Creatively Leeds: Stronger Together

A piece I wrote for the first Independent Leeds Magazine, published in December 2015 and distributed free of charge to multiple shops, venues and other outlets across the city.

 

Click above to view as published (on page 8).

Original unedited version

Leeds contains a ton of art galleries, music venues and independent creative businesses. It’s also home to many collective and cooperative artistic organisations and groups.

Across the music and art worlds, more and more people are coming together to work collaboratively, creating unique projects that wouldn’t have materialised unless people had decided to come together to make them happen.

Bess Martin is an artist affiliated with Leeds’ HOARD collective, who create unique, personal artworks out of hoarded objects and artefacts.

Bess thinks that collaboration in Leeds is a trend that we can expect to see getting bigger.

“Leeds is amazing for its honest, open and advice-driven art scene. Everyone is out to help everyone else up the proverbial ladder. If you find someone with a similar practice to yours, you tend to stick close and help each other out as opposed to seeing them as competition.

“It’s about strength in numbers against boundaries. Artists constantly have to jump through hoops, and individually you may not be able to tackle them all”.

The rapid growth of independently owned businesses and venues across Leeds gives artists working in the city more opportunities to showcase their work.

“Many artist groups in Leeds are also facilitators of the arts”, says Bess.

“These groups will hold exhibitions and opportunities not just for themselves but for other artists too. There’s a general feeling of ‘let’s scratch each others backs’, and a wonderful, supportive attitude to all things creative”.

Just as important, though, is the influence of others on shaping the work.

“Leeds is amazing for its honest, open and advice-driven art scene” – Bess Martin

Sarah Francis, who founded HOARD, says that working as a collective provides motivation and support.

“I wanted to make the words ‘hoard’ and ‘hoarding’ positive and creative words, and to demystify the perception of hoarding as negative.

“To me, the challenge was to gather different types of hoarding artists and create dialogues through critical discussion, public openings and bringing in local school groups to explore the reasons why hoarding is an important, creative and positive trait for people to have.

“Collective working has allowed my artwork to have a platform for conversation”, says Sarah.

“This has in turn allowed questions to drive my work forward.  HOARD turned from a 1-year project into a 4-year project and there is still more to come!”

Collaboration is, of course, central to the idea of making music. This was critical to Kate Zezulka, founder of Leeds Music Hub, who set up the organisation in 2012.

Based in Headingley, the Hub provides a focal point for local music and tuition in the community. Some of the musicians involved include members of Leeds bands Post War Glamour Girls, Department M, Sky Larkin and Menace Beach.

Kate says that keeping the existing local music scene close to the project was key.

“I wanted to create a space which really valued the grassroots side of the music scene and could support the individual artists and musicians who contributed to it, to help bridge gaps between disparate subcultures of music.

“I wanted to encourage collaboration, create flexible, relevant employment for Leeds’ musicians, and offer opportunities for local people to engage with what I think is a really exciting part of the city’s activity”.

For Kate, working collaboratively with others is part of a musician’s work ethic.

“I wonder whether this has always been going on, really – in a way, it’s only replicating the idea of a democratic band structure. Maybe we’re all just more aware of it or more conscious about what we’re trying to achieve. Or maybe it is just heightened contrast to the very large-scale projects which have arrived in Leeds, like the Arena and Trinity Leeds, and also to the much more isolated way of operating in life in general, these days”.

So does she anticipate that this way of working is here to stay?

“I hope that collaborative trend continues”, says Kate.

“Lots of local musicians have pitched in with their ideas for events and series that they want to run and be involved in. That’s such a nice thing – that they feel strongly enough about what the Hub is, and what it can do, that they want to throw their lot in with us in that way. In turn, the Hub can help facilitate these new parts of life in Leeds for the artistic community”.

Ultimately, for both artists and musicians, it boils down to a question of whether being able to combine the talents of a collective is more effective and rewarding than working individually.

“As artists we can sometimes get too involved with our own way of making and thinking”, says Sarah.

“Working with a wide range of creative talents allows us to get more understanding on what the work is saying. Having this insight makes our work stronger”.

For Bess too, this perspective is a key factor in working collectively.

“As a participant you have a lot more interest in what the people around you are doing.

“It becomes much easier to work together to put on a show, exhibition or open day when everyone has a vested interest in each other’s work”.

And for Kate, Leeds Music Hub works because it combines the talents of many people.

“Having people who get what you’re trying to do and want to work with you to create something has been such a big thing for me in developing the Hub.

It’s nice that along the way this has come from some of my absolute favourite local bands, musicians and creatives, too”.

Notes

Bess Martin – http://www.bessinabout.com/

Sarah Francis/HOARD – http://www.hoard.uk.com/

Leeds Music Hub – http://www.theleedsmusichub.co.uk/

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