No Going Back

An exhibition by Jonathan Orlek and Karen Watson
Sat 20 – Sat 27 April, 10am-4pm
East Street Arts, Convention House, St Mary’s Lane, Leeds, LS9 7EH


Curated by architectural researcher and practitioner Dr Jonathan Orlek and East Street Arts’ co-founder Karen Watson, No Going Back explores the role of art and artists in the city and civic practice, through the lens of East Street Arts’ archive. 

The exhibition presents the archive as a living entity able to inform the future of the organisation, cohesively show the trajectory of programmes and activities, and share learnings. Focusing on five key projects between 1998 and 2003 – considered by Karen as ‘no going back’ moments in East Street Arts’ 30-year history – No Going Back makes space for echoes of future projects to resonate across time.

The No Going Back exhibition will focus on the following five key projects.

  • Leeds 13 Going Places (May 1998)
  • In-House (March-May 1998)
  • Leeds Fringe Photography Festival (June-July 1998)
  • A Christmas Pudding for Henry (October-December 1999)
  • Demystifying Contemporary Art Practice (March 2002-May 2003)

No Going Back is the most comprehensive exploration of East Street Arts’ archive to date, highlighting moments in our history where there really was no going back. Importantly, the No Going Back programme invites vital voices – both established and emerging – from across the sector to explore artists’ role in our cultural spaces and collective futures. The accompanying programme of events examines the wider history and development of the cultural sector in Leeds and beyond, expanding on artist’s influence on archives, housing, and neighbourhoods.

Curator Bios

Jonathan Orlek
Jonathan is an architectural researcher and practitioner, often working at the intersections of art, architecture, and ethnography. His research interests include artist-led organisations and spaces, critical spatial practice, embedded research methods, and collective urban practices. He is a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at Liverpool John Moores University and a director of Studio Polpo, a social enterprise architecture collective based in Sheffield.

In 2021 he completed a collaborative PhD between East Street Arts and the University of Huddersfield, which explored the provision of housing by artist-led organisations. His thesis developed embedded ethnography as a critical spatial practice within artist-led contexts.
He is a researcher on several interdisciplinary projects exploring care and community-led practices. This includes Caring—with Cities and Sonic Acts of Noticing.

With Studio Polpo, Jonathan has undertaken numerous projects relating to high streets, shared living, and play. He was a designer for The High Street of Exchanges, an immersive installation on the future of the British High Street, for the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021. He has initiated experimental sleepover performances and worked on commissions for The Hepworth (Wakefield), The Tetley (Leeds), Bloc Projects (Sheffield), and Mostyn Gallery (Llandudno).

Karen Watson
Karen Watson is the co-founder of East Street Arts, a visual arts charity with local, national and international influence. Karen stepped down as Artistic Director in 2023, a role in which she led on the company’s vision, the delivery of artistic programme, strategic developments and partnerships. 

Karen has written regularly for industry and national press which has informed artist-led programmes and cultural policy. Her work advocating for independent artists and organisations has had national influence, and her passion and belief in artist-led workings has enabled many ideas to turn into sustainable and independent organisations. 

Karen was awarded an MBE by His Majesty The King in the New Year 2023 Honours List in recognition of her services to the arts.

Other things!