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Setting Our Course

So far I’ve talked about ideas – a new way of doing this, a different approach to that.

Throwing the rule book out always seems like a good idea to someone like me who likes change and trying something new. However with the rule book, came an enormous safety net. Following well-trodden steps is often how we know we’re on the right path sure that there will be a destination at the end.

So where do we start if we’ve torn up the map in favour of finding our own adventure?

If we’re undertaking an adventure we’ll need a compass, and a set of shared values that guide us through what lies ahead seems like a good substitute. Like a compass values should be things that we can all identify with and understand even if the paths that we discover are wildly different and distinct.

The values that we choose will be the things that set our course, the yard stick by which we measure our decisions when we get to a cross roads.

This post starts to suggest what the values underpinning a new Culture Strategy for Leeds could be. They are based on the conversations to date and speak of the frustration we feel and acknowledge the challenges that we face, but they also speak of the fire, the fight and the determination to get past this, to finally make our star shine and build a capital of culture.

Our values will be rooted within and fought for, fiercely protected and upheld by us all. If that’s the case then we had better get them right from the start. Below is a suggested reading of our compass and what it could mean for the future cultures that we create. That said a compass can be read in many ways so these are just examples and suggestions, there for us to test and change as we build a new strategy, collectively.

  • Bravery –We have been creating, growing, welcoming and nurturing a phenomenal cultural identity for decades, but we don’t know how to tell people about it and we’ve forgotten how liberating taking a risk can be. We behave like the wonderfully gifted child in a class of averages, too shy and nervous to shine even though we know we can do better than that. If we are going to find a new age where culture takes centre stage, we have to believe in its ability to do so. Confidence is not told, it is shown in how we act, our reaction to the world, and our faith in our ability to stand out, in our own way. We will not emulate the cultures of another place, but be bold in creating our own mark. Culture is a fiery, creative, passionate process some will like what we create, others will not, but that won’t stop us from creating it. Leeds is a radical and independent city, we have a strong voice and a ferocious talent, we will be brave enough to use it.
  • Resilience – Our world is changing. The funding handed down to local government and the Arts Council is already dramatically reduced and set to reduce further. But, money isn’t everything. As a city collectively we have so many riches that with a little resourcefulness and creativity can yield more than we ever imagined, but we have to go through the challenging terrain, not around it. It’s going to be tough. We will need to make big changes, emptying out the ‘too hard box’, taking decisions together that will change the face of our cultures irrevocably, but will also make us stronger. Together we will build a new sustainable model for culture whatever its form and function.
  • Generosity –From the people I spoke to there was a sense of the cultures that have and the ones that don’t, which could easily become a dividing line. Again it wasn’t always about money, sometimes it was about who had marquees and seats that could be borrowed and shared. Others it was about shared learning. Sometimes it was about opportunity. If you’re hosting the world’s media, whose story are you telling them? Does it only have to be your own? It was always about the will to do something good, to share and support. The will to empower future generations to create future cultures without boundaries. We will share our assets, knowledge and opportunities, build new networks where we learn from and support each other irrespective of the cultures we represent and our own interests.
  • Tolerance -Feisty, chaotic and independent by nature we will never agree on everything, but we don’t have to. I met people who wanted total freedom in a Culture Strategy, and those who wanted rules or at least a firm guide. I met people who are vehemently passionate about the arts and want to not feel embarrassed extolling its virtues, alongside others who have no interest in the arts but dedicated their lives to the enjoyment of people. Nobody should feel silenced on the subject that they have so much zeal for. The cultures of Leeds are not mutually exclusive. Our cultural spectrum will have no high or low. We don’t all have to love Opera or Community Galas, but we will all be proud and grateful that the people of Leeds create, support and develop them both, and more, because without one, there won’t be the other and this city thrives on both.
  • Curiosity –We will travel light on this adventure leaving the baggage of the past behind. The sense of excitement which we feel is sometimes accompanied by trepidation because we don’t allow ourselves to be brave enough to fail. Valuing the freedom, creativity and flexibility to try things, be honest with ourselves, take the good things, leave the rest and try again, will be at the core of who we become. It will make us innovative, keep us relevant, make us unique, and allow us to learn from what went before rather than having to banish it from our consciousness.

If the values we choose now guide the decisions we make for the next thirteen years, how fitting are the ones suggested here?

Could we develop a new Events Strategy for the city based on these values?

Can we ask developers who invest in the city to adhere to them?

Will they change the way we behave enough? Will it be for the better? Will it make a difference?

Are they too similar – is curiosity and the will to fail fast and get up again, the same as being brave?

Are we missing something obvious?

What do we really value as a city, and how can the Culture Strategy make sure that we use those values as measure of success?

Based on your comments, we will revisit, update and refine these values to check that they work before we set off into the woods with them.

If they don’t we’ll try something else, if they do we’ll figure out our next move, together.


PS –Over the next few months we’ll be inviting ourselves along to the opening of a packet of crisps, asking all these questions and more, but if you want us to join your event, meet your group, speak to your local community or attend your meetings please get in touch with me at: or call 0113 24 78195.


Image: Courtesy of Phoenix Dance Theatre


  1. I’d like to suggest Boldness rather than Bravery. Bravery is perhaps covered by both Resilience and Boldness. Bravery suggests we know the road will be tough and we will deal with it. Boldness has that intent from the start.

    Boldness necessitates courage, daring and challenge. It suggests something striking and conspicuous to the eye, flashy and showy even; all the stuff those other narratives suggest we’ve never been good at.

  2. Couple of comments on Twitter over the weekend, do you agree?

    @OliverMantell ‘tolerance’ perhaps has too much of a flavour of ‘I don’t like it but I’ll put up with it’. ‘Variety’/’openness’, perhaps?

    @EmmaMBearman ‏does being bold mean asking genuinely open questions without fear? Either of being marginalised or without £ work?

    ‏@watson_dance focus on building a life! #purpose #respect #equality

  3. Chris King Chris King

    It’s funny. I’ve spoken to Leanne on this topic and found her to be positive, engaging and fully supportive of giving me – someone who thought I was detached from culture within the city – a voice. I was expecting the values to reflect that approach. What I see from at least three of the values: Bravery, Resilience, Tolerance – is that there might be a view that we have a fight on our hands to convince people of this the non-strategy that we want.

    I want to see Expressive in there, Dynamic at the heart of it, Productive as an essence and maybe a little bit Reflective of the city, the story, the people. Bravery can quickly become foolhardy. Resilience – brings down the shutters. Generosity and Tolerance often means you spend too much time trying to appease all, rather than developing something with those that can; those that will.

    Failing fast is one way of looking at it, but learning quicker is really a better way to approach something in an agile manner. What if we work out we are failing to align strategy with desire to be a city of culture? Which one do we drop – or how do we learn to adapt to fit both in?

    As I said in the meeting I had, I wanted to know how all of this benefits me, benefits the city? How does ripping up the rule book break the monopoly of the few on the cultural existence of the many? Do we value culture enough in this city to understand why we can’t just stand still? Do we even know what culture is – can we relearn our own view on this subject?

    Curiosity as to what we can achieve, rather than what we can offer is the only way I see we can tackle this effectively. Happy to carry on, carrying on.

  4. James Hill James Hill

    Hi Leanne,

    I agree with Oliver’s comment on Twitter that ‘Tolerance’ has too much of a ring of patrician, top-down-ness to it… the ‘haves’ being ever so kind and giving an (occasional) platform to the ‘have-nots’. I think ‘Selfless’ might be better, acknowledging that our own values are no more or less important than the values of others that we might not share cultures with, or might not necessarily even agree with. What we should be aiming for, and eventually celebrating, about Leeds is that there are so many different identities & cultures out there and that no one, no – one single ‘self’ or identity can eclipse any of the others. Of course that is not the case yet, far from it, but that is what we should be aspiring for. ‘Tolerance’ was a starting point and I would hope now that we should be aiming for a point where diversity is at the centre of everything we do, and intolerance is the ONLY thing not tolerated…

    As for your questions at the end, personally I think something obvious is missing, but I am aware that this is my own personal politics speaking and that everyone might agree with me. But I’m going to say it anyway! If you are asking questions like ‘Can we ask Developers in the city to adhere to them?’ then I think that we need to be able to overtly state that not all of the values of culture are aligned with the values of austerity or economic growth. Of course any arts organisations recieving public funding needs to do its best to spend that money responsibly, to reduce waste and to bring the highest value it can to its members / audiences / stakeholders but we also need to acknowledge that many of our cultures, or creative ‘enterprises’ will forever rely on charity, public funding, volunteering, sharing, giving… and that this in itself, this willingness to give our time and our energy to each other is a thing worth celebrating. Perhaps it’s another kind of ‘Generosity’ – I just can’t thnk of the right word!

    And of course some of the best art and artists of the last ten years in Leeds have come out of the DIY / underground / not-for-profit / politically radical tradition of overtly criticising the ‘boring and alienating mechanisms of capitalism’. Black Dogs, Wharf Chambers, & the punk and the DIY music scene are a massive part of what should be valued about Leeds’ culture.


  5. G Brown G Brown

    How about “LOUD”?
    So very often the media and government focus on London, and then very occasionally when they are filling their quotas to look ourside of London will look to M*nchester (booo).

    Leeds has always been terrible about singing it’s own praises, getting media attention and demanding more from media and government… This of course brings attention which in turn brings visitors and funding and sponsorship and international profile and…

    Another comment on the Culture topic – Leeds pulled off a massive coup in attracting the Royal Armories 20 years ago. I feel though that standing alone, it doesn’t do enough as a Cultural attraction (thinking of bringing visitors to the city), Should part of our strategy be to attract a second museum of National importance to the city? Or at least a Northern outpost eg British Museum “North”?…

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