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East Street Arts Championing the City’s Greatest [EX]Sports

Firm football aficionados and cycling enthusiasts East Street Arts is no stranger to the grit and gruel of the sporting world. Best known for their unwavering support of artists through studios, residencies and support services they are as likely to be found paint-splattered in the studio as they are they are chanting on the terraces, so when a chance to marry their two loves came along it would have been rude not to. We caught up with Karen Watson, Director of East Street Arts to find out more.

The project in question is Ex(s)ports a partnership between East Street Arts in Leeds, Líentorse in Lille and Vooruit in Gent.
The connections between the three partners chart Leeds’ rise to sporting glory starting with the East Street Arts project Juliana’s Bike in 2013, their pop-up exhibition and party Tour-de-Social for the 2014 Grand Depart and the collaboration being awarded 137, 400 Euros by Creative Europe in April 2015 to explore the relationship between culture and sport, in a two year-long partnership consisting of residencies, commissions and research.
After much discussion the European trio settled on football, cycling and water sports for their focus, with Leeds taking the lead on football on cycling. Stealing an early lead, since the project began last Autumn East Street Arts have wasted no time working with local, national and international artists to create new work. In February 2016 French artist Jiem was invited to stay at the company’s flagship project, Art Hostel, to get under the skin of the city’s football culture.

The three week residency resulted in two new street murals, one next door to the Art Hostel on Kirkgate, and the other adjacent to West Yorkshire Playhouse bearing the slogan “Marching on Together” as the theatre opened its doors for The Damned United. Jiem’s partner Mary Limonade will return to the city to complete a commissioned piece for the new arts and culture centre at the Old Leeds Bus Station, close to the city’s historic Corn Exchange. The couple were also put to work creating the centre-piece mural for the Art Hostel reception.

In addition to this, East Street Arts have matched UK artists Neville Gaby and Alan Ward with a research project based in Gent following the story of a Women’s Football team, one of nine football stories linked to a commission by Cambridge City Council for the commemoration of the FA rules being agreed, which has set the bar for football the world over. The work will take in nine stories from across the world including the unifying and uplifting power of football for Nelson Mandela and his contemporaries held in Robin Island prison.

Newcastle artist Ilana Mitchell, known for her roles with live art festival Wonderba will work across Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Gent and Lille to explore the relationship between football and public space, asking whose space is it? Her work will focus on play areas, and make-shift concrete playing fields that young people adopt as pop-up pitches for the beautiful game, exploring how often a sport made so accessible by its own rules and simplicity is made so difficult by the rigidity of urban policy and the mantra of “Keep of the Grass”.

The football side doesn’t end there: Leeds Beckett Graphics lecturer Aiden Winterburn will work with his students to create a new football journal; Leeds collective Invisible Flock have been commissioned by L’entorse to do a new work based on the sounds of the stadium creating a sound art piece; and discussions are on-going with artist collective Leeds United to re-present a sound piece.The team are also turning their attentions to cycling. Projects have included working with two local artists to support the creation in Lille of a Bike Cafe concept. Artist Ben Mills created a two-way conversation between Leeds and Lille powered by bike, using pedal power to fire up a Skype connection and start trans-channel conversation. This summer as part of the Breeze there will be a print making project working with families in high profile areas such as Leeds Kirkgate Market and the cityís summer festivals.

Although the project will create high profile, high quality new commissions, and a strong research base to be taken forward into new projects, for Karen and the team it’s the relationships with and learning from European partners that proves to be the real benefit of the project.

The project has highlighted areas where we can all learn from each other. East Street Arts brings strength in understanding how artists work and the nature of projects as they develop, where our partners in Lille and Gent are venues based and have a much more rigid framework. We are used to managing artists and people, where European cities are much more accustomed to managing events, shutting the city down for culture is second nature to them, where hosting and supporting the people involved in creating the piece is our big asset -there are things we can each learn here.

The big observation for us is in the management of a European funded project. The change in time zones, issues of currency and exchange rates that can be the difference between success and failure, the distance we have to travel where Gent and Lille find travel between the cities much easier. In Gent this is one of five EU funded projects that Vouitz are managing. For Leeds to make the most of the opportunity presented by European Capital of Culture there needs to be a greater understanding of and capacity for managing multiple international partnerships and projects of this nature.

[Ex(s)ports will continue until January 2017, for more details visit: