Leeds 2023 chief executive Kully Thiarai – ‘Let’s celebrate the role young people have to play in our city’

Leeds 2023 creative director and general manager Kully Thiarai. Photo: Lee Brown

When I started in this role, I visited Cobden Primary School to chat with some of the children on the school board. They asked me about Leeds 2023 and shared their

thoughts on what the year might mean for them.

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Leeds 2023 is an opportunity to empower children and young people to develop their own personal creativity, says Kully Thiarai. Photo: Lee Brown

And when asked what impact the year might have on them and the city, the responses were fascinating: “People might love art more,” they replied… “and do it more”; ‘it will make Leeds a happier place, with lots of color’ they said; “It could inspire people to ditch technology and explore the world.”

They all said how much they loved painting, singing, drawing and that after Leeds 2023 maybe they could do more! This meant more at school as not all children had access to pens and paper at home.

And I thought, ‘why wouldn’t they have more?’ How could we help make these opportunities everyday occurrences rather than special treats?

Leeds 2023 is an opportunity to empower children and young people to develop their own personal creativity. To tell their own stories; the stories that matter to them.

Their version of what they want from the world is so different from ours. Let’s celebrate the role that young people have to play in our city.

Part of the work with schools and the city’s educational partners to prepare for 2023 is already showcasing the creativity of our young people.

At a time when they are feeling the repercussions of Covid-related isolation, it seems important that our young people can come together and make their voices heard by participating in our Year of Culture. It’s not just young people – participating together is what we all need.

We have experienced being digitally connected – the benefits and the limitations – and now is the time for us to remember the humanity in all of us.

Digital tools are not the same as running or getting your hands dirty. Creative activity and cultural participation give us the social tools we all need to navigate through life. Cultural programs create social bonds where we can be with people who are not the same as us.

Cultural programs like the one we are planning for Leeds 2023 create intimate moments where we feel wanted and engaged, as well as great awe-inspiring moments that fuel our curiosity. It’s a bit like reading a great book – stepping into new fantasy worlds, interesting perspectives and different viewpoints or suddenly finding a story that somehow resembles your personal story in bulk.

It is also important that we represent the whole of Leeds. If you’ve never seen someone like you do something amazing, how can you think of doing something like that yourself?

My interest in the power of creativity to unleash the full potential of young people was sparked when I was a youth leader.

When asked how to use a space for young people, the automatic answer was “let’s give them a pool table”. Understandable, because that was how most youth clubs were equipped at the time.

With a pool table, you know what the outcome will be – lots of pool. I discovered that if you outfitted a space with a dance floor or different creative tools, something surprising could emerge.

The Leeds 2023 scale has never been done here before. Our work is porous, naturally crossing geographic boundaries, and working at scale means we build bigger networks, share knowledge and learn by doing. Doing great projects and programs builds confidence and aspirations, it also gives others the confidence in the city to achieve them.

Leeds 2023 will strengthen cultural links and the supply chain network in West Yorkshire, the North of England and beyond.

When we think of careers in cultural industries, we tend to think of actors, musicians, those in the spotlight. But cultural activity connects all sorts of supply chains: hairdressers, electricians, seamstresses – there is a vast ecosystem of skills within the cultural workforce.

Leeds 2023 will provide an economic boost to the city and a cultural sector still reeling from the pandemic.

If we achieve all that we hope for, Leeds will be considered a great cultural city. He will have created a new narrative for himself.

We want to create something hugely valuable and powerful for Leeds. Collective memories and our own stories told and heard everywhere with pure, unleashed joy. A city transformed.

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Edward L. Robinett