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Time for a Leeds International Festival

Paul Clarke thinks the city needs to grow a pair of cultural balls

Written by . Published on July 13th 2011.

Time for a Leeds International Festival

Bjork, Victoria Wood, Johnny Vegas, Damon Albarn and Snoop Dogg are unlikely artistic bedfellows but they have one thing in common… the Manchester International Festival is hosting world premieres of their new work at the moment.

Once again, Leeds is being put in the artistic shade by an amazing festival down the M62. So when is our city going to grow a pair of cultural balls and step up to the plate?

"Where are the shows you would sell your first born to see? Not in Leeds, which is shameful for a city this size"

Fair play to Manchester - as the festival features genuinely edgy world firsts like Bjork’s barmy eco-concept album 'Biophilia', as well as the reliably twee Victoria Wood, dishing out another slice of tiresome Northern whimsy.

But what the festival also does is generate acres of rave reviews in the national and international press, positioning Manchester as a city prepared to innovate and be daring.

Meanwhile in Leeds all we get is boring and safe touring productions of The Sound Of Music or Calendar Girls. Dear god, shoot me now.

Sure, the West Yorkshire Playhouse does a good job within the financial constraints of a regional theatre, but where are the shows you would sell your first born to see? Not in Leeds, which is shameful for a city this size.

I’m not suggesting we mount a pale imitation of Manchester’s festival, but surely we can think of something innovative and challenging bringing together all our venues to create something that puts Leeds back on the cultural map?

I know in this ’age of austerity’ it may be a stretch for the city council to fund such a project, but maybe Welcome to Yorkshire could put together a public/private sector consortium to fund a massive project like this?

I suggest them because not only is there a clear cultural imperative to big scale projects, but an equally persuasive economic one.

Millions of pounds will have poured into Manchester’s economy as stars, crews and visitors flock in for the world premieres. Add to that the millions generated in free advertising in newspapers, TV and the Interweb which adds up to millions.

The recent success of Leeds Loves Food proves we can deal with relatively large scale events, but it's the vision we lack not the logistical know how.

I can’t decide whether it is because we lack courage, or that we feel somehow inferior to our Red Rose neighbours. Either way we have to stop wallowing in mediocrity, start talking and make Leeds a cultural powerhouse.

You can follow Paul Clarke on Twitter @PaulLeedsConf

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Wild Child

This sounds like a nice idea.

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And best of luck with continuing sales - and you next novel of course!

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