Entertainment & Arts

London 2012 Festival 'exceeded expectations'

Zoe Angus 15, as part of Bandstand Marathon, a nationwide celebration to mark the end of the London 2012 Festival and the Games, at Ward Jackson Park, in Hartlepool
Image caption Sunday's Bandstand Marathon was a nationwide celebration to mark the end of the London 2012 Festival

Audiences for the UK-wide arts festival that has accompanied the Olympic and Paralympic Games have "exceeded expectations," the organisers said on Monday.

The latest figures showed 19.5 million people had taken part in the London 2012 Festival to the end of August.

The 12-week festival was the climax of the Cultural Olympiad, a programme of events running since 2008.

The festival officially came to an end on Sunday night.

"We've had an extraordinary summer of arts and culture on a scale that has never been done before by any nation," said Cultural Olympiad chairman Tony Hall.

"I suspect, rather like with the Olympics, we're all a bit surprised about that in a very British way."

With an overall investment of £55 million - including lottery funding - the London 2012 element of the festival ran from 21 June to 9 September, coinciding with the end of the Paralympic Games.

The figures revealed on Monday showed that 16.5 million people had taken advantage of free events up to the end of August.

These included the 2.9 million who joined in with Martin Creed's All The Bells mass bell-ringing on the opening day of the games on 21 July.

Seven million people attended the Top 10 most popular free exhibitions in museums and galleries.

More than three million paid for tickets to events up to the end of August.

They include the more than 1,450,000 people who attended paid exhibitions in museums and galleries, such as art exhibitions by Damien Hirst and David Hockney.

"The figures exceed our expectations," said London Festival director Ruth Mackenzie, pointing out that figures for the final week of the festival had yet to be collated.

Among the London 2012 Festival's most high-profile events were the World Shakespeare Festival and BBC Radio 1's Hackney Weekend.

The programme has included thousands of other events and performances across the UK.

"We've done the largest festival in the UK in the shortest time," said Mackenzie, who was recruited in 2010 to steer the climax of the four-year Cultural Olympiad.

"I've worked all round the world with festivals and every festival director I know said you can't do this in under four years - it's impossible," she told the BBC.

"We had two years and we've done it. Lack of time and lack of people have been the biggest challenge.

"But it means that you can't mess around and you've got to be decisive. Some of our greatest projects have been the most spontaneous."

For the next few months, Mackenzie and her team will be analysing the figures to assess how the money was spent and "what happens next in economic and cultural terms".

A poll by London 2012 research partner Neilsen showed that nine out of every 10 people who attended the London 2012 Festival said it was "a positive addition" to the Olympics and Paralympics.

A third of the people surveyed said they would take part in arts, culture and entertainment events as a result of the festival.

"This summer we've seized the chance to market to people around the world just how great the arts and culture are in this country," said Tony Hall.

"I hope that the success stories that we've seen this summer are the building blocks for the future."

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