Culture may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Leeds, but the city has a rich cultural pedigree that more than matches that of many a leading European City.
Creative Organisations making an impact on the global stage
We’re proud to have so much talent and creativity in the city, which is evident in the incredible performing arts organisations that have called Leeds their home, but are making an impact on the global stage. Organisations such as Opera North, Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre together have performed across Europe, the USA, Asia, South America and the Caribbean.
Every year Leeds’ many galleries and museums welcome thousands of international visitors, whether it be to see one of the most important collections of arms and armour in the world at the Royal Armouries, or world-class artists exhibiting at the Leeds Art Gallery or the Henry Moore Institute. And our magnificent venues such as the Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds Playhouse or the Town Hall welcome international touring musicians, actors, dancers and more throughout the year.
A calendar of international events
From film to music to sculpture, we’re lucky to host a range of internationally renowned events every year. 2021 will see the return of the 20th edition of the Leeds International Piano Competition, one of the world’s foremost music competitions. Since the competition began in 1963, The Leeds has attracted some of the world’s finest young pianists. The competition has now expanded to include rounds in London, Berlin, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul and New York.
Leeds West Indian Carnival is Europe’s longest running authentic Caribbean carnival parade and the first to feature all three essential elements of Caribbean Carnival, costumes, music and a masquerade procession. And closely linked to Carnival is the Black Music Festival, Europe’s biggest free open air concert.
A little known fact about Leeds is that the world’s first films were made in the city in 1888 by Louis le Prince. Building on this legacy, Leeds has become a leading centre for film culture, located in the wider region of Yorkshire, a major European filmmaking region. At the heart of this is the Leeds International Film Festival and the UK’s largest family film event, the Leeds Young Film Festival.
In recent years, a new eclectic mix of events and festivals, featuring artists from around the globe, have been added to the cultural calendar, including the Leeds International Festival and the Transform Festival.
With renowned sculptors, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Damien Hirst all having studied in the city, it’s not surprising that Leeds has a global reputation for sculpture. In 2019 Leeds’ Henry Moore Institute & the Leeds Art Gallery, working in partnership the Hepworth Wakefield and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, played host to the UK’s largest dedicated sculpture festival, Yorkshire Sculpture International. The partnership has ambitious plans to make Yorkshire the capital of sculpture in Europe.
The countdown to our international festival of culture has begun
Our dreams to become European Capital of Culture may be over but we still have exciting plans for our own international festival of culture, Leeds 2023. We're working with our partners in communities, businesses and in the cultural sector to welcome visitors from across the city and around the globe to experience the cultural diversity and vibrancy this city has to offer. Check out the case study below to find out more.
In 2017 Leeds was preparing its bid to become European Capital of Culture for 2023. However, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union meant that this was no longer possible. But this didn’t stop the city’s ambition to continue with an international festival of culture in 2023.
With wide-ranging support from organisations across the city, plans are continuing for a year-long programme of creative experiences which will be created with local, national and international artists.
Leeds 2023 will showcase creativity across all forms of culture - from dance to design, art to architecture, poetry to pop, sculpture to sport, grassroots community theatre to performances on our world class stages, Leeds 2023 will have something for everyone.
Visit leeds2023.co.uk to stay posted on the latest developments and announcements for this unforgettable year of culture.
Leeds West Indian Carnival
Leeds West Indian Carnival is one of the longest running Caribbean carnivals in Europe and the first to feature all three essential elements of Caribbean Carnival - costumes, music and a masquerade procession.
The Carnival’s origins date back to the mid-1960s when Arthur France, MBE, originally from St. Kitts and Nevis, came-up with the ambitious plan to create a carnival parade along the streets of Leeds as part of existing carnival celebrations which had started in 1966 at Leeds City College. Despite many thinking this wouldn’t be possible, in 1967, Leeds West Indian Carnival took to the streets for the first time.
Over the years Leeds West Indian Carnival has grown to become the second largest Caribbean style carnival in the UK, attracting over 100,000 people every year who flock to the city to see this spectacular display of colour, music and food. The popularity of the Carnival led to the creation of Leeds Reggae music festival in 1985, which ran alongside the Carnival. After 30 years of showcasing Reggae from around the world, the concert evolved to become the Black Music Festival, Europe’s largest free-open air concert.
Leeds West indian
Northern Ballet began life in 1969, when it was created by Canadian-born dancer, Laverne Meyer.
Since its inception, Northern Ballet has seen several well-known Artistic Directors, including Italian dancer and choreographer, Stefano Giannetti, who have helped to grow Northern Ballet into one of the world’s great ballet companies.
The Company has a strong reputation for theatrical dance productions, where the emphasis is on storytelling, and has pioneered ballets for children which have been shown in cinemas across the world.
Northern Ballet’s global reputation has seen The Company perform in China, Bangkok, Milan, Barcelona and Miami, with its productions licenced to many more ballet companies across the world.
In 2014, Northern Ballet won Best Company at the Taglioni European Ballet Awards.
Yorkshire sculpture International
Yorkshire Sculpture International is a unique collaboration between four of Yorkshire’s leading art institutions: the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, The Hepworth Wakefield and Leeds’ Henry More Institute and Leeds Art Gallery.
YSI builds on the growing profile of Yorkshire as a culture destination and on the cultural ambition behind Leeds’ international year of culture, Leeds 2023.
2019 saw the first edition of Yorkshire Sculpture International, with 100 days of exhibitions and activities, featuring 77 different artists, including 18 international artists. The celebration of sculpture saw over 1 million visitors, making it the UK’s largest dedicated festival of sculpture. It is hoped the festival will become a regular feature in the cultural calendar, strengthening Yorkshire’s reputation as Euope's unofficial capital of sculpture.