LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture: An epic programme of bold spectacle and hidden stories will awaken the world to Leeds’ unique creativity

23rd September 2022

Work from the city’s internationally acclaimed artists and cultural organisations, alongside the diverse creativity brimming in all 33 Leeds wards, will feature in a three-part epic programme designed to ‘let culture loose’ across the whole city.


The year-long cultural event is a first for Leeds. Punctuated by 12 major signature projects – original works produced by LEEDS 2023 – the programme will include hundreds of events and activities, many of them developed in partnership with local, national and international partners. Collaborations have played an important part in the development of the programme showcasing the rich, cultural life of the city, its people and its global connections.


A flavour of what is to come was revealed at an event today, hosted by broadcaster and Chair of LEEDS 2023, Gabby Logan MBE alongside Creative Director and CEO Kully Thiarai. Hundreds of people from Leeds’ communities, cultural organisations, artists, business, educational and public sector organisations gathered at LEEDS 2023’s new Brewery Wharf headquarters in Leeds, as elements of the programme were announced.


Gabby Logan said: “LEEDS 2023 promises to be an extraordinary year when we will celebrate the very best of what Leeds has to offer when it comes to culture, art, sport and the brilliant creativity of our communities. 2023 will be the year we Let Culture Loose and show to the world just what an incredible, talented and diverse city we are. As a proud Leeds lass myself I, for one, cannot wait!


Kully Thiarai said: “With one hundred days to go to the start of our year of culture, we remain defiant and more determined than ever to spotlight the amazing talent of our city’s people. In challenging times, the story of our creativity in Leeds can provide much needed comfort, joy and inspiration to ourselves and to the nation. Together we will awaken the sleeping giant of our city’s promise and conjure an extraordinary year into being, creating memories that will stand the test of time. It will be a year when we all get to tell our stories, old and new, known and forgotten, in an act of determined collective defiance. And we invite everyone to be a part of it.


Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Deputy Leader and executive member for economy, culture and education at Leeds City Council said: “LEEDS 2023 is a significant milestone and further confirmation of how strongly we place the benefits of culture and creativity in the city.


“Nationally people are going through hard times, with the cost of living crisis hitting more and more people, and celebrations such as LEEDS 2023 give us the chance to come together to celebrate together in creative and imaginative ways. We are lucky that culture is alive and well right across Leeds, from local groups right through to our larger arts and cultural organisations and sites. LEEDS 2023 will bring together and work to create a year that explores a sense of fun, wonder and that brings to life culture in some way, shape or form to ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy.”


Three seasons will shape the year, with ‘awakening’ influencing Part One (January to April), ‘playing’ the focus of Part Two (May to August), and ‘dreaming’ a forward-looking end to the year (September to December). The programme will include:-


Signature Projects: major new commissions, original works.

  • ‘The Awakening’, 7th January 2023: A spectacular opening event at Headingley Stadium, co-directed by Kully Thiarai and Alan Lane, will celebrate Leeds’ past, present and future in a collision of Leeds’ best and brightest talent including Corinne Bailey-Rae, Simon Armitage and Graft. Tickets will be free in exchange for people creating a piece of art and submitting it to a ticket ballot. The ballot is now open and closes on 25th
  • Smeaton300: A creative events programme developed by Foxglove, inspired by John Smeaton, the Leeds-born, world-changing Civil Engineer who produced work for the public good. Smeaton300 will include an awe-inspiring mobile observatory, designed by Heather Peak and Ivan Morison. An East Leeds Project and LEEDS2023 co-production, the observatory will tour the city from June to December 2023.
  • My LEEDS 2023: A major community-led project, taking place in all 33 wards of the city, co-created by hundreds of people and a new commission from artist Keith Khan. Two years in development, My LEEDS 2023 will culminate in August 2023.
  • ‘Hibiscus Rising’, a new sculpture by artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, commissioned by LEEDS 2023 in partnership with the David Oluwale Memorial Association, will be installed next to the new Oluwale footbridge on Meadow Lane in October 2023
  • All That Lives: Leeds artist Ellie Harrison, in collaboration with Mexican artists Zion Art Studio, will lead a nine-day creative celebration of life and death that reimagines Day of the Dead with the people of Yorkshire. November 2023.


Projects led by partners, new for LEEDS 2023



  • If you could make a condiment of Leeds and bottle it, ‘Leeds Sauce’ would be the outcome. Created for Compass Festival, this is Popeye Collective’s celebration of the city’s food culture, the history of Leeds, its people, local food experts, chefs and farmers. Launching in November 2022.
  • Leeds Playhouse will be taken over by older people in an imaginative new mass-participation project, ‘1001 Stories’, led by The Performance Ensemble. ‘1001 Stories’ will put the voices, histories and stories of older people centre-stage by gathering 1001 stories from those aged 60 and over and creating new artistic work based on these stories. April 2023.



  • Among the many projects schools can get involved in is Art Fund’s The Great Escape, a new major UK-wide creative participatory project. Young people in Leeds’ schools will create artworks inspired by animals depicted in Leeds Museum & Galleries’ collection, bringing them to life and imagining a hopeful habitat of the future. Learners will develop a deeper awareness of biodiversity and ecology through the project, using lesson resources created by LEEDS 2023 and Leeds Museums & Galleries. April 2023.
  • BBC Contains Strong Language comes to Leeds in collaboration with the Howard Assembly Room. As part of this national event, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage will gather poets from around the world in Leeds, a city that speaks more than 170 languages. September 2023.



LEEDS 2023 in schools

All children and young people of school age in Leeds will have the chance to take part in the Year of Culture. LEEDS 2023’s creative learning programme will feature free activities for learners in all key stages, including classroom resources, facilitated workshops, participatory activities, and opportunities for learning outside the classroom. With links to the curriculum, the programme will support teaching across a variety of subject areas and help learners develop their creativity.


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 reaction was to “do it anyway” and Leeds Culture Trust has enjoyed unprecedented cross-sector backing of business, educational institutions, public and private sector funders. Channel 4, Burberry and commercial property company, Bruntwood have been announced as partners, bringing total investment secured for LEEDS 2023 to almost £17million.


Part One, the ‘awakening’ season programme (January to April) will be announced in December.

Further details of programme announcements, images and video are available here