Statistics from the city’s nine council-run sites show 1,698,640 people came to see exhibitions last year, as Leeds takes steps to become to be recognised as one of the world’s main cultural hotbeds over the coming years.
The figures show an increase of 23 per cent since the previous year, and an astonishing 370 per cent increase on similar figures in 2004.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This wonderful news is a credit to the remarkable skill, boldness and creativity of everyone working at our museums and galleries.
“Their dedication has animated our historic sites and inspired a remarkable number of visitors of all ages from across Leeds and beyond.
“It is also testament to the very special place which culture and the arts have in Leeds and the city’s enduring enthusiasm for heritage, learning and discovery.
“Despite challenging national climate for local museums and galleries, Leeds is bucking the trend because we believe that these institutions are an important part of our city’s cultural landscape both now and in the future.”
Leeds City Council has the largest council-run collection of museums in the UK, including Temple Newsam, Lotherton, Kirkstall Abbey, Thwaite Watermill,
Abbey House Museum, Leeds Industrial Museum, Leeds City Museum and Leeds Art Gallery.
John Roles, Head of Leeds Museums and Galleries, said: “I think it means we are doing something right.
“We have had the investment to make the sites better visitor attractions. Museums often see themselves as about historic collections and buildings, but that is useless unless you have an audience. If you have stories about people – we want it to be appealing to families.”
He added that family events during the last summer holidays alone attracted more than 250,000 visitors.
Mr Roles, who has been head of the museums in the city since 2004, also mused on his time in the hot-seat. During that time, he saw visitors to Leeds museums grow from 359,000 per year, to almost 1.7 million – almost five times the number.
“We currently get more families and a more diverse run of visitors than we used to. We are lucky that there is a space like the Leeds City Museum, as this has the space for us to bring in exhibitions from outside.”
So what is good about more people going to museums?
“It gives people a sense of place and an understanding of where they are in the world – it also gives people a safe place to be. Museums are trusted by the public as somewhere they can go.
“Our biggest battle, often, is to get people through the doors. Quite often they come back again and again.
“I was talking to a young father the other day, and he said he and his daughter needed somewhere to do for 15 minutes while they waited for the mother. Three hours later, they had to be dragged away because they were enjoying the exhibits so much!
“Some people have an old-fashioned view that it’s just dusty things in large glass cases, but it is not like that anymore.”
The findings will be music to the ears of Leeds City Council, which continued to pursue improvements to enhance the city’s cultural offering, despite missing out on a European Capital of Culture bid.
The city had been in contention to become the 2023 European Capital of Culture before a shock decision last year from The European Commission, which said UK cities would not be allowed the title after Brexit.
Nevertheless, the Leeds 2023 programme is ploughing ahead with a £35m project aimed at getting Leeds recognised as one of the world’s great cultural centres over the next five years.
The last year also saw Leeds City Museum named the country’s most family-friendly attraction at the prestigious Kids in Museums Awards, with the site launching an exhibition exploring the stories of Michael Morpurgo, one of the nation’s most popular children’s authors.