We caught up with Gemma Holsgrove, new Festival Executive for Leeds International Festival 2019, which is brought to the city by LeedsBID. Gemma has an extensive background centred on using the arts to inspire, motivate and positively impact people’s lives.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I started training professionally as a singer, dancer, actress at 16 in London but after a couple of years realised it wasn’t for me. I went on to university and then got into events when I organised a charity ball at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which ended up raising £13.5k in one night!
I have been very lucky to work on some extraordinary events and projects; from working with Artliner on The Wind Tunnel Project, a multi-sensory art exhibition and events housed in Grade 1 and 2 Listed wind tunnels in Farnborough, to working with The Royal British Legion on the first regional pilot of Bravo 22 Company’ – a ‘recovery through theatre’ project that saw veterans and those with close ties to the armed forces (many of whom were wounded, injured or sick) take part in a brand new play performed at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.
I moved to York in 2017 to work as Creative Producer for York Mediale – a brand new digital arts festival that took place in September-October 2018 and brought the city’s UNESCO City of Media Arts designation to life.
Q. What attracted you to the Leeds International Festival position? And working in Leeds?
I’d heard so much about Leeds – how there’s a plethora of things to do, whether its theatre, music, live art, food, dance, and how creative and forward thinking the city and the people that live and work there are. It’s definitely lived up to expectations and more!
What attracted me to the Festival Executive position was the feedback I got when I discussed the festival with a colleague from York Mediale who has lived and worked in Leeds for some time.
She attended one of last year’s standout events – Astronaut Wanted, No Experience Necessary with Helen Sharman – and was utterly inspired – and that really stuck with me. If that was the effect on one person I thought, what must it have been like for the thousands who attended various festival events?
Q. What can people expect from the festival this year?
Expect the unexpected! The programme is totally organic, having mainly come from the festival’s first open call. It’s a giant mosaic, a jigsaw puzzle – one day there will be five hundred people watching Crazy P live, the next day we’ll be asking the profound question “What does it mean to be human?” Music, dance, sculpture, live art, food, comedy, talks, discussions, debates – the list goes on!
Q. How can people or organisations get involved?
Check out the website, sign up to the newsletter for regular updates. If you want to volunteer, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The programme is now is closed for 2019 but we will be putting out an open call for the 2020 festival, so keep an eye out after May!
Q. What are you looking forward to?
Can I say everything!? There’s so much, it’s really hard to choose. I’m really looking forward to seeing our Festival Village site at The Tetley Brewery Green – a giant inflatable cube that will be our ‘hub’ and house many of the large scale events.
I’m also really looking forward to seeing our OFF programme happening around the city – we received such an array of event submissions, all of which were fascinating and innovative in their own ways.
Q. For anyone wanting to follow in your career footsteps, what advice would you give them?
My Dad has always been someone I’ve looked up to and sought advice from on my career and life. So, whilst the advice is from me, it is really from him!
Be bold. If you want to do something badly enough, you’ll find your way round the challenges that life throws at you. And when you get to where you want to be, you’ll think ‘well that was hard, but totally worth it’.
Q. Do you have a favourite place in Leeds you like to visit?
I’m still very new to Leeds and enjoying exploring as I go along. I find it all really fascinating – the old and new alongside each other. At the moment it would be the Corn Exchange – I’ve been in there a couple of times later in the day and it’s just got such a sense of history about it. It’s just such a special place.
Find out more about Leeds International Festival 2019
Picture cap (L-R) Start of a new partnership – LeedsBID Chief Executive Andrew Cooper, Gemma Holsgrove, Festival Executive for Leeds International Festival, Valli van Zijl, Vastint Regeneration Manager, and Morgan Cope General Manager of Tetley Bar & Kitchen.