16 April 2019
In the first initiative of its kind in the country, a citywide arts engagement project is being launched in Leeds to help strengthen relationships between community groups and the cultural sector.
Arts Together Leeds aims to make it easier for community groups to become actively engaged with the wealth of visual arts, music and live performance taking place in Leeds and beyond, while also facilitating the exchange of expertise, skills and resources between the city’s arts and community organisations.
The project is supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation who have donated £120,000 over the next three years. Their funding will help to establish a more integrated and accessible arts offering for people who often encounter barriers to becoming involved with cultural activities.
Madeleine Thorne, Head of Community Partnerships at Opera North, who is leading the project, explains:
“We believe the scheme will transform the city’s arts scene through collective thinking and shared goals, and through wider and deeper relationships with its communities. Central to the project is the idea that this is a two-way conversation, increasing opportunities for communities who may usually face barriers to engaging with the arts, and encouraging those communities to participate in, and contribute to, the cultural life of Leeds.”
The effect of the arts can be far-reaching, enhancing lives and resulting in a positive and lasting impact on wellbeing, but many of those who could benefit are discouraged by the social and cultural barriers they encounter. Breaking down these barriers is a key aim of the project.
David Holmes from Making Space, a mental health befriending service, comments:
“The Making Space Theatre Group thoroughly love all performances that they go to see. Some of them live solitary lives, and the group gives them a chance to see productions they otherwise couldn’t attend either through lack of someone to go with or as it is often outside their financial scope, but they all agree that making theatre shows affordable to them has enriched their lives and gives them the extra confidence to mix with other people. They would love to be able to engage with other arts organisations and have greeted this project with great enthusiasm.”
The scheme has so far attracted over 40 arts and community partners. Future plans include regular networking opportunities and a website and newsletter which will be developed later in the year to gather together the city’s arts-based activities in one easy-to-access place. There will also be a more co-ordinated approach to events such as Refugee Week.
Hannah Vallis, Programme Manager at East Street Arts, said:
“We are excited to be a part of this citywide network and continue to explore how our work can reach new audiences. Through the project, we hope to collaborate with other organisations and develop innovative ways to share culture in Leeds.”
Emma Crossley, Manager of Meeting Point, supporting refugees and asylum-seekers in Leeds, commented:
“A citywide portal for arts-based community initiatives is something Meeting Point and its members will hugely benefit from, making our work easier and more varied.”
Ruth Hannant, Head of Creative Engagement at Leeds Playhouse, added:
“We believe Arts Together’s coordinated and consistent approach to signposting and supporting access to cultural venues and events across the city will be of enormous benefit to the communities we work with. It supports Leeds Playhouse’s deep-held commitment to enabling people to increase their understanding, confidence and capacity to engage, and to build real cultural capital which enriches their lives.
“The project will also provide a welcome framework for sharing experiences, ideas and learning between organisations, which can only enhance and strengthen the menu of opportunity for all our communities in Leeds.”
The Arts Together project welcomes applications from any arts organisations or community groups based in or around Leeds. Further information is available from [email protected]