David Lister: All this culture was going on anyway. So why make an Olympiad out of it?
The week in arts
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Saturday 05 May 2012
The Cultural Olympiad fascinates me. There it is in all its multi-million-pound glory, its London 2012 festival officially launched to tremendous fanfare a matter of days ago. Events announced included Jeremy Deller's "Stonehenge as a bouncy castle" and Martin Creed's Work No 1197 (this entails all the bells in the country being rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes).
The Cultural Olympiad launches are themselves works of art. The most recent was presided over by the beleaguered Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, at the Tower of London. There's a picture worthy of the Turner Prize. And what a panoply of cultural jewels the Cultural Olympiad has under its lavish umbrella. Certainly, there's the bouncy Stonehenge and the like, but it also boasts The Proms, the biggest classical music festival in the world; it delights in the David Hockney exhibition. Some might remark that the Proms happen every year. Others might remark that Hockney was commissioned by the Royal Academy well before Britain even won the Olympics bid.
That is to misunderstand a Cultural Olympiad. What are The Proms, Hockney, without that all-powerful logo? The real jewels in the crown of the Cultural Olympiad would have taken place this year, Olympics or no Olympics. That's all fine and quite nifty, but at £100m, it seems a little cheeky. No wonder research by Westminster University shows that the public has struggled with the concept of the Olympiad.
It would have been a lot cheaper and a lot more comprehensible simply to direct visitors to Britain to the wealth of artistic events happening anyway, the art exhibitions, the plays, the gigs, the festivals, the opera and dance which contribute to the cultural golden age we are rightly told we are living through at present in the UK. We have become besotted with these fancy titles. "Cultural Olympiad" sounds so grand, so darn cultural, that it seems almost churlish to point out how much was happening already, and how much money has gone on turning it into a "festival".
But there is a solution, a potentially unforgettable festival to celebrate culture in Olympics year, an arts festival that we would never forget. Why don't we put on a festival of the projects rejected by the Cultural Olympiad team? For example, there was the idea of dragging a glacier from the Arctic to the west coast of England, or the project by Olafur Eliasson involving an installation Take a Deep Breath, in which participants breathed on behalf of a "person, movement or cause" and recorded it for a website.
Yes that would have made a Cultural Olympiad to savour. See a glacier from the beach at Newquay, then take a deep breath for animal rights. Or, go and see the Proms and the myriad of arts events already scheduled. And keep the £100m for good causes.
Theatre should be an education in itself
The Hampstead Theatre in London has announced that it is will close its education department, as part of its financial cutbacks. No doubt the proper reaction to this is a wringing of hands, but I'm afraid I can't say that I see it as the end of the world. Arts venues have gone a bit education-mad in recent years. In one small area of London you can walk from the South Bank Centre to the Young Vic theatre to Tate Modern to Shakespeare's Globe, and find an education department in each venue. The lucky children of Southwark and Lambeth must be the best educated on cultural matters in the country. Surely the main aim of an arts venue should be to put on a great show. That will do more to encourage schoolchildren to love theatre/music/art than any number of education departments.
Now that's what I call method acting
My favourite arts story of the week was of the two stars of a Cuban film travelling to New York for the premiere at Tribeca film festival. The film tells of a teenage brother and sister who flee Cuba for the hope of a new life in Miami. The two 20-year-old actors playing the pair missed their connecting flight in Miami and decided to defect to America – one of them missing receiving the best actor award at the festival.
I wonder how their discussion went as they were sitting in the airport lounge waiting for a connecting flight. "Hey, you know the movie, isn't it Miami where...?" "Funny you should say that, I was just thinking myself..." It reverses the whole method-acting process. But in a good way.
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