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Arts and community organisations join forces in Leeds

Over 40 community groups and arts organisations have joined together in Leeds with the aim of helping everyone to take advantage of the city’s cultural offer.

Arts Together Leeds is the first arts engagement project of its kind in the UK and 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.

Celebrating community © Tom Arber

The effect of the arts can be far-reaching, enhancing lives and resulting in a positive and lasting impact on well-being, 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.”

Experiencing theatre behind-the-scenes with Opera North © Justin Slee

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.”

© Justin Slee

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 our 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.”

Arts Together currently comprises 5Ways, the Arts Development Team at Leeds City Council, Artforms, Arts & Minds Network, BAME Hub, BHI – Black Music Festival, BIASAN, The Bridge, Caring for Life, Cloth Cat, East Street Arts, Feel Good Factor, HOPS, Leeds College of Music, Leeds Festival Chorus, Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds Inspired, Leeds Irish Health and Homes, Leeds Playhouse, Leeds Refugee Forum, Left Bank Leeds, Little London Arts, Live Well Leeds, LS14 Trust, Meeting Point, Meeting Point Connect Project, Northern Ballet, Open Source Arts, Opera North, People in Action, Red Ladder Theatre Company, RETAS, Ripon House, SAA-uk, Slung Low, The Tetley, The Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah, VISC, Yorkshire Dance, and the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle (Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park).

The Arts Together project welcomes applications from any arts organisations or community groups based in or around Leeds. Further information is available from madeleine.thorne@operanorth.co.uk

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