Why Bradford will needs its artists more than ever after the pandemic

Making sure Bradford has a strong and vibrant art and creative sector when it emerges from the pandemic will be vital for the city's economic recovery, according to a senior council officer.

Bradford District Council set up a response grant scheme which has seen up to £1,000 handed out to 55 arts and cultural activities which could benefit local communities during the pandemic.

The project was put in place over just three weeks with money that would previously have been spent on events, making the city among the first in the country to set up such a grant scheme for the arts.

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Bradford is bidding to be named UK Capital of Culture in 2025 and the Labour-run council wanted to make sure its diverse mixture of artists were in a position to tell the city's stories when it emerges from lockdown.

One of the images taken by young people in Bradford as part of the 'through our lens' project set up by Carolyn Mendelsohn. Image by Harry Berry.One of the images taken by young people in Bradford as part of the 'through our lens' project set up by Carolyn Mendelsohn. Image by Harry Berry.
One of the images taken by young people in Bradford as part of the 'through our lens' project set up by Carolyn Mendelsohn. Image by Harry Berry. | other
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Nicola Greenan, the council's Principal Officer for Cultural Partnerships, said its leadership wanted to change the established narrative about Bradford and "highlight the incredible assets that we've got".

"When Covid hit everyone was talking about what are the priorities and what do we need to do," she says.

"Because culture is such a priority for the local authority, it was a case of 'this is integral to us and integral to our recovery'.

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"If we want to come out of this strong, we need to make sure that we've got an ecology and an ecosystem of strong artists and a creative economy on the other side because we're going to need it on the other side.

"We need to tell people's stories, we need people to feel engaged, they need to feel proud, to feel like there's something to look forward to, an opportunity to discuss and have dialogue. It is absolutely integral."

Among those to benefit from the fund are local photographer and artist Carolyn Mendelsohn, whose work for the year including a big national exhibition had "evaporated" due to the pandemic

She came up with the idea of getting local teenagers, many of whom have "had their lives turned upside down", to document their lives in lockdown through photography.

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"I felt that there was nowhere for these young people to process that and nobody seems to be hearing or seeing their experiences," she says.

With the help of the grant, she set up an online group where she could help young people develop their photographic skills, with the end results potentially being exhibited online and in a physical gallery.

More than 20 young people are active in the group, which runs every Tuesday, and Ms Mendelsohn works on the project seven days a week.

"They have very successful, world-renowned artists or photographers, commenting on their work, which is just fantastic.

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"And the response that I've had is that this is just one of the most poignant and interesting photographic responses to the COVID-19 situation, from a lot of people.

"The fact that Bradford council has created this fund is really forward-thinking. It has helped me hugely at the beginning of lockdown and enabled me to think about applying for other things."

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