LVAF was set up in 1999 by a group of artists and arts professionals who wanted to form a united body to represent and advocate the visual arts in Leeds. Historically the sector had suffered from poor infrastructure and communication mechanisms, and from a low local and global profile. This was reflected in Leeds City Council’s draft document ‘Art and Heritage Strategy’, presented to a constituency meeting in the Town Hall in February 1999 by Cllr Bernard Atha. Representatives of the visual arts sector campaigned for support at the meeting to help rectify this situation and to put the visual arts on an equal platform to other art forms in the city.

The result was a series of critical debates called ‘Artspotting’ in 1999 hosted by the West Yorkshire Playhouse and funded by Leeds Leisure Services and Yorkshire Arts. The first debate, entitled ‘A Profile For The Visual Arts In Leeds’ took place on 19 September 1999 and was chaired by Lee Corner (as were all the debates). Mary Sara, former gallerist and critic, who worked at Harewood House was the speaker. About 80 people attended the debate, which focussed on the current situation of the visual arts in Leeds and how it could be improved.

‘Artists In Leeds: Strategies To Tackle Isolation’ was the second debate which took place on 18 October. 150 people came to hear Nick Crowe, artist and co-ordinator of the Annual Programme in Manchester, and Aileen Ryan, project co-ordinator of Vision in Art in London, and to debate how artists could become part of the arts infrastructure in Leeds.

On 22 November the third debate ‘The Future Of The Visual Arts In Leeds’ took place. Themes from the previous two debates were brought together to create a dialogue looking at issues that could help LVAF form an action plan.

A second series of debates ‘Artspotting 2’ took place in 2001. Lewis Biggs, Director of the Liverpool Biennial addressed international contexts for the visual arts in ‘Going Large’; Mac McLean of Leeds Design Week spoke at ‘Going Shopping’ – a debate about commercial opportunities for artists; and Irena Bauman of Bauman Lyons Architects and Geoff Wood of pArts explored initiatives for public art in ‘Going Public’.

In July 2002 LVAF underwent a review process and structural reorganisation and formulated plans to attract new active members. In November another event was held at the West Yorkshire Playhouse with presentations by Chair Mags McLeary and Becky Shaw from Static in Liverpool who spoke about artist-led initiatives, the Liverpool Biennial, curating and working as an artist. The event was a success and 12 people volunteered to join the steering group and project groups.

Since then, LVAF has grown from strength to strength and remained committed to its original remit of raising the profile of the visual arts in Leeds. The Listserve (LVAF’s free email information service) currently has over 2000 subscribers and continues to provide an invaluable source of information about events, resources and opportunities (see Listserve). Events in recent years have included a Creative Exchange at the Adelphi, an open meeting as part of Testbed at Leeds Met Gallery, Look Behind The Scenes at the Round Foundry Media Centre and a networking event at Bar Home in the Dark Arches.

In 2010, LVAF was commissioned by Leeds City Council to develop a Visual Art Framework document to analyse the current situation and propose the route forward for the sector over the next ten years. To access more about this document click here.