What is the Cultural Olympiad?

By Vincent Dowd
Arts reporter, BBC News

  • Published
From left to right) Martin Creed, Howard Hodgkin, Tracey Emin, Michael Craig Martin, Anthea Hamilton and former Olympian Lord Sebastian Coe
Image caption,
The Cultural Olympiad has been rebranded

Tracey Emin, Howard Hodgkin, Martin Creed and Michael Craig-Martin are among the 12 artists who are to design posters for the London Olympics and Paralympics.

Cultural Olympiad director Ruth Mackenzie made the announcement, insisting the creative involvement now dispels any thought that the event was not deemed interesting.

"I feel that the 'let's say how rubbish the Cultural Olympiad is' line is a bit faded now," she says.

The Cultural Olympiad was set up to give everyone in the UK a "chance to be part of London 2012 and inspire creativity across all forms of culture", the website says.

'Completely confident'

The Olympiad will include events such as the Peace One Day concert, a reading challenge for children and a comedy season.

"We're completely confident people will see the Cultural Olympiad as a huge hit. In fact they already do: over 14 million people have participated in it so far," Ms Mackenzie says.

That figure comes from adding together audiences that have participated in anything that has already been branded as a Cultural Olympiad event.

Emin says it is important culture is included in the Olympics.

"London's going to be under a giant magnifying glass. You don't just judge a country by its stadium. The arts and culture are the soul of a country. that's what we have to be judged on, too."

Despite 14 million people having already taken part in various Olympiad events, why are critics still claiming the event does not have the profile it was aiming for?

In 2009, former Arts Council chairman Sir Christopher Frayling spoke out against the Olympiad, suggesting there were too many organisations involved, which would prevent it from being a success.

'Load of treats'

Image caption,
Damon Albarn has been confirmed as part of the line-up

He told The Stage newspaper that it had "too many front doors" and needed just "one ringmaster" to oversee the project.

Now the last few weeks of the event, which officially starts on 21 June 2012 and runs until the final day of the Paralympics on 9 September, has been rebranded The London 2012 Festival.

It is hoped the new name will boost ticket sales and give members of the public something to relate to.

Although the full line-up of performers is not scheduled to be released until October - when the tickets go on sale - Ms MacKenzie is confident they have enough big names to draw the crowds.

"There'll be artists such as Damon Albarn, the writer Toni Morrison, Miranda Hart, the visual artist Olafur Eliasson as well as Cate Blanchett and the Sydney Theatre Company.

"So there's a whole load of treats already announced and much more to come."

Overall the festival will cost almost £100m over four years, which is being funded from a variety of sources, including £80m of public money.

The earlier stages of the Cultural Olympiad may have been handicapped by the breadth of its ambition, leaving the whole project seeming slightly amorphous.

But the organisers are confident the public and the media will now start talking about The London 2012 Festival and less about the Cultural Olympiad.

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