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It’s Back! Compass Festival Returns With a Profound and Playful Programme of Events

· Ruth Hargreaves · Culture

Culture is back… and it’s totally free!

Compass Live Art Anxiety Arcade 2021

Starting 19th March 2021, Compass Festival returns with a programme of thoughtful, thought-provoking and totally free events. From surprisingly tender phone calls to the city’s smallest gay bar, venture out and soak it all in.

Safe to say, playful exploration has taken a back seat over the past year. However, something wonderful is on the way…

As lockdown eases, Compass Festival gently unfurls with a heartfelt and safety-conscious series of live art projects, woven into public spaces around Leeds. From bridges to phone boxes, pop-up pubs to your very own home, each interactive event invites you to embark on a personal journey around the city. Wherever you are and whatever you feel comfortable with, there’s a way for you to discover something special – and it’s all totally free!

The biennial festival, originally scheduled for 10 days last November, will now spread its activities across 2021. They’ve adapted and helped their artists to re-imagine their works within this ever-changing landscape. Exploring themes such as loneliness, social history, activism and the importance of pubs (darn right), many of the installations feel particularly poignant in today’s cultural climate.

Most dates remain flexible for obvious reasons, but the sentiment? That’s unwavering. Compass Festival is an all-out celebration of culture, creativity and community. Above all it’s a time for us, either alone or in small groups, to begin carefully reconnecting with the city we know and love. As festival co-director, Annie Lloyd, told us, “Now, more than ever, we’re indebted to the imagination of artists as they bring joy and remind us of our common humanity.”

May to June

Compass Live Arts One in One Out World's Smallest Gay Bar

Credit: Lizzie Coombes

From 24th to 30th May 2021, Compass Festival’s events continue with Anxiety Arcade in Trinity Kitchen. Talking about mental health isn’t always easy, but combine it with a love letter to 1980s pop culture and you’ve suddenly got a real conversation starter. Created by Closed Forum and based in Leeds city centre, take the helm of a refitted arcade machine and enter a virtual playground filled with never-ending puzzles, wrong turns and retro references (hello, Microsoft Office paperclip). Play the game and reset your world.

Nostalgia is also the driving force behind Lucy Hayhoe’s installation – One in, One out: Leeds’ Smallest Gay Bar, which comes to Wharf Street from 28th to 30th May 2021. Examine the past, present and future of queer culture in a club so exclusive, it can only hold one audience member at a time! Complete with dodgy disco lights and banging tunes, you’ll take to the dance floor to explore the role of gay bars as a contemporary space, asking what we want to preserve for the future and what we want to leave behind.

Leeds’ heritage is tied to its riverine roots, but it’s not just industry that flows along the River Aire and Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The Ballad of Crown Point Bridge, which runs from 5th to 27th June 2021, is a motion-sensitive installation that allows you to wander among the echoes of personal stories in the sheltered underbelly of this Grade II-listed bridge. From swimmers and graffiti artists to the homeless who take shelter below, listen to the memories that drift between the words and the water.


Compass Live Arts Museums in Peoples Homes

Credit: Lizzie Coombes

By now, you probably know the objects in your home like the back of your hand. But what about the treasures that others hold dear? For Museums in People’s Homes, Joshua Sofaer worked with 14 Leeds collectors to uncover their most prized possessions and understand why they mean so much. The purpose? To build a mobile museum! From a paramedic who collects models of hands to souvenirs from a bomb disposal technician, book a visit in your home and delve into these stories without ever stepping foot outside your door.

Finally, toast the arrival of long summer days in a fully-operational, 12×12 foot pop-up pub in the heart of Kirkgate Market! Safe to say, we’ve all missed our locals, but while lockdown showcased our nation’s enduring love for a pint or two, it also highlighted how public houses remain crucial hubs of community and cultural history. Modelled on iconic Leeds pubs, such as the Duchess of York, swing by Public House: The Yorkshire Square for a bevvy and see how the future of our public houses continues to hang in the balance.

Cover image credit: Lizzie Coombes