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Leeds 2023, the programme: awakening, playing, dreaming

By Press release October 28, 2022
Leeds 2023 Leeds 2023

Leeds 2023 Year of Culture: An epic programme of bold spectacle and hidden stories will awaken the world to Leeds’ unique creativity.

Work from the city’s internationally acclaimed artists and cultural organisations, alongside the diverse creativity brimming in all 33 Leeds wards, will feature in a three-part epic programme designed to ‘let culture loose’ across the whole city.  

The year-long cultural event is a first for Leeds. Punctuated by 12 major signature projects - original works produced by Leeds 2023 - the programme will include hundreds of events and activities, many of them developed in partnership with local, national and international partners. Collaborations have played an important part in the development of the programme showcasing the rich, cultural life of the city, its people and its global connections. 

A flavour of what is to come was revealed at an event today, hosted by broadcaster and Chair of Leeds 2023, Gabby Logan MBE alongside Creative Director and CEO Kully Thiarai. Hundreds of people from Leeds’ communities, cultural organisations, artists, business, educational and public sector organisations gathered at LEEDS 2023’s new Brewery Wharf headquarters in Leeds, as elements of the programme were announced. 

Three seasons will shape the year, with ‘awakening’ influencing Part One (January to April), ‘playing’ the focus of Part Two (May to August), and ‘dreaming’ a forward-looking end to the year (September to December). The programme will include:- 

Signature Projects: major new commissions, original works. 

‘The Awakening’, 7th January 2023: A spectacular opening event at Headingley Stadium, co-directed by Kully Thiarai and Alan Lane, will celebrate Leeds’ past, present and future in a collision of Leeds’ best and brightest talent including Corinne Bailey-Rae, Simon Armitage and Graft. Tickets will be free in exchange for people creating a piece of art and submitting it to a ticket ballot. The ballot is now open and closes on 25th November. 
Smeaton300: A creative events programme developed by Foxglove, inspired by John Smeaton, the Leeds-born, world-changing Civil Engineer who produced work for the public good. Smeaton300 will include an awe-inspiring mobile observatory designed by Heather Peak and Ivan Morison. An East Leeds Project and LEEDS 2023 co-production, the observatory will tour the city from June to December 2023.
My Leeds 2023: A major community-led project, taking place in all 33 wards of the city, co-created by hundreds of people and a new commission from artist Keith Khan. Two years in development, My Leeds 2023 will culminate in August 2023. 
‘Hibiscus Rising’, a new sculpture by artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, commissioned by LEEDS 2023 in partnership with the David Oluwale Memorial Association, will be installed next to the new Oluwale footbridge on Meadow Lane in October 2023 
All That Lives: Leeds’ artist Ellie Harrison, in collaboration with Mexican artists Zion Art Studio, will lead a nine-day creative celebration of life and death that reimagines Day of the Dead with the people of Yorkshire. November 2023. 
Projects led by partners, new for Leeds 2023


If you could make a condiment of Leeds and bottle it, ‘Leeds Sauce’ would be the outcome. Created for Compass Festival, this is Popeye Collective's celebration of the city’s food culture, the history of Leeds, its people, local food experts, chefs and farmers. Launching in November 2022. 
Leeds Playhouse will be taken over by older people in an imaginative new mass-participation project, ‘1001 Stories’, led by The Performance Ensemble. ‘1001 Stories’ will put the voices, histories and stories of older people centre-stage by gathering 1001 stories from those aged 60 and over and creating new artistic work based on these stories. April 2023. 


Among the many projects schools can get involved in is Art Fund’s The Great Escape, a new major UK-wide creative participatory project. Young people in Leeds’ schools will create artworks inspired by animals depicted in Leeds Museum & Galleries’ collection, bringing them to life and imagining a hopeful habitat of the future. Learners will develop a deeper awareness of biodiversity and ecology through the project, using lesson resources created by LEEDS 2023 and Leeds Museums & Galleries. April 2023. 
BBC Contains Strong Language comes to Leeds in collaboration with the Howard Assembly Room. As part of this national event, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage will gather poets from around the world in Leeds, a city that speaks more than 170 languages. September 2023. 


‘EUNIC in Short' will see the European Union National Institutes for Culture film festival take place in Leeds, the first city outside of London to host the film festival. April 2023. 
A sound walk in music through the centre of Leeds, ‘As You Are’ has been composed by South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, for the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North and guest musicians. April 2023. 

LEEDS 2023 in schools

All children and young people of school age in Leeds will have the chance to take part in the Year of Culture. LEEDS 2023’s creative learning programme will feature free activities for learners in all key stages, including classroom resources, facilitated workshops, participatory activities, and opportunities for learning outside the classroom. With links to the curriculum, the programme will support teaching across a variety of subject areas and help learners develop their creativity. 

Leeds 2023 is the city’s response to the cancellation in 2017 of the UK's participation in the European Capital of Culture competition. The city’s overwhelming reaction was to “do it anyway” and Leeds Culture Trust has enjoyed unprecedented cross-sector backing of business, educational institutions, public and private sector funders. Channel 4, Burberry and commercial property company, Bruntwood have been announced as partners, bringing total investment secured for LEEDS 2023 to almost £17million.  

Part One, the ‘awakening’ season programme (January to April) will be announced in December. 


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