Leeds is a city built on cultural variety. It’s in our food, shops, music, style and even our patter. When you listen to our streets, the world talks back.
Because of this glorious melting-pot, Leeds entered the “European Capital of Culture Competition” in 2017 – a plan that was quickly stopped in the aftermath of Brexit by the European Commission, who decided a UK city could not be eligible for the award.
But the team over at Leeds 2023 are still passionate about getting the city recognised as Capital of Culture, and three years ago over 700 people gathered at the Town Hall to hear the Council’s decision to continue the artistic programme.
Leeds City Council’s Executive Board agreed to the set-up of Leeds Culture Trust, an independent organisation that will manage 2023 going forward, to create: “an international cultural festival which will harness the energy, creativity and momentum of our bid to be European Capital of Culture 2023. It will celebrate the cultural life of Leeds and bring the best global arts to our city.”
Now that sounds like a proper bash.
Although we must wait until 2023 to get the official celebrations going, Leeds still has a host of cultural offerings for us to delve into. After all, the city doesn’t stay still for long.
Leeds is built on creativity. With famous artistic alumni such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth (to name but a few), world-famous galleries and Leeds Arts University – it has played a huge role in moulding the North’s reputation as a vibrant and unique cultural beacon.
If you have a penchant for fine visual art, then Leeds Art Gallery is the place to go. The LAG sits in the beautiful Victoria Gardens civic space and is free to enter, with one of the most significant collections of 20th Century art in the country.
Next door is the Henry Moore Institute, which features an impressive host of historical and contemporary sculpture from around the globe. It works in partnership with the LAG, creating a partnership that has built one of the strongest sculpture collections in Britain that is free to view.
Another spot to visit is The Hepworth Wakefield, which is one of Yorkshire’s major art galleries and won the prestigious Art Fund Museum of the Year Award in 2017. As well as global modern art, it further explores Leeds legend Barbara Hepworth’s life and work alongside a host of other famous British artists, such as LS Lowry, Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park makes up the final third of the “Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle” – alongside The Hepworth and Henry Moore, making our patch one of the best places in the world to come and appreciate sculpture.
The Park is nestled within 500 acres of fields, hills, woodlands, lakes and formal gardens to create its stunning setting. Visitors can explore several changing exhibitions out in the open air, as well as enjoying special talks and events held throughout the year, which makes the YSP one of the top cultural attractions in the UK.
So, if you need to brush up on your art history, it’s time to don your black polo-neck and consider making Leeds your go-to destination.
Carnivals of Culture
Leeds West Indian Carnival – Leeds is well-known for its diverse and proud cultural heritage, so it would be a crime to not include the iconic Leeds West Indian Carnival.
The celebration is Europe’s longest running authentic Caribbean carnival parade – the first to feature all three essential elements of Caribbean Carnival, costumes, music and a masquerade procession.
Held on the last Monday of August, you can expect gorgeous costumes, authentic and infectious music and mouth-watering food – this celebration of Caribbean Culture is dripping with sunshine, which is very much welcomed in oft-rainy Yorkshire.
Leeds St Patrick’s Day Parade – Another community that is loud and proud in our city are the Leeds Irish. On St Patrick’s Day, Millennium Square is filled with authentic music, dancers and food that celebrates the joyous Emerald Isle in an eye-catching affair that has been going strong since 1999.
Bands, Irish dance troupes, vintage cars, buses and community floats take to the streets in an outpouring of colour and song, in what is one of the happiest weekends in the city’s calendar.
Expect to come away nursing a Guinness with a fresh clover pinned to your lapel – it would be rude not to.
Leeds has a selection of theatres and revered schools of dance for purveyors to choose from, offering a wide selection of genres and artistic stock.
From Leeds City Varieties, hidden down cobbles streets at the heart of the city to the Grand (by name and by nature) Theatre and Opera House which have showcased Opera North and the Northern Ballet, as well as a huge list of touring companies.
The Carriageworks and West Yorkshire Playhouse are also hubs when it comes to forward-thinking theatre and dramatics, often way ahead of the curve.
With these greats under its belt, Leeds has played host to West End greats and undiscovered gems. From comedies, tragedies, musicals and even the avant-garde, the city is the perfect base to tread the boards – or watch the boards get trodden, at least.
With so much on the books already and a catalogue of rich, cultural events to look forward to with anticipation, Leeds is a city that is unabashedly proud of its heritage and actively pushes itself to celebrate it.
After all, what is a city without its people?