Art for art’s sake: Putting Leeds centre stage

Threads, performed by South Asian Arts UK in the Universitys Clothworkers Court.
Threads, performed by South Asian Arts UK in the Universitys Clothworkers Court.
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From Opera North to Northern Ballet and a host of renowned theatre companies, the burgeoning arts scene in Leeds has placed the city at the forefront of the nation’s cultural revolution.

And as Leeds prepares its bid to become the European City of Culture in 2023, a new institute has been unveiled to promote its world-famous arts sector.

A Midsummer Nights Dreaming Under the Southern Bough, performed by Shanghai Theatre Academy and stage@leeds theatre company at the University of Leeds.

A Midsummer Nights Dreaming Under the Southern Bough, performed by Shanghai Theatre Academy and stage@leeds theatre company at the University of Leeds.

The venture by the University of Leeds aims to increase participation in the arts, create more opportunities for students, and support pioneering research collaborations.

Setting out the vision, vice-chancellor Sir Alan Langlands said: “Put simply, we want to engage with the wider community, including the one on our immediate doorstep, to increase knowledge and enrich people’s lives.

“The Cultural Institute will enhance the university’s position as a beacon for creative innovation, helping to make Leeds an even more exciting and vibrant place in which to live, work and learn.”

The city is already home to a number of leading creative and cultural organisations, while annual events such as Leeds West Indian Carnival, Light Night and Leeds International Film Festival draw crowds from across the country.

The hope is that the Cultural Institute will work with them to make certain the city’s place as one of the UK’s leading centres for the creative and cultural industries.

Together they represent the fastest expanding sector of the economy, generating £84bn in the UK in 2015.

Sir Alan also emphasised the potential benefits of research-intensive universities partnering with this sector to address challenges facing society, including those relating to health and wellbeing.

“We are determined that, wherever possible, our research should deliver benefits to society and the economy and have a profound impact on and relevance to people’s lives,” he said.

“The challenges we face have cultural dimensions and solutions – we can’t rely on science alone, every part of the university has to pull together to tackle issues of global concern.”

Sir Alan cited the example of a new project to help in the rehabilitation of stroke survivors by bringing together experts in performance with partners in medicine, robotics, engineering and computing.

Research by Yorkshire Dance and the University’s School of Biomedical Sciences will also investigate the potential benefits of contemporary dance in preventing falls in older adults.

During a launch yesterday, guests were treated to a wide selection of performances encompassing opera, drama, dance, poetry, music and film. Speakers included Sharon Watson, artistic director of Phoenix Dance Theatre and chairwoman of Leeds’s City of Culture bid.

Arts Council England chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette said: “I applaud the leadership that universities such as Leeds are taking in promoting their relationships with the creative and cultural sector to enrich the lives and life chances of everyone – particularly young people.”

The institute will have a role in volunteering and placements for students, providing learning experiences, and offering inspiration for their own research and creative projects.