Leeds 2023 Artistic Projects - Leeds West Indian Carnival


The brief

A bid for European Capital of Culture is a very long game with few major milestones along the way. The team needed to create content and opportunities to talk to people about something that seems so far in the future that many people wouldn’t concern themselves with it yet. We needed opportunities to bring people together, slowly engage them in something that could one day change their life, give them their big break or simply make them proud of where they live and who they are.

Many titles like this one come under intense scrutiny and criticism for shipping in new artists and big names and not working with what is already there. We wanted to learn from their mistakes and start as we mean to go on, adding to and enhancing what most people didn’t even know we already had and reintroducing the city to itself.

Leeds 2023 Artistic Projects - Transform 17
Leeds 2023 Artistic Projects - David Shearing's Incredible Things

The story

To build on what exists you must first find it. I led an extensive research and engagement project to uncover what was already planned for the two years that would cover the bid period. From desk research and open calls to workshops and many coffees in cafes, I built up a detailed timeline of who was doing what, when. Some projects didn’t need much support, just a platform to tell their story, others were brilliant but with a little enhancement could be truly outstanding and some were at the start of a journey tentatively dipping a toe in the cultural waters.

Working with a Steering Group I curated a programme of 12 projects who received additional support from the Leeds 2023 project team to develop international connections, strengthen relationships with communities across Leeds, set up R&D projects now that could be leading the way in 2023 and enable the creators, artists, designers and producers of the city to dream bigger, stand taller and reach further.

The programme of curated projects included: Bold, innovative and provocative theatre festival Transform, who we helped to secure international performers and artists for the first time; Leeds West Indian Carnival, Europe’s oldest carnival whose half century we marked by hosting world renowned SOCA artist, Edwin Yearwood, who headlined the sell-out King & Queen Show and welcomed carnival troupes from across the globe; The procurement of a bright yellow shipping container stocked with toys and technology travelling the communities of Leeds under the watchful and ever-playful gaze of Playful Anywhere; A research and development project exploring what Incredible Things Leeds could experience and create if it really put it mind to it – poetry slams in KFC, cocktails in care homes, rooftop supper clubs and soup kitchens in coffee shops; A series of portraits following the life and culture of Polish immigrants in Leeds, a city which has more than 4,000 Polish settlers with no visible impact on cultural life in the city centre, this project would create large scale installations placing hidden cultures where they cannot be missed.

This curated programme of artistic projects not only gave Leeds 2023 moments and milestones along the journey to develop its bid, but it also gave Leeds a taste of what could lie six short years ahead and reminded both local people and the media why Leeds is already a capital of European culture in its many and varied forms.


Leeds 2023 Artistic Projects
Main Image: Courtesy of Leeds West Indian Carnival
Left Image: Rash Dash production of Darkest Corners part of Transform 17
Right image: David Shearing's Incredible Things