Revealed: Panel who will head up Leeds’ bid for European Capital of Culture

The panel of cultural heavy-weights who will kickstart Leeds’s bid for European Capital of Culture 2023 has been announced today.

Made up of a diverse mix of figures from the local arts, culture, business, education and political sectors, the 14-strong team will now form the steering panel to lead the city’s bid to join the premier league of global cultural hotspots.

They were appointed following a city-wide call to action which saw hundreds apply to be involved and will now be responsible for deciding how to showcase the very best of Leeds to the judges. 

Chairing the panel is Sharon Watson, artistic director of the city’s renowned Phoenix Theatre.

She is also a trustee of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, The Place, West Yorkshire Playhouse, and an artistic advisor for Central School of Ballet and Leeds Inspired.

She said: “It’s a huge honour to be chairing the steering group and to be surrounded by so many talented and knowledgeable people as we take our first steps on the road to 2023.

“With the experience and love for the city and its culture that we have gathered here, I’m sure together we have the drive and the ambition to create a bid that will be a great representation of Leeds.

“It’s our intention to ensure this is a bid that belongs to the people of Leeds and which properly communicates how vibrant and diverse our different communities and cultural institutions are.

“Leeds is a city with so much to be proud of and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us all to show that to the world.”

The steering group held its inaugural meeting today at Chapel FM in Seacroft - a radio station and community facility based at the former Seacroft Methodist Chapel which dates back to 1874.

Leader of Leeds City Council, Coun Judith Blake, who joins Sharon on the panel, said: “It’s inspiring to see the steering group come together for the first time and it brings home just how rich and varied our city’s cultural offering really is.

“In many ways the venue of our first meeting encapsulates exactly what we want Leeds’s bid to be all about.

“Our key ambition is for the bid to be truly inclusive, focusing on the people living in our communities so they genuinely feel it represents everything they love about their city.

“Only by capturing that pride and community spirit that can we ensure that the picture of Leeds we paint for the judges reflects what makes the city such a fantastic place to live, work and visit.”

The panel also includes the chief executive of West Yorkshire Playhouse, James Brining, director of PR agency Anita Morris and Geoffrey Worsdale, director of the Henry Moore Foundation.

They are among those also heading up some of the subgroups which will work with the main steering group to agree the vision, focus and themes of the bid.

Cities in the two host countries, UK and Hungary, will be in competition for the title in 2023, during which the winning city will host a range of cultural events with a strong European theme.

The last UK cities to hold the title in the UK were Liverpool in 2008 and Glasgow in 1990- campaigns that kick-started extensive regeneration and a boom in the culture and creative sectors within each city.

The Leeds panel will now draw up an official expression of interest which must be submitted near the end of 2016, with the final bid submitted by December 2017.

For more information of the European Capital of Culture 2023 bid, visit