Compass Festival 2021 

A portable museum, pop-up pub and dynamic audio experience in which every Leeds telephone box rings in unison are the first projects announced as the biennial interactive festival returns to Leeds  from Friday 19 – Sunday 28 March 2021.  

Across Leeds

  • Items from Leeds collectors including cats’ whiskers, drum-kits and models of hands have been re-fashioned into a set of artworks for Museums in People’s Homes. Looking at how collectors engage with the world, audiences can register for a museum tour to take place in their home later in 2021. 
  • Part of a national project to make the 34,000 payphones across the UK ring at once, audio experience Pick Me Up (& hold me tight) explores how we listen to each other and will see all of Leeds’ public phone boxes ring at 11am each day during the festival.
  • Four-sided, fully operational 12ft x 12ft pop-up pub The Yorkshire Square will come to Leeds’ iconic Kirkgate market. Looking at the enduring importance of the pub in our lives, the project holds an unexpected urgency as we navigate lockdown closures and includes the opportunity to vote to recreate a lost Leeds pub. 
  • Further performances, installations and podcasts to be announced in January will explore a breadth of enlightening and topical themes such as the politics of Blackness and Black hair, anxiety and the future of queer spaces.

The interactive festival’s fifth edition offers its largest commissioned body of work to date with eight thought provoking, moving and playful projects. The first three works are announced today (Tuesday 17 November) with all projects taking place in a range of covid safe settings including bridges, shopping centres, purpose built spaces and the city’s streets.

The participatory projects will allow audiences to further explore their localities and rediscover culture, heritage and community within their city. In a time of political upheaval, climate crisis and global pandemic, the carefully curated programme includes projects with culturally relevant themes that resonate collectively and personally. Rooted in the here and now, they feel increasingly relevant and necessary as we contemplate the future.

Over 13,000 people participated in the 2018 festival – since then, the landscape of culture has changed. Compass, like many of its contemporaries, was presented with the challenge of how commissions would reach audiences in a post lockdown environment. In August, Compass announced the postponement of the festival from its original November 2020 date, to March 2021. Since lockdown, the festival has been working closely with artists fully supporting them as they progress and adapt the commissions to meet the challenges of work being staged around local rules and restrictions.

Festival co-director Annie Lloyd said“Among the many qualities we’ve seen in this dreadful year are the power of community, our resilience and adaptability, and our care for each other. Themes that run through 2021’s edition of Compass Festival. For the last two years we have supported the most amazing artists firstly to develop their projects and then to adapt them in response to the changing conditions. We are proud of the work they have achieved and can’t wait to share it with the people of Leeds. Amidst all the uncertainty we feel we have a responsibility to carefully encourage people to be creative and playful again in public spaces when the time is right, for the sake of our cultural life, for the sake of art and artists, and for everyone’s mental wellbeing.

“Whether you are out and about or staying home, we have created many entry points from which to enjoy the festival so you can be inspired and remain safe at the same time. Now more than ever we are indebted to the imagination of artists as they bring joy and remind us of our common humanity.”

Joshua Sofaer has been working in Leeds for the last year with 14 collectors of strange and marginal things, including North Korean medals and cats’ whiskers. For Museums in People’s HomesJoshua has re-fashioned and created artefacts, using a variety of materials, including precious metals. He will house them within a portable museum complete with a tiny gift shop and cafe, designed and created with craftsman/designer Matt Kelly from Plaey. The project can be booked to visit your own home later in 2021, where visitors will be treated to a personal tour of the museum and hear some of the amazing stories of the collectors of Leeds; who they are, what they collect and why.

The people and stories include a Leeds based NHS paramedic who collects models of hands. Joshua has cast her life-saving hand and created a copper glove. Copper is known for its antioxidant life-saving properties. Or there’s the professional drummer with a house full of drums whose collection has inspired a matchbox artwork depicting a scene from forties screwball comedy Ball of Fire and the collector whose uncle was gifted a ‘garish’ oriental tea set which, now in her care, has been re-cast as an urn in commemoration of the gifts we inherit that we’re not sure we want to keep.

ZU-UK’s Pick Me Up (& hold me tight) is a national project intended to make all the 34,000 public phone boxes in the UK ring at the same time. When you pick up the phone you will be able to participate in a gentle, thought-provoking audio experience that explores contemporary loneliness, and exposes the edges of our humanness. This warm, generous work is inspired by ZU-UK’s research into occurrences of suicide. While not a suicide prevention project, it is an invitation to us all to think about how we listen. For those who can’t be at a public pay phone, Pick Me Up (and hold me tight) can also be experienced online via an audio-visual map that will track – in real time – which phones have been picked up and which ones are still trying to make a connection.

Since 2017 Katie Etheridge and Simon Persighetti (Small Acts) have been working with Leeds brewers, publicans, campaigners and individuals to explore the future of social landscapes by investigating the enduring role of pubs as places of community, intergenerational exchange, entertainment, (hi)story-telling and activism. The project provides a platform for engagement and discussion. If the pub isn’t your community space, what is?

The unprecedented closure of the UK’s already endangered pubs during this year’s lockdown has highlighted both the fragility and the importance of the public house. Modelled on the dimensions of the unique fermenting vessel made famous by Tetley’s Brewery, the Public House – The Yorkshire Square installation has been reimagined as a four sided pop-up-pub serving brews and views from across Leeds. Visitors will pick from a menu of tap talks and heritage tours from guest presenters, self-guided trails, podcasts and family activities.


Compass commission and present interactive live art projects in Leeds. They run an artist residency programme, present standalone projects and exhibitions and artist development initiatives. Compass is also the driving force behind the biennial Compass Festival.

Since 2011 Compass has been animating the city with brilliant interactive live art projects in which they invite the public to join them in playful enquiry, silent contemplation, astonishing feats of madness, hospitality and communality within and beyond the theatre or the gallery, in the places where we live, work and play.

They believe that everyone can enjoy the very best of contemporary live art and work closely with partners around the city and beyond to present thought provoking, entertaining and moving projects in a range of settings including libraries, markets, museums, shopping centres and the city streets.

They take time to work with artists and communities making sure the projects they commission are considered and fully engaged with their surroundings.