Steering group announced as Leeds begins journey toward European Capital of Culture 2023: dsc_1110.jpg

09 Sep 2015

Steering group announced as Leeds begins journey toward European Capital of Culture 2023

The steering group that will spearhead Leeds’s exciting bid to be named European Capital of Culture 2023 has come together for the very first time today.

The 14-strong panel, appointed following a city-wide call to action which saw hundreds of people apply for places, will now be responsible for deciding how to showcase the very best of Leeds to the judges.

Made up of a diverse mix of figures from the local arts, culture, business, education and political sectors, the group will be chaired by Sharon Watson, artistic director of the city’s renowned Phoenix Dance Theatre.

Sharon is also a trustee of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, The Place, West Yorkshire Playhouse, and an artistic advisor for Central School of Ballet and Leeds Inspired.

She said: “It’s a huge honour to be chairing the steering group and to be surrounded by so many talented and knowledgeable people as we take our first steps on the road to 2023.

“With the experience and love for the city and its culture that we've gathered here, I’m sure together we have the drive and the ambition to create a bid that will be a great representation of Leeds.

“It’s our intention to ensure this is a bid that belongs to the people of Leeds and which properly communicates how vibrant and diverse our different communities and cultural institutions are.

“Leeds is a city with so much to be proud of and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us all to show that to the world.”

The steering group’s inaugural meeting was held at Chapel FM in Seacroft, a radio station and community facility based in the former Seacroft Methodist Chapel, which has stood since 1874.

The converted building features a restored 105 year-old organ and a stunning stained glass window, which was put in place when Chapel FM was launched in 2003.

The window’s design is based on the audio waveform of the station’s first ever jingle “from the people to the people” and also includes 250 smaller audio signatures etched into the glass by local volunteers, church members, residents and builders.

Joining Sharon on the steering group is Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council.

She said: “It’s inspiring to see the steering group come together for the first time and it brings home just how rich and varied our city’s cultural offering really is.

“In many ways the venue of our first meeting encapsulates exactly what we want Leeds’s bid to be all about.

“Our key ambition is for the bid to be truly inclusive, focusing on the people living in our communities so they genuinely feel it represents everything they love about their city.

“Only by capturing that pride and community spirit that can we ensure that the picture of Leeds we paint for the judges reflects what makes the city such a fantastic place to live, work and visit.”

She added: “This is the beginning of an exciting journey for Leeds and one that we hope will bring us all closer together as a city.

“If we can continue to channel even some of the passion and enthusiasm we have seen from residents so far, I’m sure we can put together a formidable and eclectic bid that will be tough for any city to beat.”

With the help of a number of subgroups, the main steering group will now work to agree the vision, focus and themes of the bid before it is submitted to the judging panel in December 2017.

Subgroups will focus on separate areas including cultural programming, marketing and communications, finance and fundraising, European partnerships and community engagement and will inform the main steering group.

The council’s executive board formally announced Leeds’s intention to bid for European Capital of Culture 2023 in March.

Following the appointment of the steering group, an expression of interest must now be drawn up and submitted near the end of 2016, with a final bid submitted by December 2017

The decision to bid followed a wide-ranging 14-month public consultation, which gathered the views of local communities, children and young people, cultural organisations and the city's independent arts sector.

For more information of the European Capital of Culture 2023 bid, visit


For media enquiries, please contact:

Stuart Robinson

Communications Officer

Leeds City Council

Tel: 0113 224 3937


Members of Leeds’s European Capital of Culture 2023 steering group

Sharon Watson- Independent chair

Sharon was appointed as the 7th Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre in May 2009 and in 2010 was named as one of the Cultural Leadership Programme’s Women to Watch

In 2008 Sharon was one of 26 aspiring leaders from around the globe selected to attend Dance East’s fourth Rural Retreat, an intensive four day think-tank exploring the challenges of the role of Artistic Directors in the 21st century.

In 2013 Sharon was nominated for the prestigious h.Club100 search for the UK’s most influential people working in the creative industries.

Sharon is a trustee of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, The Place, West Yorkshire Playhouse, and an artistic advisor for Central School of Ballet and Leeds Inspired.

James Brining – Artistic subgroup chair

James is Artistic Director/Joint Chief Executive of West Yorkshire Playhouse where he has directed The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, The Crucible, Enjoy, Talking Heads and Sweeney Todd which he will restage with WNO this autumn at Wales Millennium Centre. Previously, he was Artistic Director / Chief Executive of Dundee Rep.

His productions of Sweeney Todd and Sunshine on Leith won UK Theatre Best Musical in 2010 and 2007 respectively (the latter was subsequently made into successful feature film). Whilst at the Rep he significantly expanded the Rep’s creative learning activities establishing an MA in theatre studies with the University of Dundee. He was Chairman of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, and has taught at a number of Scotland’s universities and colleges as well as in Japan, Denmark and Italy.

Prior to the Rep, he was Artistic Director of TAG Theatre Company where he developed a four-year drama and democracy project Making the Nation, which explored devolution and independence on national and international platforms. Before TAG he was Community Director at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond and before that he led Proteus Theatre Company, a new writing company touring Southern England. He was born and brought up in Leeds.

Anita Morris – Communications and marketing subgroup chair

Before forming Anita Morris Associates in 1999, Managing Director Anita Morris worked for three years as the Marketing Director of Photo98 – the UK Year of Photography & the Electronic Image, following over seven years at Opera North which included four years as Head of PR & Marketing.

Anita directs all client projects to differing degrees and has produced strategic plans and delivered hundreds of campaigns including for Igloo Regeneration, Ilkley Literature Festival, ISIS Waterside Regeneration, Keelham Farm Shop, Leeds Inspired, Mint Hotels, Northern Art Prize, Rushbond Plc, Save the Children, The Piece Hall Trust, The Tetley, Urbis, Yorkshire Festival 2014, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Her knowledge and experience of marketing and communications within the cultural sector is broad. A long-standing member of the CIPR, she has built up an award-winning agency and brings a deep understanding, as well as current experience of PR & marketing techniques, in the rapidly-changing, multi-channelled digital landscape.

Anita Morris Associates works for private and public sector clients right across the North of England, often for the northern offices of national and international brands, running sales, marketing and brand reputation campaigns in national, regional, trade and consumer media. Sectors in which the company is strongest include arts and culture, regeneration, retail, property, tourism, design and engineering.

Nicola Greenan – engagement subgroup chair

Nicola was appointed a Director of East Streets Arts in 2015, which is a contemporary visual arts organisation which stretches across the U.K and Europe. Nicola recently helped establish the city’s first live/work space for artists in Beeston, and leading on the delivery of Leeds Art Hostel and new offer to the city creating a space for people to stay, create and debate.

Nicola Greenan was raised in Seacroft and was one of the original founders of The LS14 Trust a not-for-profit organisation, owned and led by the local community of Leeds 14. The Trust has ambitions to revitalise Seacroft and the surrounding locality, creating new opportunities for residents, and increasing the sense of pride in the area. It is seeks to develop local ownership of activities and initiatives that promote the area as a vibrant and exciting place to work and live.

Nicola is the chair of Leeds Music Trust, an organisation that supports the use of music as a power for good. Leeds Music Trust’s mission is to provide educational musical opportunities that are ethical, intergenerational and inclusive; they aim to support a family atmosphere among Leeds talent, to ensure their music doesn't go unheard. Nicola was previously the chair of ‘Seacroft Summer and Winter Gala’ and has over 8 years’ experience of working with Festival Republic supporting the development of the BBC Introducing at Leeds Festival working in partnership with Leeds Beckett University.

Godfrey Worsdale – Finance sub group chair

Godfrey Worsdale, previous director of BALTIC, was recently appointed Director of The Henry Moore Foundation.

Like Henry Moore, Godfrey Worsdale grew up in Yorkshire. Trained as an art historian and conservator in London, he began his career in the early 1990s at the British Museum and simultaneously established Cultural Instructions, an independent exhibition space in London in 1994.

He moved to Southampton City Art Gallery as Curator in 1995, and was appointed Director in 1998. In 2002 he became founding Director of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. In 2008 he was appointed Director of BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and three years later launched BALTIC 39; a significant second site for the institution hosting an innovative university partnership. He has published and lectured widely, has twice served as external examiner at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is Visiting Fellow at Cleveland College of Art and Design. Godfrey was a judge for the 2011 Turner Prize.

He has chaired the Visual Art and Galleries Association, and was the former Chairman of the Contemporary Visual Art Network; a Patron of the Crisis Commission; a Trustee of the Northern Canon Art Collection and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Laws by Northumbria University in 2012.

Anamaria Wills – European subgroup chair

Anamaria Wills is the CEO and Executive Director, and founder of CidaCo. She has 30 years’ experience as a creative leader and consultant, facilitating change management and organisational development. She also coaches and mentors Senior Executives, and is an exceptional trainer.

Anamaria works at both strategic and grassroots levels, and her clients range from international governments wanting to grow their creative economies to artists wanting to earn more from their creativity. She works across private, public and voluntary sectors, facilitating the design and implementation of strategic change to achieve organisational resilience and success.

She is accredited by the UK Institute of Knowledge Transfer (MInstKT) and is a Fellow of the RSA. She is Chair of Balbir Singh Dance Company, on the Board of the new White Rose College of Arts and Humanities ( a coalition of the Universities of Leeds, York, and Sheffield), and is co-founder and Director of ASK-CIDA, Trinidad, working to develop the creative industries across the Caribbean. She was awarded the UK TMA award for Outstanding Contribution for “Daring innovation, internationally as well as in the community and its region; and for setting an example in management”

Frank Finlay

Frank Finlay is Professor of German language and literature at the University of Leeds, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and a member of the University Executive Group.

Frank studied in Newcastle and Berlin and has held research and teaching posts in Vienna, Cologne, Manchester and Bradford. He is currently leading the cross-University interdisciplinary research them on Culture as well as the project to establish a new Cultural Institute.

Frank has served the broader academic community as President of the Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland and a panel member in successive national assessments of research. In his spare time he enjoys various cultural and sporting pursuits is a keen amateur musician.

Mohammad Dastbaz

Prof. Mohammad Dastbaz is the Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of the Arts, Environment and Technology, at Leeds Beckett University. As Dean of a Faculty with over 7500 students, over 3000 of which are studying art and cultural related subjects, including: Fine Arts, Architecture, Performing Arts, Music, Film, Dance, and Creative Technologies and with over 500 staff, he has a wide ranging experience relating to Art and Cultural issues.

Mohammad is a Fellow of: Royal Society of Arts, Higher Education Academy and the British Computer Society.

Mohammad has published widely, including numerous journal and conference papers, book chapters and Books on design and development of Multimedia systems, e-Learning and eGovernment.

His latest publications, in 2015, includes two edited books on “Sustainable Futures – Built Environment and Design” (a Collaboration with Berkeley – UCLA) and “Green Information Technology” published by “Morgan Kaufman - Elsevier”.

Mohammad has wide range of experience working on European Projects and was the proposer of EU’s innovative PANDORA (3.8M Euro) project that used emerging technologies to develop an innovative VR training package for strategic decision makers dealing with national emergencies.

Selina Thompson

Selina Thompson is an artist and performer based in Leeds. Her work is playful, participatory and intimate, focused on the politics of identity and how this defines our bodies, lives and environments.

She has made work for pubs, cafes, hairdressers, toilets, and sometimes even galleries and theatres, including Spill Festival of Performance, The National Theatre Studio, The Birmingham REP, East Street Arts and the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Over the past couple of years she’s been developing a body of works called ‘Edible Women’, exploring the fat body, dieting, control around food, and how much of a mess she can get away with creating with an audience and a taste for excess. This group of works saw her make a theatre show, build a dress out of cake, and spend quite a lot of time listening to people confess their food sins, as well as sharing many of her own.

She is currently in the middle of developing two new projects: the first exploring black identity within the UK and further afield (for this one she built a giant ball of hair) and the second looking at unemployment and job centres.

Karen Sewell

Karen Sewell has close to 20 years experience as a transactional lawyer working in London, New York and Leeds. Karen is a partner at top tier Leeds, national and international law firm Addleshaw Goddard LLP where she specialises in banking and corporate finance and is also acting head of the firm's Graduate Recruitment activities in Leeds. Karen has two sons aged 2 and her interests include cinema, theatre and live sport.

Kenneth Tindall

Kenneth’ signature choreographic style along with the ballet’s he has created has earned him much critical acclaim and is highlighted by his prestigious Production Prize which he was awarded at the 26th International Choreographic Competition in Hannover in 2012 with his choreographic debut ‘Project #1’.

In September 2014 Kenneth was nominated for Best Young Choreographer at the Taglioni European Ballet Awards, he was also selected as a participant in the 2014/2015 Dance UK Future Arts Leaders Mentoring Programme as well as also being nominated by several critics as Best World Premiere for his ballet The Architect.

Kenneth has collaborated with many artists across various genres including the American artist Nick Mauss and musician Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth for Frieze Art Fair 2014 and the Artist Linder Sterling and Musician Max Sterling for the British Art Show 8, 2015.

Earlier this year Kenneth retired as a Principal dancer with Northern Ballet after 14 year with the company, and although Kenneth has only been established as a freelance choreographer since 2011, he has already worked with film producers, fashion designers, ballet and dance companies, production firms and many other arts originations including Northern Ballet, English National Ballet, The museum of Modern Art Paris, Tate St Ives and the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery.

Councillor Judith Blake

Councillor Judith Blake is the leader of Leeds City Council, Executive Board Member for Economy and Culture and Ward Councillor for Middleton Park. She has been an elected member since 1996.

Prior to being elected Leader of the Council in May 2015, she served as Deputy Leader of the Council for 5 years and also a member of the Executive. In her time as a Councillor she has covered a wide range of portfolios including Children & Families, Planning, Education and Leisure. She was Deputy Leader of Leeds City Council from 2010 to 2015 and has previously chaired the Development and Sustainability Scrutiny Board. Cllr Blake currently chairs the Council’s Executive Board and has also served as board member for NHS Leeds and the West Yorkshire Police Authority.

In her role as Executive Member for Children’s and Families’ Cllr Blake helped Children’s Services achieve an Ofsted rating of ‘good overall’ with a rating of ‘outstanding’ for Leadership and Management, only 4 other authorities have an ‘outstanding’ rating within their report.

Cllr Blake is heavily involved in roles within her ward and attends many community meetings that take place and is on the boards for Belle Isle Winter Aid, Health For All, BITMO, and is a governor at Westwood Primary School.

Councillor Dan Cohen

Dan was born in Alwoodley and was delighted to have been elected to represent the ward he has always called home in May 2011, and recently re-elected in May 2015.

He is married to Elayna and together they have 4 young children.

A solicitor by profession and now Managing Director of Madison Hosiery Limited, a successful Leeds company employing over 100 people, Dan is the Co-Founder of the Cohen Foundation, a charitable foundation that has given out over half a million pounds in grants over the past 10 years to worthy causes.

A community volunteer and activist for over 21 years, Dan also helped found and now serves as chair of governors at Leeds Jewish Free School. He has been a Foundation Governor at Brodetsky Primary School and was previously a Governor of Abbey Grange High School. He is currently a Local Education Authority Governor at Allerton High School.

As a City Councillor Dan sits on the Outer North East Community Committee and on the Scrutiny Boards for City Development and Strategy and Resources.

Councillor Stewart Golton

Councillor Golton is the leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Leeds City Council and ward councillor for Rothwell. He has been a councillor since 1998 and is currently on the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board.

He is also a member of the Health and Wellbeing Board in Leeds and has previously been both Executive portfolio holder for Children’s Services as well as chairman of the board for Leeds Bradford International Airport.


For media enquiries contact:

Leeds City Council Communications team