Writing by Lucia Messent
Photography by Holly Phillips (@hpphotographyyyy)
Rishi Sunak has been perfectly transparent about his readiness to abandon the arts. He makes casual remarks about ‘retraining’ our dancers and musicians. His policies towards venue closure are based not on preserving culture, but on economics. And his ‘recovery funds’ —cursory offerings from a government whose interests clearly lie elsewhere —remain shockingly insufficient.
But our theaters, cinemas and venues show no sign of slowing down. Leeds in, particular, has displayed a remarkable readiness to adapt to new measures. Despite 10pm curfews and negligent governments, our cultural scene has blossomed. From outdoor cinema to daytime DJ sets, we’ve found innovate new ways to create and consume. To prove this, and to put up a carefully chosen finger to Sunak and his allies, I’ve put together some of the exciting developments which have been taking place across the city.
Resisting the generalized pressure to move online at all costs, Leeds Art Gallery is continuing to hold socially distanced events. The local community can safely enjoy an array of exhibitions: from sculpture (Woodwork: A Family Tree of Sculpture, running until October 31st), to works about the natural world (Natural Encounters, 9th October – 20th February). The gallery is even launching a new initiative, ‘Young Collective, ' which will include a series of monthly meet-ups aimed at engaging those aged 14-21.
Leeds City Council has launched a new campaign, Our Spaces, to help improve the city’s appearance. This came after a consultation showed residents want to take pride in their surroundings. Sign writer Kieran Hadley and artist and designer Bobbi Rae have started by painting nine media boxes with bold slogans across the city center. The team behind the project said it showed Leeds had the ability to take pride in its identities and cultures.
Leeds Uni Tickets (our student-led Facebook page) has become a hive of creativity. Aspiring artists have been using the free time generated by online learning to market a diverse range of handmade crafts, from art prints of Leeds to crocheted tops and sustainable handbags. What’s heartwarming to see is how much support —how many likes, shares and encouraging comments — each artist receives. The platform has become its own private community: a place for sharing and celebrating student creations.
On October 14th, Hyde Park Book Club hosted their first socially distanced gig, Yusef Yellow. Following the success of this, they have released a schedule of upcoming events, kicking off with a comedy night hosted by Freddy Quine (October 28th). They will be continuing to hold concerts, including HPJC Presents: Theliusm, on November 5th, and a performance by Johhny Woolnough on 6th November. These new and exciting developments can be seen echoing in venues across the city. Brudenell Social Club, for instance, has scheduled its own run of gigs, starting with Jazzland Sessions (29th-30th October). For those who prefer poetry, the venue will be holding a spoken word event —The Days I Feel Quiet, then Loud —on November 1st.
Neither coronavirus, nor the fact they are currently closed for reservations, can prevent Hyde Park Picture House from holding their events. The cinema has teamed up with City Varieties Music Hall to present us with a mix of new releases and old-time favorites. Head to their website and you can book to see classics such as Memories of Murder (29th October), new-releases like Saint Maud (30th October – 5th November) or more politically engaged films including White Riot (31st October).
These developments reveal the resilience and commitment of those involved in the Leeds cultural scene. Our venues and art organizations are not only carrying on but adapting, broadening the scope of their events to make them even more diverse and exciting than ever before.