Janet France as Rocket to the Moon. Photo: Ian Charles

Leeds West Indian Carnival marked its 50th anniversary in 2017 with a spectacular series of milestone events to celebrate the golden milestone.

As well as the costume spectacle of the annual August Bank Holiday Monday parade, the celebrations included Leeds Carnival 50 Heritage, a programme of events supported by a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of just under £100,000, to showcase the history, heritage and hidden stories behind Europe’s longest running Caribbean carnival parade, and made possible by National Lottery players.

The Carnival’s founding member and Chair, Arthur France commented,

“Carnival is steeped in a history and culture that goes far beyond the costume spectacle that we all love. Rooted in slavery, born from Emancipation, and championed by Caribbean communities, it is a journey of resilience, struggles and triumphs that has universal appeal.  It was important that as well as celebrating 50 remarkable years we left a legacy that shares the journey from our beginnings to being a central part of the landscape in Leeds and major cities across the UK.”

Leeds Carnival was the first in the UK to incorporate all three essential elements of authentic West Indian carnival – costumes, music and a masquerade procession.

David Renwick, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Yorkshire & the Humber, said, “Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted that National Lottery players have been able to support this project to explore the fascinating stories of this key part of Leeds’ culture. As well as celebrating this milestone, the project will help preserve the heritage of a diverse community in Leeds, and provide a fantastic opportunity for local people to learn, and develop important heritage skills”.

A highlight of the programme was 50 Years of Leeds West Indian Carnival , a special exhibition of photography, sound, video, costumes and archive material capturing the heritage and half century history  of the Carnival.

Staged in partnership with The Tetley and curated by London based artist, Sonya Dyer, the exhibition also featured a replica of The Sun Goddess, the very first Leeds Carnival Queen costume, recreated by Leeds designer, Hughbon Condor. The exhibition also included Carnival artefacts donated by members of the public following a community call out for memorabilia.

Ms Dyer, whose roles included curating Public Programmes at Tate Britain and Tate Modern, ;

“The exhibition provided the chance to reflect not only on the amazing visual spectacle of Carnival and the skill of all the creators involved, but also its broader social impact on the city of Leeds, the UK and internationally”.

As part of the Leeds Carnival 50 Heritage project, working with Heritage Corner, volunteers collected the stories of pioneers and community that brought carnival to Leeds. Their recollections inspired Carnival Chronicles, a play written by acclaimed writer Zodwa Nyoni woven with real life moments and imagery from the Carnival’s history.

A series of workshops and symposia based on the Carnival’s history and heritage including traditional costume making, steel pan and calypso were also held as part of Leeds Carnival 50 Heritage.