In the 2020s, West Yorkshire is again looking for inspiration from the Medici era to drive forward our own renaissance. Culture should be at the core of our plans to build a strong, inclusive economy, one that will benefit not just West Yorkshire but the whole of the North and beyond. We’re living through a unique moment in our history.
A moment that demands bold leadership and decisive action if we are to flourish as individuals, regions and nations in the face of Covid and the cost-of-living crisis.
A moment to test the theory that if you invest in culture and the creative industries, you can make a success of local growth and levelling up. A moment to prove that culture benefits everyone, bringing jobs and skills, health and happiness from early years to old age.
In our part of the North, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to blaze a trail when it comes to culture and the creative sector.
The evidence, historically and internationally, clearly shows that local success comes from having a rich array of raw ingredients.
Those include strong civic institutions which can serve as an anchor for action; strong social capital built on relationships, trust and pride in place; and strong cultural capital with vibrant social infrastructure – from football clubs to theatres, cinemas to parks, music venues to libraries.
These elements are central to the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, published earlier this year.
And they should be central to any Government’s ambitions to rebalance our nation.
These same raw ingredients are ones in which West Yorkshire has a rich heritage and has been investing heavily over recent years. As a result, the region now sits on the cusp of an economic and cultural renaissance.
As a Mayor with three decades of experience as an actor and writer, with a passion for providing culture to all, and as Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Arts and one of the authors of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, we are now working in partnership to deliver this renaissance for the region and the nation.
Culture and creativity have long been central to West Yorkshire’s history, from the Brontës to J B Priestley, from David Hockney to Zayn Malik.
The coming years suggest an even more exciting future. Channel 4 has relocated to Leeds and is already having a positive impact on the local talent and production ecosystem.
The next three years in West Yorkshire will be a heady mix of yearlong festivals, from Leeds 2023 to Kirklees Year of Music to Years of Culture in Wakefield and Calderdale in 2024. This will culminate in Bradford as the UK’s new City of Culture in 2025.
Together, these celebrations will provide the spark for what should be a long-lived cultural and creative revolution in the region.
As we discussed at the Bradford Literature Festival last month, we know that the intersection of different cultures and disciplines offers the deepest wellspring of creativity, setting forth a virtuous circle of innovation and progress.
Culture is also a magnetic attractor, drawing in the talented people, the innovative businesses and the patient capital needed to make Medici magic.
But if culture is a magnet, it has two poles.
Just as a thriving cultural scene attracts talented creative people, the absence of such a scene repels them.
No-one wants to live in place where there is nothing to do after 6pm. West Yorkshire still has its share of cultural cold spots in need of investment.
Working in partnership, we have grand plans and ambitions for our region.
A generation ago, Atlanta was not known for its film industry. Today, it has more sets and produces more films than Hollywood.
Tax breaks were a crucial to Atlanta’s success story and have now more than paid for themselves.
There may be lessons here for West Yorkshire.
Of course, these are potentially large fiscal steps at a time of tight budgets. But if ever there was a time for thinking big and bold, it is now.
We are ready to seize this unique moment, alongside partners and institutions, providing the creative crucible necessary to spark a 21 st century renaissance.
We want to make life more prosperous, meaningful and enjoyable for all of the 2.3 million people who call West Yorkshire ‘home’.
- A joint column by the Mayor of West Yorkshire and the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of the Arts.