Yorkshire goes en fête

Fireworks light up the sky above Leeds Town Hall in celebration of the Yorkshire Grand Depart Le Tour de France 2014. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Fireworks light up the sky above Leeds Town Hall in celebration of the Yorkshire Grand Depart Le Tour de France 2014. Picture Bruce Rollinson

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For Sheffield and the rest of Yorkshire, the most exciting prospect for 2014 is the arrival of the Tour de France in July.

It will be far more than just a sporting event, however, with a 100-day Cultural Festival running alongside it for the first time.

The £2m festival, half of it funded by Arts Council England, is seen as an opportunity to show the world the cultural delights of God’s Own Country.

Planning started back in September after the appointment of Maria Bota, formerly manager of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and director of the Salisbury International Arts Festival, as director.

It involved 16 roadshows around the county inviting suggestions from both the great and the good - a cultural consortium in Sheffield is being headed by Kim Streets of Museums Sheffield - and grassroot communities and individuals.

This elicited more than 400 submissions, out of which 47 have been chosen for the programme which will be announced at the end of January.

They will include major performances and artworks by leading companies to smaller events rooted in local communities,

“A lot of organisations are creating work which would not be happening otherwise,” says executive producer Henrietta Duckworth who is heading up the team charged with delivering the programme.

“In 111 years there has never been a cultural festival as part of the Tour de France and a key objective is to provide an opportunity for people to be at the heart of this project and also an opportunity to be in the audience for the final revelation and be an active contributor as part of the festival. That’s something we can do in Yorkshire. That didn’t happen so much with the Olympic Culturiad as it was spread across the country.

“The key thing is that the vast majority of events will be free to access chiming in with the Tour de France experience, the notion of sitting in a cafe as the parade goes by. We want to capture the thrill of the moment with the festival.

Duckworth, previously producer at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, is based in Otley, and has her own independent company which has worked at the Barbican in London and the Manchester International Festival. This included working with electronic band The xx, “involving three weeks in a concrete bunker” the secret location to which the audience was led through a tunnel from Victoria Station, perhaps an indication of some of the ambitious and unusual events in store.

“There will be extraordinary events happening in extraordinary locations,” she promises.

The Grand Départ Festival will run over 100 days from March 27 to July 6, “There’s a 100 days tradition at the Tour de France,” explains Duckworth.