L19 through the eyes of the Festival Executive, Gemma Holsgrove - Leeds International Festival

L19 through the eyes of the Festival Executive, Gemma Holsgrove

This year’s Leeds International Festival was the first one in which Gemma Holsgrove was brought onboard. As the Festival Executive, she’s been heading up L19, so we thought we would check in with her to see what her festival highlights from this year have been…

“Highlights…..ah, where to start!”


“Page 127: by Maria Popova was utterly mesmerising – I was totally transported out of reality and into Maria’s world of interwoven sculpture and dance, making a truly extraordinary installation.

Credit: Ben Bentley
Ben Bentley

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation was a completely raw and heartfelt performance in Mill Hill Chapel.  It was funny, sad and informative all at once, and really made me stop and think about the older generation, in ways I’d never thought about them before. It has really left a mark on me.


Facing Brave was another outstanding and thought-provoking event – wow! What a lady Dr. Almas Ahmed is! She spoke with such intent and sheer determination, but also in a way that engaged all of us in the audience. It made us all want to not only fight against acid attacks, but understand more about the root causes behind why they happen, and what we can do to change things. I came away feeling utterly inspired, which no doubt many of the other audience members did too.


Art, Sound, Light, Innovation

Daniel Avery x Flat-e’s Falling Light installation was stellar. Anyone that attended the opening night on 2nd May in the Corn Exchange was part of an atmosphere that I simply cannot put into words. It felt like this sometimes sleepy venue came truly alive that evening, for the first time in a few decades. The installation was extraordinary – so simple, and yet clever at the same time. It was such a treat to go back again a week later, and see people lying on the bottom floor of the Corn Exchange, totally immersed in the experience.


Northern Sound Collective, the organisers of Automation and Me, achieved something really special with this project. Taking over an empty shop unit in Victoria Gate for three days, you got an overwhelming sense of collaboration and true creativity the minute you walked in. It was a real pleasure to see international, national and local artists working together in such a unique environment, and it was a pleasure to enable NSC’s largest hackathon to date to happen as part of the Festival.


Testimony and Memorial

For Oluwale II was one of those events that stops you in your tracks, giving you that overwhelming sense of history coming alive, right in front of your eyes. Gill Crawshaw, the event curator and organiser, brought together a group of artists who interpreted The Tetley’s For Oluwale II exhibition particularly for blind people, particularly-sighted people and deaf people who use sign language. The artists brought to life the exhibition in a way that I’d never witnessed before – and that had the audience completely engrossed in the sad story of David Oluwale and his tragic death in 1969.


In the What Does It Mean To Be Human series of events, Gelong Thubten, Professor Alice Roberts, Simon Anholt and Matt Haig treated us to four unique talks that explored the question in completely different ways. They all made attendees question our own humanity in many of its forms, from various angles and through different phases of humanity’s life on earth. Each speaker offered a distinct approach to the provocation, and those few dozen attendees who stayed for all FOUR of the talks through the day were the real stalwarts! They (and definitely, I) left with so much to think about – I’m certainly still mulling it all over myself!”


Overall, it seems like L19 was a festival of diversity, excitement, celebration, memorial, exhaustion, provocation, exhilaration…the list goes on! I wonder what L20 will bring…