Headingley Stadium – stands and stage – to be packed with artistic talents of all Leeds people for spectacular LEEDS 2023 opening event

23rd September 2022

LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture will start with a bang, as it means to go on, with an unmissable opening show at Headingley Stadium on 7th January 2023.


Heralding the start of a year that will ‘let culture loose’ across all 33 wards of the city, LEEDS 2023 is inviting Leeds residents, and those who love Leeds, to be part of this special event.


‘The Awakening’ will celebrate Leeds’ past, present and future in a live show from the home of Leeds Rhinos.  With 15,000 tickets available, a special ballot opened today (23rd September).  No ordinary ticket ballot, LEEDS 2023 is asking Leeds people, wherever they live, to get creative and submit a piece of art to be in with a chance of gaining a pair of free tickets to this unmissable, one-off show.


Directed by Kully Thiarai, Creative Director and Chief Executive of LEEDS 2023 and Alan Lane, Artistic Director of Slung Low, each known for creating large-scale, radical, inclusive work, ‘The Awakening’ will be an original celebratory collective act. Work from the whole city will be showcased, inspired by its directors’ driving belief that there is artistic talent, creativity and brilliance in all the people and homes of Leeds.


Hosted by LEEDS 2023 Chair and broadcaster, podcaster, writer and former international gymnast Gabby Logan MBE with broadcaster Sanchez Payne, a Trustee of LEEDS 2023 and former Leeds United footballer, leading Leeds artists will perform in a creative collision of surprising pairings, new commissions and collaborations including:


Global star, singer/songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and band LYR

Music from The Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North including a rendition of Chumbawumba’s ‘Tubthumping’

Ntantu, UK Rap and RnB artist

George Webster, TV presenter, actor, dancer and the first CBeebies presenter with Down’s syndrome.

British rapper and former footballer Graft

Tabla and percussion maestro Inder Goldfinger

Jamie Jones-Buchanan, rugby league coach and former Leeds Rhinos player

Lyricist, spoken word artist and playwright Testament with musician, artist and songwriter Denmarc Creary 

Many more artists from the city’s rich cultural life – famous, familiar and forgotten – will feature in the show. Drawing on local talents with deep roots in the city, the creative team behind ‘The Awakening’ includes international choreographer and movement director, Lucy Hind, choreographer and Principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Sharon Watson, and the UK’s leading show design studio, New Substance.

The LEEDS 2023 programme will be a three-part epic. Three seasons will shape the year, with ‘awakening’ influencing Season One (January to April), ‘playing’ the focus of Season Two (May to August), and ‘dreaming’ a forward-looking end to the year (September to December). The epic begins with ‘The Awakening’, an expression of all that the year of culture’s mantra ‘letting culture loose’ means.


Kully Thiarai said:


“Sometimes knock backs, whilst hard to bear at the time, can open doors to new adventures and ideas. LEEDS 2023 was born from dashed hopes and shaped during a period of huge turbulence, uncertainty and change.  It made us think about what culture can do and what might be needed today. How could we play our part in the economic and social fabric of our city in a way that mattered? Our Year of Culture, often buffeted and shaped by forces beyond our control, is in some ways an act of defiance. A defiance that says we are still here.


“We are here, and together through the power of the imagination and our collective endeavours we will tell a new story of and with the people of Leeds. A city that is home to world-leading artists and arts organisation and brimming with everyday creativity and culture in all 33 wards.


“Creating a shared memory that, when we look back, we can proudly say, “Wow, that was us. Together we made an extraordinary year happen. A year where we got to tell our stories, old and new, known and forgotten, in joyful celebration. 


“All that kicks off with ‘The Awakening’, a show only possible if everyone shares their individual act of creativity whatever that might be for them.


“We have deep roots and wide horizons, and we make things happen. By the end of LEEDS 2023, what we and the world will know about Leeds will be different and surprising. So come and help make this new story with us.”


Alan Lane said:


Those of us who work and live in Leeds know that it is a city of glorious culture: in every household, in every community there is quiet, bright shining talent. The mission of ‘The Awakening’ is to celebrate this in a world that too often decides that not all of us are important, but bit players in the epic movie of national news; customers to what others are selling. ‘The Awakening’ will strike back at that, certain of the power and creativity that we all have. And specifically, to proudly declare that Leeds is full of brilliance – creative, cultural, artistic brilliance.  To declare it to the nation. For too long a sleeping giant, LEEDS 2023 will wake everyone to this reality – not least ourselves.”


Ticket Ballot


100 days before the year kicks off (23rd September), a ballot has been opened and the general public are being asked to submit a piece of art that they have created to be in with a chance of securing a pair of free tickets for ‘The Awakening’.  Organisers are encouraging residents and anyone with a passion for the city to get creative in any way they wish to express themselves. Paint splashes, doodles, portraits made of pasta, Lego sculptures, bus stop raps, cakes and papier mâché models; photographs, videos and audio recordings of anything and everything can be submitted to the ballot.


People can upload photos, audio, videos of their creations to Those unable to submit online will be able to drop off their creations at yellow art boxes across Leeds.


‘Creation Stations’ also will be available at Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre, White Rose Shopping Centre and at LEEDS 2023 headquarters on Brewery Wharf, where the public will be helped to create art works to enter into the ticket ballot. Opening Times are: Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre, 11am-4pm, every other Saturday from 24th September to 19th November; White Rose Shopping Centre, 11am-4pm, every other Saturday from 1st October to 12th November; Brewery Wharf, 10am – 4pm Monday to Friday from 26th September to 25th November.

25th November is the deadline for submissions when 7,500 pieces of the public’s art will be selected at random to receive a pair of free tickets to a once in a lifetime experience. Their work will also feature in the opening show.

This unique way to receive a ticket is designed to showcase the artistic talent, creativity and brilliance of the people of Leeds.


LEEDS 2023 is the city’s response to the cancellation in 2017 of the UK’s participation in the European Capital of Culture competition. The city’s overwhelming response was to “do it anyway” and LEEDS 2023 has secured unprecedented cross-sector support from business, educational institutions, and public and private sector funders.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Deputy Leader and executive member for economy, culture and education at Leeds City Council said:


“Creativity is thriving in Leeds. From our schools and workplaces, through to our shopping centres and community spaces and parks, and everywhere else in between – we can’t wait to let culture loose in the city for our Year of Culture in 2023.


“Arts, creativity and culture will play a big part in bringing people together, now more than ever as we see more and more people affected by the cost of living crisis – we need and want to look forward to events we can share together in the city.


“I would encourage everyone who works, lives or has some connection to our amazing city to get involved and submit your own piece of artwork or creativity to be in with a chance to attend an unforgettable opening event. We will be starting the year as we mean to go on, with a show that brings together our past, present and future and showcases all the very best of what we already have in the city and sets the scene to awaken culture in us all.”


‘The Awakening’ is supported by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and commercial property company Bruntwood.


Key dates:

4th October: Resources will be available to help schoolchildren to make creative work to submit to the ballot.

25th November: closing date for the ballot.