ELP Director Kerry Harker speaks at the MAP Community Day, Leeds Corn Exchange
Kerry was a guest speaker, and the following text was the speech she gave in support of MAP’s attempts to fundraise to secure Hope House as their permanent venue.
It’s hopefully a given that any large city like Leeds, with the cultural ambitions that we hold, needs major arts institutions and venues. And we have them – Opera North, Leeds Playhouse, Northern Ballet, the Grand Theatre and the Arena to name a few. Here we are today in the stunning setting of the Corn Exchange, itself a major feature of the cityscape over the years, and happily enjoying a contemporary renaissance as a venue for arts and creativity.
But alongside these landmarks, it’s absolutely critical for a thriving cultural ecology that we have a broad range of venues, large and small, established on varying business models, that support the broadest possible range of forms of creativity, and which engage and give a platform to different voices through the participants and audiences that they gather.
I think what’s remarkable about the cultural offer of Leeds, as someone who’s been in the city for nearly 30 years, is that we have a particular strength and specialism in the creation of smaller-scale venues and organizations that we might think of as independent or alternative, and that have specifically been created by practitioners themselves. Artists and other creative people have given this city some real treasures – among them are Patrick Studios, Leeds Print Workshop on Vicar Lane, and the Art Hostel on Kirkgate, all created by East Street Arts. A couple of weeks ago they announced the news that they are soon to open a new and permanent Art Hostel within their developing artist-run citadel in Burmantofts, which is fantastic news. I’m sure we’re going to hear more about this from Nic in a minute. In the city centre we also have Belgrave Music Hall, Headrow House, the Brunswick, Serf and Wharf Chambers, and the brilliant Duke Studios on Sheaf Street, a nationally and internationally renowned pioneering co-working and events space. Alongside others beyond the city centre and some which have come and gone over the years, such as &Model and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, these independent spaces collectively represent an enviable cultural strength and USP for Leeds.
Another one is The Tetley, a centre for contemporary art and learning that I co-founded with Pippa Hale in 2013. A few days ago The Tetley celebrated its fifth birthday. In five short years, it has become a major cultural venue for the city centre and the fast-developing South Bank. Alongside formal art exhibitions, the Tetley provides an important social space for meeting and conversation, eating and drinking, learning for everyone from toddlers through to students in Higher Education and adults, a wide range of private and corporate events and celebrations such as weddings, and art events including the annual international contemporary artists’ book fair. It’s making a major contribution to the new public realm that is set to develop around it over the coming years, and will one day (in line with our original vision) provide a landmark cultural anchor within a major city park. To date it has supported the work of over 550 artists, and welcomes over 125,000 visitors annually, now exceeding 600,000 visitors since 2013. It has nurtured the careers not just of artists, but also of curators, writers, technicians, administrators and managers, chefs, bar staff, receptionists, researchers, commercial businesses and many others who have gone on to work in the creative and commercial economies elsewhere.
But when Pippa and I founded the artist-led initiative Project Space Leeds (which still runs The Tetley today), jointly with Diane Howse, in 2006, there’s no way we could have imagined then the potential that The Tetley would hold, the role it would come to play in the city, or the social, cultural, and economic value it would create. Or even that it would exist at all – we began by running a project space at Whitehall Waterfront for five years from 2007-12, a pilot phase for what came next. All we held as an organisation in the early days was potential – we invested in the creation of new work and largely supported young and emerging artists who were at an early stage in their careers. I’m grateful to the city and all those who supported us back then, enabling us to grow, stabilize, and ultimately make the move to the Tetley.
When I think about the current position for MAP, the opportunities and challenges facing it, it seems to me that there’s a lot of synergy with this journey. I’ve only been aware of MAP’s work for the last couple of years, but as I’ve got to know Tom and the team better, I’ve been incredibly impressed by the work that they do and everything they’ve achieved over the last 10 years, including the fact that to date they’ve done it all pretty much off their own backs, without significant public funding. For all that time, they’ve been working away a little under the radar of some of us inside Hope House, creating a unique environment through art and music for young people who have difficult accessing mainstream education as well as hosting other organizations who benefit from being part of a cultural hub that enables the collaboration and networking critical to developing creative enterprises.
But MAP is now at a tipping point. Amid the immediate threat of losing their home due to the rapid commercial development of Mabgate, their response has been both bold and inspiring. Today is part of MAP’s fundraising drive to enable it to buy Hope House to not only secure its future on Mabgate forever, but to enable it to do more of the amazing work with young people that it already does, as well as adding apprenticeships and professional development to its offer. In the process it will become a more public-facing venue with a shop, café and expanded gallery and events spaces so that more of us can have access to its beautiful Grade-I listed building in the future. I don’t know about you, but I for one look forward to being able to visit Hope House post-renovation to enjoy an exhibition, screening or music performance, or to take part in a workshop, or just to have a coffee with a friend or a business meeting in an inspirational and historic setting.
MAP have a beautiful vision for the future of Hope House, but when we invest in self-organised activity, we don’t always know what the outcomes will be. Sometimes it’s about taking an informed punt on highly ambitious, passionate individuals and teams of people who have a vision and the proven drive to deliver. In an environment where creative subjects are under increasing pressure in the school curriculum, it’s essential that organizations like MAP continue to create opportunities for creative learning and expression. Creativity is essential to the future vitality of cities including this one, as it will be central to solving urgent global challenges. I hope I’ve argued compellingly here that alongside civic cultural flagships, we need smaller-scale venues that nurture participation in creative subjects. In fact, there is plenty of research today which argues that these smaller-scale venues, especially those which host creative workspaces of the type which MAP provides, and which grow up from the grass roots and are therefore genuinely embedded in the locales that they serve, may generate even more cultural value than their larger counterparts. They enable trial and error and artistic experimentation in a vital lower-stakes way; they have the capacity to invest in individuals over the longer term; and they provide facilities and interaction on a more human scale. They are small enough to care, but big enough to cope, offering spaces of togetherness that create a different but no less essential kind of sustenance in the city. Without these venues that nurture creativity in its earliest stages of expression, where will the artists, musicians and others come from to populate the programmes of our cultural flagships in the future?
Leeds is setting its sights on a year of culture in 2023. We want to see MAP and Hope House going from strength to strength and playing a central role in the year’s activities. In order to achieve that ambition, it requires all of us to get behind MAP and support its campaign to purchase Hope House. In the early days of Project Space Leeds, we were grateful for the support of Leeds City Council and Arts Council England. But no less essential was the support of numerous individuals and businesses who gave their time, advocacy, expertise, services and support for free – and sometimes their money too. I urge everyone here to get behind this amazing organisation in any way that you can – together we can ensure that we have Hope for another 10 years into the future.
1st December 2018