It is fitting that Leeds’ much beloved Opera North’s redeveloped HQ will carry the name of Dr Keith Howard, OBE, whose hugely generous, personal gift of £11.25 million has made such a difference to the current development project, Music Works.
Dr Howard’s donation is thought to be one of the largest made privately to a UK arts organisation outside of London Dr Howard is a lifelong opera love and is also a cricket fan, President of Opera North and founder of Emerald Group Publishing.
The Howard Opera Centre, situated on New Briggate and Harrison Street, will house rehearsal studios, a costume and wigs workshop, an Education Studio and a suite of music coaching rooms as well as admin offices, creating a world-class facility for making opera.
Ten years ago, the Howard Assembly Room was so-named in recognition of Dr Howard’s support, housing a 300 seat performance venue which offers a diverse calendar – from jazz to folk, classical music concerts to children’s opera and talks as well as films. The space is currently closed during the Music Works redevelopment, and will re-open next year. There’ll be a new, dedicated, fully accessible entrance and atrium, a greater number of performances and a new restaurant and bar, the latter occupying previously vacant units on New Briggate.
£15.6 million has been raised to date, with the target set at £18 million. Other contributors are Leeds City Council, Arts Council England, The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, Mrs Maureen Pettman and other private donors. Pledges have been received by The Wolfson Foundation, Backstage Trust, The Kirby Laing Foundation, The Foyle Foundation and The Garfield Weston Foundation.
Only £2.4 million to go!
Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North, comments:
“Opera North is delighted to be able to recognise the extraordinary generosity of our longstanding supporter and friend, Dr Keith Howard, whose contribution to this project means that we are able to create a new artistic home for the Company, as well as improving the infrastructure, access and visitor experience for the Howard Assembly Room.
The Howard Opera Centre will be a true centre of excellence, bringing together rehearsal spaces for world class opera productions with coaching rooms where singers can develop their vocal expertise, and specialist costume workshop spaces. A new hub for our Education work will create an inclusive space for our work with young people from across the city, bringing children and young people right to the heart of our creative community.”
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said:
“We are pleased to see this significant redevelopment now taking shape, creating a vastly improved artistic and educational hub for one of Leeds’ leading cultural assets. Opera North makes a huge contribution to the City, both in terms of the vitality and diversity of work seen on stage, and also through its work with children, young people and communities throughout our region.
Through the revitalisation of a neglected section of New Briggate, the improved facilities for the Howard Assembly Room will work in tandem with our wider aspirations for the area as part of the Heritage Action Zones and Connecting Leeds programmes, creating a vibrant destination and supporting our plans for a better connected City.”
Feature photograph shows Dr Howard (centre) with Richard Mantle (right) and Councillor Jonathan Pryor (left).