As Creative Director and CEO of Leeds 2023, I know we are embarking on our journey at an acute time of crisis. The road ahead is full of obstacles and challenges but the one thing that does remain firm, at a time when the ground beneath us feels incredibly shaky, is my commitment and resolve to do all that I can to harness the power of creativity to support those who have been hit hardest by this pandemic.
While we have all had to face the same storm, Coronavirus has demonstrated that we are not all in the same boat. The health and economic impact of this disease has not fallen equally, with certain groups bearing the brunt, not least in my own community. As we emerge slowly from lockdown it seems a good time to reflect on what we have learnt during this period of isolation, anxiety and loss. It has highlighted, if ever we needed reminding, the importance of supporting one another, our need for connection, and our inter-dependence on our key workers.
During these hard times creativity and culture have played their part in bringing people joy, solace, friendship and entertainment. Across the region, we have seen how those working in our sector have quickly responded to support their local communities. From small acts of kindness and community interventions through to shared participation in singing, dancing and art, we have witnessed nothing but compassion and kindness at a time of darkness for many of our families, friends and neighbours. Our great cultural institutions as well as the small independent grassroot companies and artists embedded in communities have all been actively supporting our citizens.
Take for example, theatre company SlungLow based at the Holbeck Social Club in Leeds. They have thrown a lifeline to their neighbours when they have needed it most: providing food and collecting medicines and being on hand to talk to those who are feeling lonely and isolated. They have also created a gallery using lampposts on the streets of Holbeck and Beeston showcasing the artistic creations of residents.
Over in Bradford, the extraordinary project Through Our Lens led by award-winning photographer Carolyn Mendelsohn has enabled 13-18 year olds to capture their experience of life during the pandemic. A stunning range of photographs have emerged that are beautiful, poetic and spotlight the talent and skill of these young people. Creative Minds, in partnership with South West Yorkshire NHS Foundation Trust, have been hosting a whole range of activities in Barnsley, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield to improve people’s mental health and well-being.
Creative activity has been instrumental in supporting people during lockdown. However, we can deliver more than sticking plasters: we can use our landmark year of culture in 2023 to unlock opportunities for everyone across our region to live their best life. Through creative projects and partnerships we can improve the education of our children; we can improve people’s mental and physical health; we can build the confidence and skills of our communities; we can support the learning and discovery of new ideas; and we can shine a light on stories hidden from the mainstream. Last, but not least, let’s not forget what we do best: we can create exhilarating experiences that unite, entertain and delight people!
The creative industries are one of Britain’s success stories and there is no shortage of talent and ambition in our region. Our arts and culture sector has an important part to play in our post-Covid recovery. I am confident that working together right across the city and region, and with support for the creative sector from government, we can use our cultural might to get the future right to enable everyone to thrive.
Kully Thiarai is Chief Executive and Creative Director of Leeds 2023