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Major partners join LEEDS 2023’s drive to create a transformational year of culture

National Youth Theatre's 'The Last Harvest' at Sanctuary Theatre Soulton Hall. Photo credit: Helen Murray, 2020.

The countdown to LEEDS 2023 has begun with the announcement of major national partners from arts and sport playing a part in delivering the city’s ambitious plans for a transformational year of culture. 

The British Library, Leeds Rhinos, Leeds United, the National Youth Theatre and WOW – Women of the World each are developing creative projects with the LEEDS 2023 team, headed up by Creative Director and Chief Executive Kully Thiarai, for the year-long cultural programme.  

Leeds Culture Trust ‘let culture loose’ in London tonight [Tuesday 25th January] when the team behind LEEDS 2023 gave a tantalising taste of the nationally significant event that aims to boost the social and economic fortunes of Leeds and the wider region. Adhering to government Covid guidance, the audience of partners and potential stakeholders were given a taste of things to come with performances by one-man musical phenomenon Le Gateau Chocolat, 2020 Oram Award-winner DJ NikNak and Poet Laureate Simon Armitage at the event which was hosted by LEEDS 2023 Trustee and broadcaster Sanchez Payne and took place at the British Library. 

Chair of Leeds Culture Trust, Gabby Logan, said: “To have attracted such a breadth of partnerships from major organisations across education, arts and sports is amazing and shows that Leeds is already a city of creativity and ambition. Leeds’s sporting achievements are renowned but its time in the cultural limelight is long overdue. All these brands have huge international reputations, and they will help us put Leeds on the world stage for culture.”

The British Library’s Chief Executive, Roly Keating, said: “LEEDS 2023 promises to be a big cultural movement in the life of the city and of the nation, and the British Library is thrilled to be a partner. Through our site at Boston Spa, near Wetherby, we have had a major presence in the region for more than sixty years, and our growing cultural and learning programme in Leeds is now opening up our unrivalled collections to people across the city and throughout the north. As well as expanding and refurbishing our Boston Spa campus, we are looking to develop a permanent British Library site at Temple Works in Leeds, and LEEDS 2023 offers an opportunity for us to connect with local partners and audiences as never before.”

LEEDS 2023 Creative Director, Kully Thiarai, said: “I’m often told that Leeds is a sleeping giant and that we don’t shout about all the great things happening in our city. Well now is our time and the people of Leeds – the general public, artists, businesses, educational organisations and cultural institutions – are ready for the spotlight during our Year of Culture. A year that celebrates and showcases all that is wonderful and extraordinary about our people, our heritage, and this place called Leeds that we call home. Together we will create new and memorable stories that will shape and change our remarkable city forever.

Our ambitions are sky high and none of this can be done by us alone. So, I am very excited by the creative partnerships we have announced today and there are many more in the pipeline that I’m looking forward to sharing later this year. LEEDS 2023 will be significant and relevant, locally, nationally and internationally. An explosion of colour, noise and brilliance that will show the world in our city and our city to the world.”

Cllr James Lewis, Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “It’s inspiring to see so many partners united in their shared belief in culture and the integral role LEEDS 2023 will play in making Leeds such a unique place to live, work and visit in the coming year.

“Culture is the heartbeat of Leeds, enriching the lives, health and wellbeing of people living in our communities and enhancing the city as a whole. It has also been a catalyst for some of the most exciting developments and investments the city has seen in recent years, including the arrival of Channel 4, the UK Infrastructure Bank and the vision British Library has for its future presence in the north.

“LEEDS 2023 will be both a celebration of everything we’ve achieved together as a city as well as a massive statement of intent about our ambition for Leeds to be an international standard-bearer for the nurture and support of creative talent, innovation and culture-led inclusive growth.”

LEEDS 2023 will be the first large-scale event of its kind in the city region, championing all forms of creativity and reaching all 33 wards of the city. Work is well underway with 75 artists commissioned including 10 projects taking place in Leeds schools; 20 artists embedded in 20 communities across the city; 10 artists working with heritage organisations to uncover the hidden histories of Leeds; collaborations with children and young people; work in more than 20 territories world-wide.

Scores of creative partnerships are in development, including a programme building towards a new National Poetry Centre in Leeds, spearheaded by Simon Armitage and creating a lasting legacy to his decade-long tenure as Poet Laureate. A new commission by international artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA will also be unveiled in 2023 to honour the life of David Oluwale, the British Nigerian and Leeds resident whose personal story inspired local people to create a lasting legacy to mark his life. 

Today’s announcement comes on the back of last week’s news of investment raised by Leeds Culture Trust totalling £1million from a growing list of major investors from public sector organisations and private sector businesses, including Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, British Council, KPMG, HBD and Mott MacDonald.  

Programme announcements will be made in September 2022. 

For further information or images please contact Anys or Anita at Anita Morris Associates. // 07976 584592 //07909 151441

Notes to editors: 

LEEDS 2023

LEEDS 2023’s ambition is to deliver a transformational year of creative experiences connecting and benefiting people now and into the future. The planned programme will celebrate and transform the City’s identity locally, nationally and internationally – creating a lasting legacy of economic and social impact.  

LEEDS 2023 is run by the Leeds Culture Trust. Chaired since November 2021 by Gabby Logan, the independent charity was set up in 2019 by Leeds City Council as part of its Culture Strategy and as a response to the cancellation of the UK’s participation in the European Capital of Culture competition. Leeds City Council recognizes, in a number of its key strategies, the difference culture and creativity can make to a city and its citizens and is the principal funder of LEEDS 2023.  

LEEDS 2023 will be a significant driver in the North of England’s social and economic recovery, as it enables the region to leverage its strength in the creative industries and tourism. Independent analysis by BOP Consulting, examining evidence from previous cities of culture, demonstrates that LEEDS 2023 can generate:  

  • Generate £114m of extra direct and indirect revenue to the Leeds visitor economy in 2023, rising to just over £140m by 2030.  
  • Create 1,310 new jobs in 2023, rising to 1,620 by 2030.  
  • See an increase of 10% in visitor numbers versus 4% without at Year of Culture.  
  • anticipate a return on investment of 6:1 for Leeds and 8:1 for West Yorkshire.  

The wider West Yorkshire region is also expected to gain a £49 million annual boost to its visitor economy thanks to LEEDS 2023.  

Independent audience research conducted in 2021 on behalf of LEEDS 2023, showed that 70 per cent of those questioned agreed that cultural and creative activities were good for the local economy, 79 per cent were supportive of Leeds having a year-long celebration of culture, with 75 per cent feeling it is important to learn about the history and heritage of Leeds.  

Patrons of LEEDS 2023 are Simon Armitage, Baroness Judith Blake CBE, Kay Mellor OBE, Corinne Bailey Rae and Kaiser Chiefs’ Simon Rix. 

Artistic Associates working with the LEEDS 2023 team to help shape and curate the Year of Culture include; Gaylene Gould, Judith Knight, Dave Lynch, Ruth Mackenzie CBE, Selina Thompson and Madani Younis. 

Leeds City Council is LEEDS 2023’s principal funder and has committed to £10.6m (over life course). Leeds Culture Trust has received funding of £642,000 from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund and £380,000 from National Lottery Heritage Fund.