Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, Justine Simons OBE with the Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture leaders

Culture team highlights of 2019

16 December 2019

This year has seen art and culture dominate the landscape with every borough across London, creating engaging and inspiring moments for all to enjoy.

As we look back on 2019, we wanted to share with you our personal highlights and the special events that touched us as a team over the last 12 months.

What were your favourite cultural moments of the year? Let us know @LDN_Culture and tag #myLondonculture2019

Shonagh Manson, Assistant Director, Culture & Creative Industries

Welcome to the Forest, London Borough of Culture 
When Waltham Forest said to the world, “Welcome to the Forest” The two commissions which opened London’s first ever London Borough of Culture were so high impact – Nest by Marshmallow Laser Feast and composer Erland Cooper could be seen for miles around; and Into the Forest was a truly impossible light and sound projection right onto the whole of the Town Hall. But what really made it was dancing in the street with local families and knowing that thousands of local people were involved in making both. 

Barber Shop Chronicles at the Roundhouse
Barber Shop Chronicles is a rollicking, funny, touching, insightful ride through men’s barbershop culture, set across Africa and in London and with men, fathers and male relationships at its heart. Want more diverse audiences at cultural events and institutions? Support diverse artists and creative teams to tell brilliant, relevant stories like this. 

Olafur Eliason – In real life at Tate Modern
So much to play with and wonder at - with or without kids! What a brilliant thing to do in an art gallery, to really think about, touch and feel colour, space, perception and nature and to see things in a different way.  

Kirsten Dunne, Snr Manager, Cultural Infrastructure, Public Realm


Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Corvi Mora Gallery
I first saw Lynette’s paintings in 2007 at Gasworks Gallery, one of the excellent publicly funded institutions often giving artists their first UK exhibitions (and which currently features an excellent exhibition by Kudzanai-Violet Hwami).  Her latest exhibition was another beautiful and provocative exhibition of imagined characters – who appear in her paintings again and again.  

English National Ballet building, Isle of Dogs
The opening of this visionary, purpose-built building brings English National Ballet and English National Ballet School under one roof for the first time. It’s a great example of how a world class production facility can be designed right into the heart of a new residential neighbourhood.  

Kara Walker, Fons Americanus, Tate Modern Turbine Hall
This is a 13-metre tall working fountain in the middle of the Tate. It’s inspired by the Victoria Memorial at Buckingham Palace but re-looks at this cultural symbol in the context of colonialism and slace trade. It's beautiful and enticing but dark and extremely powerful.

Jacqueline Rose, Senior Manager, Strategy & Programmes

Playlist (Track 1, 2), English National Ballet, Canning Town
For one night only, to mark the opening of English National Ballet’s new home in Canning Town, I had the absolute privilege of seeing the piece Playlist (Track 1, 2) by William Forsythe for 12 male dancers up close in the brand new Production Studio. This joyous disco ballet mash-up is set to R&B and has a unique quality and sense of fun which radiates from the dancers. This piece is so uplifting, fun, clever, athletic and a challenge to describe! Notably, it was the first work created by Forsythe for a UK ballet company for more than 20 years so goes down in history.
Hocus Pocus, Dance Umbrella, Fairfield Halls
Dance Umbrella takeover of the newly opened Fairfield Halls rocked Croydon with dance happening in every corner of the building. A personal highlight was Hocus Pocus by Swiss choreographer, Philippe Saire who created a enchanting, magical duet with two incredible performers in an imaginary light box set to Grieg’s Peer Gynt. A stunning memorable gem of a piece for kids and adults which was bewitching and humorous in equal proportions and still lingers in my mind.

Distorted Constellations, Nwando Ebizie, Waltham Forest
Distorted Constellations was a beautiful immersive installation inspired by Nwando Ebizie’s rare neurological disorder Visual Snow. Featured as part of Liberty produced by Waltham Forest’s London Borough of Culture, this exhibition offered stunning imagery and mesmerising soundtrack that opened my eyes to the artists daily world of visual distortions and question how she copes day in day out.

Mark Inger, Policy and Research Officer

Doves, Somerset House 
I remember buying Doves’ first album, ‘Lost Souls’, from Our Price in Clapham Junction when it came out in 2000 and it quickly became my favourite record. This gig, following a near decade hiatus, only reaffirmed how wonderful these three Mancunians are. There was also the added bonus of the track ‘Spaceface’ from their Sub Sub days.

The End of History, the Royal Court
If you combine writer of the moment, Jack Thorne, with the acting talent of David Morrissey and Lesley Sharp you get one of the best plays of the year.

William Blake, Tate Britain
Poet, painter, printmaker and visionary. This is the first retrospective exhibition of Blake on this scale in nearly 20 years.  Well worth a trip to see this vast collection, by one of London’s most famous sons, in one place.  

Mike Clewley, Senior Communications & Engagement Officer


Africa Express: The Circus, London Borough of Culture
A cross-cultural collective of amazing global musicians including Rokia Traore, Morena Leraba, Django Django, Muzi, Joan As Police Woman and Gruff Rhys. Led by local hero Damon Alban and all topped off with a surprise set from Blur! Whoo-Hoo! 

Glastonbury Festival...with the kids
Still the best festival on the planet, when the weather’s good. Although most of my time was spent in the Kidz Field, which was still awesome, I was lucky to see some amazing circus, meet some wild and wonderful characters and witness (from a distance) incredible performances from Stormzy, Lizzo and Tame Impala.  

Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition

I’ve been a massive Kubrick fan for a long time, and it was thrilling to see the props to some of my favourite films up close. However, seeing the level of planning, attention to detail, craftmanship and the construction of these iconic cinematic moments was awe inspiring.

Clare Lovett, Principal Project Development Officer

The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek by Jowl, the Barbican
An hour and a bit extraordinary romp in Russian! A wonderful production, directed by Declan Donnellan working with the company’s long term artistic collaborators, the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre.  A hugely enjoyable play within a play and the best theatre I’d seen all year.    

John Ruskin – The Power of Seeing, Two Temple Place
A celebration of the centenary of Ruskin’s birth, this wonderful exhibition was presented at Two Temple Place, William Waldorf Astor’s London Estate office and an extraordinary example of a neo-Gothic mansion.  The Power of Seeing brought together Ruskin’s work as an artist, art critic, educator, social thinker and true polymath with contemporary responses including digital artist Dan Holdsworth. 

Culture Declares Emergency launch
On 3 April the launch of Culture Declares Emergency took place with more than 190 UK arts and culture institutions and individuals in the first wave to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency.  Assembling at Somerset House a procession of Heralds and declarers made their way across London Bridge and down the south bank of the Thames, including a welcome at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.  Heralds wore incredible living grass coats grown by visual artists Ackroyd and Harvey, with a  soundscape composed by Mira Calix and readings from Letters to the Earth (a collection of love, loss, hope and action written by over 1000 people worldwide - from four year olds to great grandparents, authors, scientists, nurses). 

Jessica Parker, Projects & Events Officer

Get Up, Stand Up Now, Somerset House 
A multi-sensory experience, historic works and new commissions alongside items from personal archives, the Get Up Stand Up Now exhibition celebrated the past 50 years of Black creativity in Britain and across the world. Championing the wealth of Black creative talent working today. Amazing and insightful, especially for myself, gaining even more knowledge about my heritage and how it has helped influence and structure present society! 

WOKE at the Albany
One man show with spoken-word, beatboxing, story- telling and Hip Hop classics. Testament aka Andy Brooks the rapper, revealing his own truths about Hip Hop and feminism. This show was thought-provoking and hilarious. 

Step back into dance! 
After two years of taking a break from consistent training and company rehearsals, I have stepped back into dance, not focusing on “my norm” hip hop/funk or contemporary styles, but something new - salsa! 

Beth Kahn, Snr Board Officer, Mayor’s Cultural Leadership Board

Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre
A musical about 9/11 might not be the easiest sell, but this was an incredibly uplifting and funny show about what happened when 38 planes were diverted away from American airspace in the aftermath of the attacks and landed in the tiny Newfoundland town of Gander. The true stories of the 7,000 stranded travelers and the relationships they formed with their hosts will restore your faith in humanity. 

Small Island, National Theatre
The National Theatre’s powerful adaption of Andrea Levy’s novel was particularly resonant in the wake of the Windrush scandal, and this was a beautifully staged production with an epic scale. 

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, BBC Three
The cult hit RuPaul’s Drag Race has finally made it across the pond, and the first British series of the Netflix phenomenon was a brilliantly camp and quirky celebration of the UK’s vibrant drag culture. 

Asan Edwards, Business Administration Advanced Apprentice

The Lumineers ‘III’, O2 Arena 
Seven years since ‘Ho Hey’, the folk band returned with a personal and intimate performance of their latest storytelling album ‘III’. Raw and full of grit rendered from frontman Wesley Schultz’s raspy and nostalgic tone, the whole night was quite simply beautiful. A heartwarming (and unexpectedly emotional) evening with my all-time favourite band has undoubtedly been the highlight of my year.  

Taste of London Food Festival, Regent's Park 
A five-day food festival with demonstrations from world-class chefs, DELICIOUS food tasting (though it isn’t free!), markets, live music and cocktail bars. The festival was a land of all things magical for the belly. If food just completes you in every way and fills you with absolute joy - this is the place. 

PS – it is really Instagrammable. 

Christmas at the Snow Kingdom, Backyard Cinema 
The latest Christmas adventure in their new home, Wandsworth, promised a magical ball pit river, hidden entrance, and giant bean bags, pulling you into the most wonderful festive spirit. Safe to say –coolest experience in a cinema ever. 

Will Holmes, Senior Cultural Policy Officer

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre
The best version of arguably Shakespeare’s most popular play I’ve seen – so good I went twice! A riot of colour, dance, circus, comedy and music that really brought to life a play that can sometimes be done badly. I really enjoyed the swapping of Titania and Oberon’s role, which made the scenes with Bottom even funnier.  

Janelle Monae, SSE Arena, Wembley
Incredible tunes, stunning costumes and some amazing dancing. Wonderful to see a proud black queer feminist using her music to inspire change, with an entire stadium dancing and singing along to some cracking tunes alongside. 

Chihuly: Reflections on Nature, Kew Gardens
As if going to Kew for the first time wasn’t good enough, getting to see some absolutely stunning glass sculptures from Chihuly across the gardens was a total treat. They really brought to life the displays, particularly those that were less colourful in the Autumn. My highlight was the 7m long blue Temperate House Persians

Clara Giraud, Projects & Policy Officer, LDN Borough of Culture

The Big Pink Vogue Ball, Dance Umbrella, Shoreditch Town Hall 
Hosted by Jay Jay Revlon and Cai Revlon, this very pink-fueled event brought together an eclectic crowd strutting on the runway – and I was blown away by the sass, the moves, the styles, the poses! It was one of the most inclusive events I’d been to in a while, glitter and pink led the way to a dynamic dance party to close the night in style. 

Second Hand Dance in residence, Great Ormond Street Hospital 
I had the privilege to sit beside some young patients and their families in Great Ormond Street Hospital to experience a playful dancing ode to the power of touch. The culmination of a research and development residency of the dance company in the hospital, this performance demonstrated the power small acts of creativity can have on people’s daily lives, and left me with a spring in my step. 

Lhasa de Sela Tribute, the Barbican 
Musicians from across the globe gathered on the Barbican’s stage to pay tribute to the wonderful Mexican-American singer-songwriter Lhasa de Sela. Their voices united to offer new textures to Lhasa’s songs, and convey the powerful stories of migration, belonging, and transformation, from her repertoire. It was a most moving and heart-filling evening. 

Jess Mahoney, Senior Policy Officer, Creative Enterprise Zones

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, the V&A
Dior's ‘New Look’ of 1947 was a controversial watershed moment in fashion history; transgressive and decadent against the backdrop of post-War scarcity, it shifted conversations about the nature of women’s clothes. This breathtaking, achingly romantic exhibition felt like stepping into the golden-era MGM fantasies of my childhood and was the ultimate afternoon of frothy escapism.  

Three Trapped Tigers, Portals Rock Festival 
It was through Tiger’s guitarist Matt Calvert’s sublime ‘electro-acoustic’ Typewritten project that I first become aware of these verified math-rock legends. Seeing the sweaty, unassuming trio unleash their rampant, vociferous glory-noise as the headline act at Portals festival back in June was a particularly joyous and memorable moment in this year’s gig-going calendar. 

Richard Thompson’s 70th Birthday Celebration, Royal Albert Hall
Chronically under-rated and overlooked, to my mind Richard Thompson is our greatest living guitarist and the lyricist behind darkly emotional, astutely observed songs that move even the most jaded of souls. At this spectacular celebration honouring a landmark birthday he shared the stage with family members and folk-rock royalty alike, reimagining music from a fifty-year career and proving it only becomes richer with time. 

Matthew Couper, Engagement Officer, London Borough of Culture

Oscar Wild Temple, Studio Voltaire 
I went along to a meeting at Studio Voltaire, which was difficult to concentrate on amongst this amazing exhibition that transformed this old church space into a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. 

On Blackheath
It is great to be able to walk to a festival and see Grace Jones, Rag n Bone Man and Aswad.  Grace was her amazing unique self. Meanwhile my daughter spent time collecting rubbish to be recycled, pocketing 5p for every item – almost paid for her ticket! 

The Lehman Trilogy 
Brilliant story telling with three captivating actors. The minimal set and brilliant script allowed the actors to use all their skills to navigate a complex story of capitalism. I confess I saw this at a live screening in the Greenwich Picture House, nice and comfy! 

Lauren Gindre, Placemaking Officer


She Persisted, English National Ballet, Sadler's Wells
Three works on and by women, the highlight of my dance year. Wonderful to see more female voices represented on stage and it is always a treat to watch (or rather experience) Pina Bausch’s breathtaking Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring). “How would it be to dance knowing you have to die?” 

The art and architecture walk at Château La Coste (Provence) 
World-class art (from Tracey Emin and Louise Bourgeois to Sophie Calle), striking architecture and biodynamic wines. Need I say more? 

Rehearsal of NewYVC Choir, Stratford Circus Arts Centre
One of the most joyous moment of my professional year: getting to hear Stratford Circus Arts Centre’s resident youth choir rehearse and being moved to tears by the singers’ talent and passion. In the team, we all believe that culture has the power to enrich and transform lives. The impact of this programme, which is much more than a community choir, on young people’s lives is such a brilliant example.

Sarah Lau, Senior Communications & Engagement Officer

Operation Black Antler, Blast Theory, Southbank Centre
An immersive exploration of surveillance culture, the ethics of undercover policing and your own personal values – set primarily in a Southwark pub and surrounding streets – this was unlike any other theatre performance I’ve ever seen (or been a part of!) 

We Live in an Ocean of Air, Marshmallow Laser Feast, Saatchi Gallery
Virtual reality and the majesty of a sequoia forest might seem an unlikely pairing, but this interactive artwork combined science and technology for a deep dive into symbiosis and connections in the natural world. 

Fleabag, Wyndham’s Theatre
Besides the tour de force that was Season Two, this year also saw a short-run stage revival of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's original solo show. Her ability to subtly flick from uproariously funny to emotionally gut-wrenching is incredible to watch in person. 

Chrissy Kinsella, Chief Executive, London Music Fund

London Schools Symphony Orchestra – Snow White Dances, the Barbican 
London’s premier youth orchestra presented an ambitious and exciting programme to celebrate composer Eleanor Alberga’s 70th birthday with a performance of her musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 

The project was conducted by LSSO Artistic Director Peter Ash, and the orchestra were joined onstage by young dancers of the Elmhurst Ballet School, choreographed by Mark Baldwin OBE. 

Dear Evan Hansen, Noel Coward Theatre 
Earlier this month the Tony award winning musical opened in the West End – it is a heartbreakingly beautiful tale of teen anxiety, loss and discovery, with a wonderful soundtrack and uplifting message. I sobbed most of the way through!  

Postmodern Jukebox – Royal Festival Hall, part of EFG London Jazz Festival 
If you don’t know the work of Postmodern JukeboxI urge you to download immediately – described as ‘modern day songs with a vintage twist’; this show was brilliant. Not one dull moment, so unbelievably cheerful, and the talent on stage was exceptional. A perfect end to a very grey Wednesday! They are touring the UK in 2020 and I can’t recommend it enough – you won’t regret it!

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