Thursday, 13th February saw the launch of Leeds International Festival 2020, and where better to stage the event than the fabulous Corn Exchange. The event spans 10 days and comprises 29 events with 45 speakers held in 13 venues throughout the city.

I am in grave danger of making this article sound like the minutes of a meeting but it was anything but a stuffy congregation of suits waffling on about not much at all. You can tell that I used to be a civil servant!

Martin Dickson photo by Stan Graham

The proceedings were opened by Martin Dickson who is Head of Marketing at Leeds BID, the organisation responsible for hosting the Festival, who said that the aim was to provide events, some of which attracted an entry fee and many others which were free. Supporting Leeds BID are, amongst others, Welcome to Leeds, The Tetley, Vastint, Leeds City Region, Bruntwood and Weightmans.

Gemma Holdsgrave photo by Stan Graham

Next on stage was Gemma Holdsgrave, the Festival Executive who gave us a run down of the huge amount of interest which this year’s event has attracted. The theme for LIF20 is Generation Future and will concentrate on how the world will function, or not, in the future and what we can do to help. There have been over 400 submissions from people all over the world who wanted to be involved in this, meaning that the calibre of those eventually selected is first class. 

There are three international speaking events, comprising:-

Future. Identity. Power: Reframing Equality and Justice, exploring ways we can unite, across multiple identities of race, gender, class, generation, sexuality, and beyond. This will be presented by educator, speaker on identity, power, privilege and oppression, Dr Shona Hunter of Leeds Becket University who has so many other roles that the festival will be over by the time I get them typed out. She will be in conversation with writer, professor and activist Lacy M Johnson, writer, speaker and spoken-word poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and interdisciplinary writer (no idea), Jay Bernard.

Lacy M Johnson photo John Carrithers

A Generation to Cool the Earth in which TV presenter and wildlife enthusiast Michaela Strachan compéres four talks by Co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam, professional musician and bioacoustician (again no idea), Bernie Krause, global food activist and physicist Dr Vandana Shiva and carbon foot printing expert and author Mike Berners-Lee. Discussion will cover seed sovereignty and food futures, positive citizenship, the sounds of the ecosystem (now I get it), and how we can all make impactful changes.

Michaela Starachan photo Nigel Davis

Living in a Future City with George Clarke discussing how our conurbations can change to accommodate tomorrow’s citizens. The panel of experts here will be Roger Nickells a partner at BuroHappold, Leah Stuart, Associate Director at Civil Engineers, Professor Paul Chatterton of Leeds University and Journalist Robyn Vinter.

George Clarke photo supplied by Chapter 81

Moving on to the Arts section of LIF20 Gemma said that the much beloved Cube outside The Tetley at last year’s festival, will be pressed into action again but will be in a slightly different place known as Aire Park but I am sure that you won’t miss a huge illuminated pink inflatable structure of this size. She added that LIF20 had interviewed 50 artists who applied to take part so there will be something for everyone. 

The Cube photo Ben Bentley

Leeds: Loud, Diverse, Impactful is the umbrella title for the events featuring Leeds artists through the mediums of art, dance and music. 

Altered Oceans by Mandy Barker

Photographer Mandy Barker has an installation called Altered Oceans, highlighting the plastic detritus in our seas. Selina Thompson the artist and performer will host a ‘kitchen table council’ to see if we can do a better job than politicians. Yorkshire Dance and Phoenix Dance Theatre are to deliver participatory dance events to question our collective futures. I LIKE TRAINS will perform their first home town gig in three years, accompanied by NYX (Electronic Drone Choir).

I LIKE TRAINS photo Ben Bentley

Leeds’ own Compass Live Art will be presenting What’s Eating Reality, a dinner party with a difference hosted by digital artist Maya Chowdhry with a menu of seasonal, local and reclaimed food created by artist and chef Helen Russell Brown. The dining table will come alive with moving images of food production and commentaries from local food activists. The dinner will be accompanied by a live performance by Caro C.

Maya Chowdhry photo Ean Flanders

Naho Matsuda’s EVERY THING EVERY TIME, Generates real life visualisations of raw data from Leeds populace in the Merrion Centre. There will be  a secret new dance performance by Requardt & Rosenberg and The End Is Queer: A Doomsday Disco are some of the other events on offer.

Three of the participants in LIF20 were then interviewed by Radio Leeds’ Larry Budd who unleashed his inner Graham Norton – thank goodness we have the real one. His guests on the (grey) red sofa were Irini Papadimitriou, Creative Director of Manchester-based Future Everything, Charis Charles, Director of Access Education at Phoenix Dance Theatre, and Dr Shona Hunter from Leeds Becket University whose list of qualifications and involvements prompted Larry Budd to say that her business card must be A4 size.

Larry Budd with (l to r) Irini Papadimitriou, Charis Charles and Dr Shona Hunter photo by Stan Graham

With the theme of LIF20 being so potentially doom laden it was good to see how upbeat these guests were. Irini Papadimitriou gave details of the Naho Matsuda installation which will take the form of a destination board type contraption but instead of letting us know when the next flight will take off it will convey messages on all aspects of life using data which is being transmitted through the ether. Charis Charles told us of Phoenix Dance Theatre’s mass participation events where between 150 and 200 people will be encouraged and/or taught to groove along to live DJs with one of the mixes comprising Greta Thunberg speeches set to dance tracks. Dr Shona Hunter then gave us a trailer for her event which examines how we relate to each other and how we can adapt this to facilitate a shift in identities of various aspects of power as it affect social justice. Or at least that is what I thought it was about. I was privileged to be able to have a chat with Dr Shona after the event but neither of us stopped laughing long enough for me to ask any in-depth questions so I really will have to go along to find out what it is all about. If we are racing towards the end of the world then at least two of us will go out laughing.

Andrew Cooper photo by Stan Graham

The evening was wound up by Andrew Cooper the CEO of Leeds BID who said that the main object of the Festival was to promote Leeds as a cultural and forward looking city in the eyes of the world. He thanked all of the many partners who had made LIF20 possible, which is a sentiment that I think everyone echoed. As there were no more items on the agenda and nothing was raised under Any Other Business he brought the meeting to a close. You can take the boy out of the civil service…

Leeds International Festival 20 runs from 30th April, 2020 until 9th May, 2020

For the full programme and details of ticketing please go to I am sure that there will be something to stimulate and entertain you no matter what your view on our present predicament.

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