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Applying Nordic know-how in Leeds

In the last few months Leeds has been getting involved in the “Culture for cities and regions” project. It is a project run by Eurocities and gives cities like ours the opportunity to learn about cultural practice in other cities across Europe. This is a guest blog from John Donegan who is Partnerships Co-ordinator from Leeds Museums and Galleries, who was part of recent a study visit to Denmark.

“One of the great things about international study visits is that they show you that things don’t have to be done the way you are used to.

I have just returned from a really useful study visit to Aarhus in Denmark. They will be European Capital of Culture in 2017, and Leeds is bidding to be the capital in 2023. We obviously have things to learn if we want to give Leeds a good chance at the title. I was particularly interested, since the city’s museums and galleries have been a major part of their successful bid.

There is a lot about Denmark that we wouldn’t be able to replicate or adapt here – most notably the level of funding made possible by a national tax system that incentivises private industry to invest in capital funding foundations that cultural institutions can tap into for major works.

Boy 1999 by Ron Mueck. Scary giant child at ARoS Aarhus Art Museum

There are also a lot of little things which I need time to think about. The Danes are really keen on the use of cultural buildings as public/social spaces and thoroughfares – pedestrian routes encourage people to walk through their art gallery and their public library on their way to work, or when they are having a night out in the city centre. Yoga classes or choir rehearsals in the library take place in the public areas, not in private rooms. They also really like mixing up cultural activities with business and other sectors, like in the Godsbanen – a super-sized hack space bringing together small for-hire workshops with supporting businesses, theatres and rehearsal rooms.

However, the big thing I’ve come back with is a very positive impression of the importance of the attitude with which they’ve approached European Capital of Culture and culture in general – their boldness, daring and vision. The Danes have an approach that if you aren’t prepared to fail, you won’t succeed.

It is this great attitude of boldness, vision and risk-taking, as well as the role that museums can play in the great culture of a great city that I hope to share with Leeds now I’m back.”

The newly built Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus. They didn’t want to disturb the grounds of the estate it is built in, so they simply lifted up the ground and slipped the museum underneath

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