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Dear Yorkshire, keep that spark alive

I’ve written and been quoted many times on the importance and value of culture in my role as Chair of the Leeds 2023 Independent Steering Group. As a dancer, a creator, a fierce advocate for the arts, and importantly, a resident of this wonderful city, it was a privilege, a passion and indeed a pleasure to play a part in Leeds’s 2023 European Capital of Culture bid. Clearly that journey was one of excitement, hope but tinged with disappointment as factors outside of our control brought an abrupt halt to the bidding process.

It’s been a journey of cultural discovery. And one that importantly for Leeds and the wider region, is set to continue with aspirational plans for the months and years ahead to ensure our bid’s legacy continues. We couldn’t have got this far, nor can we go any further, without the people of Yorkshire behind us and I would like to make a direct call to you today to help inspire, inform and initiate the next phase of our exciting journey.

Cast your mind back to six months ago. A packed Leeds Town Hall heard how Leeds would bounce back after the cancellation of our European Capital of Culture bid. There we announced our idea for a six-year cultural investment programme, culminating in a year of culture in 2023, which would include some of the fantastic projects outlined in our original Bid book.

A lot has happened since more than 700 people gathered to hear what next for Leeds 2023. Just last month, Yorkshire was named by Creative England as the UK’s leading region for creative industries. A week later news that Leeds had made the shortlist for Channel 4’s new HQ hit the headlines. It’s clear that we’re starting to get the recognition we richly deserve on the national, and indeed international, stage. But it’s not just about the city making a name for itself as a leader in the creative industries. Leeds has also been grabbing attention internationally through sport. The fantastic cricket test match at Headingly, England winning their last friendly before the World Cup at Elland Road and just last weekend, the excitement of the AJ Bell World Triathlon, have all brought with them a tremendous atmosphere and stirred an appetite for more.

We promised to reshape 2023 to have a broader focus encompassing sport and having benefit for the whole region, but we needed time to develop these ideas and ensure the best possible start for this new direction. We asked for time to reconsider, reflect and recast our plans in light of this renewed proposal to continue with Leeds 2023 and promised an update in the coming months, which I’m pleased to share with you today.

Part of creating the best possible stage and foundations for the spectacular show that Leeds 2023 will become, is in ensuring good governance and due diligence. The Leeds 2023 Independent Steering Group has sought advice and explored a number of options for the best delivery vehicle for the ongoing cultural programme. On 27 June, Leeds City Council’s Executive Board will discuss our proposal to start the work of a new Leeds Culture Trust, which was set up as a shadow organisation during the bid. Should the proposal be approved, the coming months will see a recruitment process for a Chair and new Trustees, who will take over the helm in 2019 to drive the programme forward.

The bid for European Capital of Culture galvanised the city and wider region across all sectors and communities, and we want to keep this momentum going. As well as a number of projects which are being supported a under the revised plans for Leeds 2023, it’s also fantastic to see so many artists already moving ahead with projects under their own steam, inspired not only by the bid process but the sense of collaboration and momentum it engendered.

We have such a diverse cultural offering, from music, dance and food to sculpture, literature, design and fashion. The bid process opened-up so many conversations, provided opportunities to forge new, important relationships and to collaborate across art forms and organisations. The fruits of this can be seen in Phoenix Dance’s upcoming partnership with Opera North, a conversation inspired by the bidding process. Other projects already in the works include, Yorkshire Sculpture International, which be delivered by the ‘Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle (Leeds Art Gallery, The Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park) in both 2019 and 2023. ‘Bus pass’, a large-scale performance which takes stories from the city’s older people, and transforms them into a performance of dance, music, stories and song. And, the East Leeds Projects, an initiative linking our green spaces with visual art, exploring the connections and their similarities with East Ends across Europe. Watch this space for more details on these projects and more as the programme continues.

I would like to thank everyone – the citizens of Leeds and the wider region, our phenomenal business community and the other towns and cities in Yorkshire and across the North – for their ongoing dedication, passion and enthusiasm in supporting culture and projects. We ask people to continue the journey with us, by joining in with the projects and to shout loudly with the voice that the region truly deserves.

There has never been a better time to press ahead than right now, and we’re looking forward to working with our partners to create a fitting stage on which to host the talents of city, region and continent in 2023.