Areas of Focus

Our conversations have highlighted the differences across the city, both good and bad, and shown that there is a need for flexible and scalable solutions rather than one size fits all.

A lot can change in thirteen years and the strategy needs to have the freedom to respond and adapt to those changes, remaining relevant and effective.

Backed by the values, aims and objectives the strategy will have five initial areas of focus for the first three years supported by a Delivery Plan. These areas will be reviewed throughout to ensure that they are still relevant, and that the work to date is achieving against the aims and objectives of the strategy.

The delivery of this strategy is a shared responsibility. The gold standard for delivery is that culture will be woven into the strategies and action plans of every council department, every school, every business, every university and college and every organisation in Leeds.

“To be an artist is to believe in life”

Henry Moore, Sculptor, Leeds College of Art alumnus

A City of Creators

If we believe that a city cannot be sustainable without a resilient and varied cultural offer, and that offer cannot exist without the architects of it, then we must enable the conditions for the creators of culture to not only exist here, but to flourish here.

Leeds has long been a city where culture is made, a city in which artists, makers, creators and innovators have found the space and creativity to break boundaries. Whether through our culture of entrepreneurialism in our factories, mills and now our digital co-working spaces, in theatres, galleries, and studios or through our culture of community, volunteering and belonging.

Organisations such as Duke Studios, East Street Arts and FutureLabs are holding space for individual artists, designers, illustrators and producers, helping their creativity and businesses to thrive.

The creative and cultural industries have been valued at £84.1bn. They account for 5.2% of the UK economy and are its fastest growing sector. They now account for 1 in 18 of all jobs.  Meaning that the individual life chances of one or two children in every Leeds classroom – from Horsforth to East Ardsley, Guiseley to Ledsham – is inextricably linked to the strength of the cultural and creative sector in Leeds. We not only need to attract and welcome the world’s creative and cultural greats but to also nurture and retain our own.

We must acknowledge and respect those who create our culture, paying them fairly and equally. Leeds educates and trains a very large number of artists, possibly more than any other city, and that isn’t counting the thousands of people across our communities who would not consider themselves to be artists, but nevertheless are creating our culture, from those running cinema nights and book clubs, to community galas and festivals.

We have to find a scalable solution that provides support throughout the creative journey and can accommodate those with training, expertise, vision and artistic excellence, alongside those who have no formal training or connections and nothing more than a grand plan to make their corner of the city the best place to live by 2030.

The city’s DIY scene, independent spirit, and intertwined network of educators and employers provides one of the best incubators for artists and makers in the country, however we have been less successful in creating the conditions for a life-long cultural career. The glass ceiling sees many of our greatest talents build a life here and a portfolio elsewhere, and our understanding of what happens to our graduates is currently limited.

We must overcome any outdated view that culture is made by and for the elite, and become a city that is unafraid to champion art, culture and community. Our unapologetic appreciation for art and culture will set Leeds apart as the city where international artists, directors, makers and creators come to collaborate, marking us out as a playground for the riot of creativity, provocation and innovation that makes our culture distinctive.

In order to become A City of Creators, Leeds will:

  • Create the conditions for every person living in the city to have the capacity to create and play an active role in the cultural life of Leeds, should they choose it. 
  • Set a baseline of the economic impact of the cultural and creative Industries and develop actions to increase it.
  • Ensure that everyone working within the cultural and creative sector can be paid a living wage.
  • Have a clear yet flexible and scalable model for how artists, creators and makers whatever their background can be supported at every stage of their development.
  • Champion the importance of arts and culture throughout the education curriculum through proactive dialogue with head teachers.


“You can’t just throw people together and expect it to work. There will be trouble. People don’t understand each other. They don’t just trust each other from the off. You have to do something to bring people together, instead of creating ghettos. You can’t ask people to change who they are and what they believe, but they live in this city together and culture can help them to do that.”

A conversation on culture and identity with Middleton Dad’s Group

A Place of Many Destinations

We are a city of many identities yet the story of our city centre is the only one we tell. We struggle with the idea of having many identities as opposed to one unified and easy to brand stamp of who are, often searching for our single USP in a diverse economy, a diverse city, with diverse communities, beliefs, customs and lifestyles.

We know the city centre is growing and as it expands out into the communities that surround it we have both a challenge and an opportunity. The expansion of the city centre creates space for a bold proposition for the city’s cultural portfolio, reimagining and redeveloping the unique assets already in place. However, we cannot simply pick up the barriers and move them two miles further out. We must instead turn to face our communities, meet them, connect to them, welcome them and include their many identities as part the city’s story.

We know that there is disparity in how the city is experienced by its different communities. The city centre borders Hunslet, Holbeck, Burmantofts, Little London, Sheepscar, Hyde Park, Burley, and Kirkstall and these communities are experiencing high levels of deprivation. However, in these areas accommodation comes at a lower price and has led to the creation of homes, studios and venues for artists, makers and creators in temporary and makeshift workshops and warehouses. Organisations such as Live Art Bistro, Music and Arts Partnership, The Works, Left Bank, Slung Low, Union 105 and Chapel FM are often working with the most vulnerable in our society whilst having the flexibility and freedom to create some of the most contemporary and internationally connected work in the city.

We must leave space for communities to create their own sense of place and identity, which reflects their unique history and heritage. We must become comfortable with the idea that Leeds, like all great cities, does not have one story to tell, we are multi-faceted, diverse and messy, and should seek to unite our communities rather than unify them. To understand, share, and celebrate difference rather than try to eradicate it.

Whilst we make plans to create 70,000 new homes by 2033, we have made little provision yet for how these new communities will communicate with each other, where they will meet, and what they might need to ensure a high quality of life. Cultural spaces can be a park, allotment or a library, market square or community arts centre and will be different for each community in the city, all coming together to create a rich, intriguing and varied cultural offer for Leeds. The recent consultation on the South Bank has shown a strong appetite that cultural planning should be integral to the development of this new community, but it must reflect the cultures of its neighbours in Hunslet and Holbeck for it to be truly sustainable.

For culture to happen there must be places for it to be created and shared. Leeds West Indian Carnival can only take to the streets in August because the Leeds West Indian Centre and Carnival House double up as workshops for costume design the year round. Our theatres and galleries can only fill their walls and stages if there is somewhere to create that work.

The city has a plethora of theatres, galleries, museums, churches, village halls, schools, libraries, studios, cinemas and community centres, spanning its geography from Adel to Pudsey.  Not always used to their maximum potential, the remit of these spaces is too narrowly defined. It is not the norm for our bandstands and village halls to be the scene of world class theatre or art exhibitions. Our parks are not the best outdoor sculpture experiences in Europe.  With some notable exceptions, our public art is largely Victorian – we have no iconic or unique pieces of art attracting crowds of international visitors eager to share our story, making Leeds stand out from the crowd.

We are fortunate in Leeds that we have space. As one of the fastest growing and most diverse cities in the UK with a community of artists and venues, Leeds could seize this moment to provide a welcoming, globally connected and sustainable alternative. To do so we must open our mind to the potential of our existing spaces, work with our communities to use our assets to nurture the everyday creativity that leads to world class events and festivals, and reimagine our land and buildings as multi-faceted canvases and stages for creative expression.

The city has a responsibility to develop and grow but it must also have an obligation to do so sustainably and with respect, compassion, and consideration for what already exists.

In order to become A Place of Many Destinations, Leeds will:

  • Plan for the public realm of Leeds to be its greatest cultural asset by 2030.
  • Build on the legacy of our parks and waterways to create a new international standard which embeds culture in our streets, shopping centres, parks and urban spaces.
  • Protect the creative spaces that already exist as well as creating new spaces and venues.
  • Balance the need for income and commercial return with the need to provide affordable work space, meetings venues and community spaces for vital cultural activities to take place.
  • Ensure that every new estate, every school, and every development, works towards creating distinctive places that build a greater quality of life for everyone in the city
  • Ensure that our cultural venues will be generous with the spaces at their disposal, opening them up for community groups, rehearsal space, business and civic life.
  • Connect from the city centre towards the communities that immediately surround the more affluent and thriving centre, placing greater emphasis on their identities and cultures.


“Leeds is a city of merchants that does little for its people.”

William Wilberforce, English Politician, Leader of the movement against slavery

A Connected City with a ‘Yes’ Mentality

The quote is historical but for some of the people we spoke to the sentiment still stands. Our people are our strength. Their ideas, passion, creativity and all out pride for where they live are what make us collectively Leeds, but they have sometimes been forgotten in favour of, shopping centres, economic growth, housing and infrastructure, important as those things are. Our transport takes us to and from the city centre, not between communities.

Leeds should be greater than the sum of its not insignificant parts, yet in some cases people identified more with a collection of streets that go by the name of ‘The Garnetts’ or ‘The Methleys’ than they do with ‘Leeds’. Our culture is created by our people in a way that only we can, in spaces only we have, so we have to make a conscious choice to open the city and its networks up and make it easier for people to create its cultures building a meaningful shared identity, without becoming restrictive and prescribed.

In doing so, we will meet silos and empires with a reckless generosity, sharing our assets, knowledge, expertise and networks. We will create an environment of trust where people of all ages and abilities have an active participation in deciding what forms our cultural life will take. We will acknowledge where there are tensions and face into them rather than shying away.

Agenda 21 for Culture makes a bold statement that cultural diversity is as important for humankind as biodiversity is for nature and the environment.  Culture must be played out at every turn in public spaces, education institutions, offices and our homes.

The next thirteen years will see an inevitable and irrevocable change in our city. Leeds faces ongoing austerity with public sector budgets expected to weather further cuts over the next few years.

We need to be bold and to challenge each other. If you are working in the creative sector in Leeds it should be the normal expectation that you will actively participate in all its forms not just those related to your day job. There will be an expectation that you are part of something that is bigger, and will collaborate with it. If you have an opportunity, you will share it. If the city has a challenge, we expect you to share that too. Your networks need to be diverse and multi-faceted, your contacts and facilities shared and your minds open.

In return Leeds will enable creative thinking, ambitious ideas, big visions, grand plans and interventions. We will not forget the small things in between the cracks and the tiny actions that make a big difference. We will talk to our communities, our artists and designers more and bring them into the decision making process. In short we will say, yes.

In order to become A Connected City with a ‘Yes’ Mentality, Leeds will:

  • Promote collaboration regardless of art form, size, scale or interest ensuring that the distinctiveness of Leeds cultural life is in the collision of its diverse cultures.
  • Trust its people to map, plan and create their own futures, reducing dependency and the desire for permission.
  • Have a 24 hour cultural life bringing the city to life morning, noon and night supported by transport facilities, hospitality and safe environments which invite people to dwell.
  • Be open to all communities of the world absorbing artists, thinkers and creators, making the city a breeding ground for sustainable development.


“Leeds talks about ambition but it has become complacent, settling for good where outstanding is within reach. To attract the best talent, entice inward investment, build tourism and gain international repute our arts and cultural offer needs to be game changing, breath-taking and on a grand scale.”

A conversation with Leeds Property Forum on what culture can do for Leeds

A Leading International Capital of Culture

Our city is well placed to step up and play an active role in a global community. Leeds has given many things to the world from the first ever moving image by Louis le Prince shot in Roundhay to sporting heroes, architects and musicians that have carried our name around the globe and the artists and sculptors that created a movement lasting for centuries, and still prevails today.

However our successes are not well known, aside from Leeds Museum and Leeds Art Gallery, none of our largest cultural organisations display the word ‘Leeds’ in their name.  Our organisations don't always have the resilience or support to fulfil their potential on a global stage.

We host 7,300 international students in Leeds every year and more than 19% of our population is from migrant communities, set to grow further. Over the last century we have become a City of Sanctuary absorbing trauma from Europe and further afield, not just to contribute to our economy and labour market but we have also created space for new cultures to influence our way of life, our thinking and the way we shape our city and ourselves.

We invest in the cultures of the city because we know that the returns are far greater. Our cultural product has the potential to be one of our greatest exports, and propositions for inward investment.

Our economy, like our people, is diverse with no single point of distinctiveness; our people experience extremes of poverty and wealth; there are clear divides as evidenced in the EU Referendum. Our city centre thrives whilst some of our communities miss out on its benefits. Our city is diverse in gender, faith, ethnicity, class, age, and ability often finding itself middle of the road in national statistics. Our ‘average’ status hides the differences that exist within our borders but provides us with an opportunity to meaningfully respond to diversity and inclusion. Our work with Child Friendly Leeds, Adult Social Care for elderly people suffering with dementia, and the DIY disability arts scene in the city has proven that we can lead the way.

We are not in competition with our sister cities in the North; we provide an opportunity for them and them for us. However our voice in these conversations has been quiet and when it has spoken, it has not always been fully reflective of what makes Leeds distinctive – the culture of the city, the quality of life it affords, the contribution to the economy it gives, the openness to immigration created by the embracing of cultures which in turns creates a buoyant and skilled labour market. These things have not been reflected in our regional, national and international narrative.

In the political turmoil of 2017 where experts predict Brexit could take a decade to unfold, England and Scotland could separate, a wave of new elections will take place across Europe, the crisis in Syria seems to have no end in sight and global power is in flux, cities have the opportunity to do what seems to escape our nation states – unite fractures across the world, create room for a new kind of shared democracy and make global networks feel local and relevant.

It is time for Leeds to look beyond its borders and be generous with the opportunities at its disposal. We must open our city up and invite the world to join us here.

In order to become An International Capital of Culture, Leeds will:

  • Bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.
  • Not retreat from the international community and instead will be among the first to test, adapt, challenge and adopt principles and policies debated and developed by a global community, becoming an important laboratory for Europe regardless of the country’s arrangements with the European Union.
  • View migration as a virtue rather than an issue, reinforcing its status as a City of Sanctuary, supporting and nurturing new communities to share their cultures with us.
  • Build on current research mapping of the visitor economy to inform proposals to increase international audiences to the city specifically for its culture and art.
  • Be recognised as a city leading the way and creating best practice for diversity and inclusion, utilising the challenges of a diverse and divided population to cross boundaries and barriers, bringing the world closer together.
  • Work with the Leeds City Region to provide a framework for investment in cultural tourism and the creative industries, and to maximise the role of culture to attract inward investment.


“Leeds has phenomenal storytellers, artists and creators and a flourishing tech and digital scene, these two things rarely collide. Where other cities are seeing artists bring provoking and challenging content together with the technology and innovation to reach new audiences and reimagine worlds, we keep ours very separate and in doing so miss an opportunity.”

A conversation with technology organisations as part of International Women’s Day 2015 on collaboration between culture and technology

A Fast-Paced City of Cultural Innovation

Leeds must prepare to not just take advantage of the future but to create it. The world around us is rapidly changing and we cannot tell what it will look and feel like in the future, how we will live our lives, what our reliance on technology will be and how this is integrated into our culture. In an industry that changes by the hour we must learn to respond quickly, reduce red tape and build pace, energy and dynamism into our ethos in order to stay ahead.

Our children will reinvent our world in ways we cannot predict, just as we have reinvented our parents’ worlds in ways that were once unthinkable and alien to them. We must become fleet of foot and with that comes the need to embrace risks and the willingness to fail fast, fail better and move on.

New and emergent technology brings new opportunities to create and explore worlds that were not within our grasp before, to connect with those close to us and those far away. Our future will be one of smart devices, connected cities and creative exploration where developing our own solutions is second nature.

Leeds has form in this field. Screen Yorkshire, managing one of the largest content funds in Europe is opening up access to film, television and animation and rolling out the region’s scenery for leading directors, producers and commissioners. Artists including Invisible Flock, Dave Lynch and Will Simpson are blurring the lines between science, technology and art. Organisations like Slung Low are moving into the creation of multi-platform productions, weaving imagined worlds into our built environment and bringing culture to our phones, tablets and laptops.

Our city is at the forefront of the Smart City movement having created Leeds Data Mill, the first public/private Open Data platform in the UK, releasing data to enable smart solutions to form and our city to become connected to a global community of analysts and developers. Services for culture, such as Leeds Art Crawl and Open Audience, have been developed with greater sharing of data, comes a greater opportunity to connect our communities to the city’s cultural offer and encourage them to reimagine it. Leeds Young Film Festival and Playful Anywhere are exploring how children and young people will use technology in the future, from Virtual and Augmented Reality to how our devices can connect to the world around us merging our on and offline lives.

Digitisation of services and the proliferation of technology have led to an increased sense of democracy with social media often cited as a revolution that connected people to their place; however this comes at a price. These new connected worlds can ironically become isolating and whilst joined to a global community of like-minded people they create insular bubbles which disconnect us from our differences and our immediate community, creating false realities. Culture is often notable by its absence in these artificial environments, stripping us of our identity, our connection to the place we live and to those around us, creating movements, provocations and protests that promote division over difference.

We cannot halt the advancement of technology and we cannot know where it will take us next, but we can embrace it, challenge it and mould it in our own image, using it to make positive connections, empower our people, bring us closer together, sell our story to the world and invite them to be among the architects of our life in Leeds.

In order to become A Fast-Paced City of Cultural Innovation, Leeds will:

  • Create new opportunities for culture and art to collaborate with technology and the digital world, opening up new service provision across health, social care and wellbeing.
  • Bring together creators, artists and makers to create new immersive experiences for a range of audiences that can take place throughout the city, across the North and internationally.
  • Invest in our children and young people not only offering them the opportunity to create new cultural services but providing solutions in platforms and formats that meet their needs.
  • Create the conditions necessary for artists, storytellers and producers to use technology throughout their work, creating multi-platform content which reaches international audience.
  • Bring together its cultural data to reach new audience and build a sustainable demand for culture and storytelling, creating smart ticketing solutions, inviting communities across the city to uncover cultures that would otherwise be hidden to them.


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