Oliver and comedian Bridget Christie, with more to be announced.

- Making A Stand: June 15 to December, City Square. A large sculptural forest by internationally-renowned visual artist Michael Pinsky and environmental architects Studio Bark has been inspired by Leeds’ roots as an ancient woodland. It will be animated by a programme of events and performances, including work from students at Leeds Beckett University’s School of Arts, wellbeing sessions and free yoga classes.

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- Smeaton300: June to December, multiple locations. A series of events marking the life and legacy of Leeds’ pioneering giant, John Smeaton, who was known as the ‘father of UK civil engineering. The creative events programme will include museum events, activities in schools and interactive workshops in libraries as well as a new art commission. Inspired by Smeaton’s own observatory in Austhorpe, Moon Palace is a new artwork and mobile observatory by Heather Peak and Ivan Morison that will tour the city, bringing creativity, art, engineering and science to communities in the day as well as after-dark moongazing sessions.

- My LEEDS Summer, June to August, across Leeds. A series of 33 free events, one in each Leeds ward, will champion the vibrancy, individuality and talent of each neighbourhood through performance and creativity, sport and food. Artist Keith Khan has created a different design for each area which has been woven into textiles and will be showcased at the My Leeds 2023 Summer.

- Children’s Day: Reimagined: July 14, Roundhay Park. Co-created by artistic leads Fevered Sleep and the Young Creatives, Reimagined puts young people at the heart of designing their own unique event. A day and night of film, live performance, building and playing together, it is all about the children of Leeds coming together and raising their voices to the night sky in song.

There are also a number of Leeds 2023 partnerships planned.

- Northern Roll Festival: May 19 to 21, multiple venues. A festival on wheels, this is a packed weekend of workshops, discos and roller derby including a pop-up roller rink at the Royal Armouries and skate stalls to explore, food and live music.

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- Seeds, Dreams and Constellations: May 25 to 27, Riley Theatre, NSCD. Inspired by migration, transformation, and tales of new beginnings, musician Corinne Bailey Rae and choreographer Sharon Watson MBE join together to craft an uplifting, evocative new work performed by an international cast from the Leeds based-dance companies Watson Dance Project, VERVE and Mobius Dance.

- Requiem, Mozart and Muyanga: May 26 to June 4, Leeds Grand Theatre. Mozart’s iconic choral masterpiece is paired in a double bill alongside a new commission, After Tears: After a Requiem, by South African composer Neo Muyanga.

- Sonia Boyce, Feeling Her Way: May 26 – November 5, Leeds Art Gallery. Commissioned by the British Council for the 59th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia 2022, this is the only chance for northern audiences to see this immersive exhibition of sculpture, video and music.

- Afra Eisma, splashdown tender: June 23 – October 22, The Tetley. A playful, colourful, and interactive exhibition using textiles and ceramics from the Dutch artist in her first solo UK show.

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- Noah’s Flood: July 7, The Warehouse, Holbeck. A vibrant retelling of Benjamin Britten’s community opera is the first co-production from Slung Low and Manchester Collective. It has been produced for Leeds 2023 and Manchester International Festival, featuring performers from Holbeck and Manchester, including 180 local schoolchildren as the animals and poet Lemn Sissay as the voice of God.