The University of Leeds Public Art Trail

Polly Checkland Harding
Image courtesy of The University of Leeds.

Architecturally, the University of Leeds is a rich site for public art, a complex backdrop that combines red brick wings with Brutalist concrete structures and domestic terraces converted for academic use. Socially, too, it’s an apt location: since 1923, leading figures at the university have recognised the importance of situating works of art on campus, with Council member and philanthropist Stanley Burton particularly championing its inclusion. It’s for these reasons that the University of Leeds Public Art Trail includes works by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, alongside contemporary artists who’ve exhibited at prestigious institutions including the Wellcome Collection and Tate St Ives. The trail begins in the Parkinson Court on campus, outside The Stanley and Aubrey Burton Gallery and takes in a total of 17 installations.

These include Walking Figure by William Chattaway in Parkinson Court itself, inspired by Giacometti’s trademark physical forms, and replaced in 1989 after students damaged the original, with one leg destroyed beyond repair. Right at the entrance to the university, in front of the Laidlaw Library, is acclaimed artist Simon Fujiwara’s first ever public commission, A Spire: this beautiful and monumental piece reflects the shift in industries over time in Leeds, with pulverised coal at the turret’s base giving way to a surface inlaid with branches and cables. Man-Made Fibres by American artist Mitzi Cunliffe, the woman behind the theatrical mask design for the BAFTA Awards, is an echoing reflection of technological advances in the city, placed high on the Clothworkers Building South.

Cunliffe’s hope was that her art would be ‘used, rained on, leaned against’. Happily the trail includes sculptures that have absolutely become part of the conversation on campus: Keith Wilson’s Sign For Art at Beech Grove Plaza has been affectionately nicknamed ‘the squiggle’ by students, its wavy shape actually derived from a sign traced on the forehead of deaf-blind adults to signify ‘the arrival of the artist, the subject of art and the imminent activity of making art’. The moniker illustrates the gentle and immeasurable influence pieces like these can have on the people who experience them.

Want more outdoor art? Explore our dedicated guide to Outdoor Art in the North.

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What's on near The University of Leeds Public Art Trail

Look After Your Knees at Leeds Playhouse
TheatreLeeds
Look After Your Knees at Leeds Playhouse

Natalie Bellingham’s new show, tackling the pain and beauty of growing older, will preview at Leeds Playhouse ahead of its month-long run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

from £1.00

Where to go near The University of Leeds Public Art Trail

Image of exterior of Stage@Leeds Theatre
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Stage@Leeds

Stage@Leeds is a public theatre situated at the heart of the University of Leeds campus, programming a wealth of contemporary performance both on and offline.

Woodhouse Moor
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Woodhouse Moor

Woodhouse Moor is a popular park in Leeds near the universities district of the city and the Hyde Park area of Headingley.

Fettle Cafe Leeds
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Fettle Cafe

Fettle Cafe is a forward-thinking café on Great George Street, near Leeds General Infirmary. Its main attractions are the great coffee and its fresh, locally-sourced food.

Leeds Central Library Literary Places in Leeds.
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Leeds Central Library

Leeds’ main municipal library, housed in a Grade II-listed late 19th-century building on Headrow, next to the Art Gallery (which you can access via the rather lovely tiled cafe).

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The Chemic Tavern

Historic real ale pub situated in the heart of the Woodhouse residential area, just over a mile north of Leeds City Centre.

Leeds City Museum
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Leeds City Museum

Featuring a man-eating tiger, interactive exhibits spanning 540 million years of discovery, and displays dedicated to telling the story of Leeds from prehistory to the modern day.

Carriageworks Theatre Leeds
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Carriageworks Theatre

Leeds’ Carriageworks Theatre prides itself on showcasing work by local artists as well as being a family-friendly performance venue in the city centre.

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