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London Cultural Olympiad

London Cultural Olympiad

The official proposal: Bill Morris, ceremonies, culture and education director for London 2012 -

"It's too soon to talk specifically about what the 2012 Cultural Olympiad will feature but being at the Pan American Games is encouraging. I hope to draw on some of the feeling here, where the events are intended to inspire people across the world - such as the drama projects in the favelas which have linked up with the Royal Shakespeare Company for some of the work.

We're looking at an idea by Nicholas Kent, managing director of the Barbican, for example, who wants to create an Olympics Proms, which will bring together musicians who are on the brink of their career and have them perform across all genres of music from classical to rock.

We'll be using every kind of new technology through which people can be participants even if they are not athletes. For example, it might be that they can upload their own videos of the Games to a central website.

My immediate concern is the handover ceremony in Beijing in 2008. We have 8 minutes of the closing ceremony in both the Olympics and Paralympics and it's a wonderful opportunity to celebrate London and give an idea of how we are going to represent the values of London 2012. Further down the line, for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games, we'll need to be eloquent about what matters to London and how London can be represented to the rest of the world".

The alternative views: Claire Fox, Director, Institute of Ideas -

"Why are the key mantras of the Cultural Olympiad "engagement and participation"? These buzz words may sound harmless but beware. It is clear that no barriers to participation - such as having no artistic talent at all - will be allowed to get in the way of everyone joining in. The public is asked to prove it is engaging in the arts by being dragooned into frenetic activity. We are told that engagement should be more than just being an audience member. Quietly contemplating a piece of music or silently watching a play is derided as passive. This seems less about enabling people to appreciate the arts per se and more about trumpeting particpation as an end in itself.

Proposal: Dump the endless community music making and song/playwriting initiatives and let everyone become an audience member. Why not use subsidies to make the Royal Opera House, The National Theatre, the ENO, the Yorkshire playhouse, the Sage Gateshead, Clwyd Theatr Cymru etc free for a month every year until 2012?

Proposal: Dump the official young people's filmmaking competition. Instead commission the greatest filmmakers of the time to produce materpeices that might introduce the young to sublime worlds as yet undreamed of, far beyond anything they'll find on MySpace.

Proposal: Dump the re-interpretation plan. UK museums have tens of thousands of artefacts in storage. Let's get these treasures on display for the first time. No rooms in today's museums? Let's take inspiration from Beijing and build some more. A new British Museum would not go amiss. Who will interpret them? Let's fund scholarships to train hundreds of new curators. This new generation of experts can then help local communities and the whole world to understand the history of humanity that is hidden in basements just waiting for an excuse (like the Olympics) to see the light of day".

Neil MacGregor, director, British Museum -

"The British Museum was designed to allow the whole world to be seen in one place. It was one of the firsts results of a globalised world, founded in 1753 when London was already a city of immense diversity, during the first age of the global economy. London is still a city of infinite variety, the links Londoners maintain with their countries of origin putting the capital at the centre of a worldwide conversation. This situation provides the great world collections of London and the UK with a unique opportunity, a lens, to celebrate, explore and understand cultures from every corner of the world. The Games of 2012 can be a time to ask what the new histories of the world are that the world needs now. Can our museums and galleries enable these different histories to be told? Told not just by the scholars and historians but by the diasporas in this country, and by people from across the world who can access the collections physically and virtually. If we can make the Cultural Olympiad a moment when the citizens of London, the UK and the world can use the rich collections in our museums and art galleries to rething their own positions in the complex network of world cultures then I think we will have achieved something remarkable. This should be our aim.

Graham Sheffield, artistic director, Barbican -

"I feel ambivalent about the Cultural Olympiad. On the one hand I'm pleased it has been so high in the public debate about the Games. But wary because of the way funding has been managed.

I get the sense that the structure that's been set up is creditable - you need that for it to work. But there is a danger that it could all become worthy and prosaic. Wherever possible the artists need to be given their head. One part of the bid project was 'Artists taking the lead' and I think this is encouraging. The arts are not tidy. I'm wary of structuring the Cultural Olympiad too much.

The arts is one of the strongest things about this country. We're probably better known for our cultural prowess than our sporting prowess. We have a reputtion for championing innovative and diverse arts, so let's do that in 2012.



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© 2008 Paul Kavanagh. All rights reserved.