David Lister: The Olympics are over, so why repeat the Cultural Olympiad?
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 18 August 2012
The Olympics was such a success that we should do it all again next year. Well, you could sympathise with the sentiment, but as an idea it's kind of crazy, isn't it. But "the Cultural Olympiad was such a success that we should do it all again next year" is apparently not so crazy an idea. Indeed, it was suggested this week by the Culture Secretary himself and, not unsurprisingly, greeted with joy and elation by those running the Cultural Olympiad.
Jeremy Hunt has asked the Cultural Olympiad board to find a way of creating "a lasting legacy from the London 2012 Festival". Legacy is, of course, the word of the month, and it would be a pitiful arts festival next year that could not find a way to incorporate the word into its mission statement. Mr Hunt's words were seized on, not just by the Cultural Olympiad board, but also by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson who said he was "delighted that work is now starting to explore how the festival might evolve in the future."
Shortage of time and space meant that neither gentleman, nor the press releases that followed their statements, could mention the not insignificant fact that the London 2012 Festival, the centrepiece of the Cultural Olympiad, did cost £55.3m.
It's not insignificant because the arts generally are going through a tough time, with their budgets cut and some companies closing. For those companies to watch £55m being spent on a festival with no topical relevance would be a mighty slap in the face.
This is not to be a killjoy and it is not to deny that the London 2012 Festival was in many ways a joyous addition to the Olympic Games, with events from the Scissor Sisters at the Tower of London through all of Shakespeare's plays at the Globe to aerial circus at four great cathedrals. But amid the lingering euphoria a more measured analysis is necessary. Much of the London 2012 Festival consisted of art events that were already happening, long commissioned, with the Festival logo niftily stuck alongside. The Proms and the David Hockney retrospective at the Royal Academy were two notable examples. They were part of the London 2012 Festival…but come on, they weren't really were they.
There is no need for the London 2012 Festival to be repeated, there is no need for it to "evolve". Britain does actually have a summer of arts, every summer… pop festivals, theatre festivals, opera festivals, the Edinburgh Festival, art exhibitions, dance, comedy. Things aren't going to stop because the Olympics have ended. We won't be feeling culturally bereft next year because there will be a multitude of arts events to choose from.
They say that every nation that hosts the Olympics suffers from post-Olympic depression, but I hadn't realised that this applied to Cultural Olympiads too. Those running it along with the Culture Secretary have to learn to let go. It's difficult, but it would be more difficult this time next year, with the Olympics a distant memory, to justify spending another £55m on an arts festival lacking any raison d'être in a country happily overflowing with arts festivals and happily overflowing with art.
A substitute that's hard to explain
The Who, unsurprisingly, proved a great choice to top the bill at the Olympics closing ceremony, with a pulsating short set. I was slightly uneasy, though, at Roger Daltrey changing the lyric to "Baba O'Riley". The songs laments "it's only teenage wasteland", but Roger, presumably in tribute to Olympic legacy and a changed east London, sang: "There's more than teenage wasteland." It was in the spirit of the evening I suppose, but I also feel that a song is of its moment and like a poem or a play should be unchangeable whatever the circumstances. It could certainly have been worse. I genuinely misheard a line in their closing number "My Generation" and thought I heard Roger sing in homage to the new east London "Regeneration." That would have been a step too far.
Fringe benefit for the funny females
Radar reports today on some of the comedy acts on the Edinburgh Fringe. It's a time of year when I always become queasy with one particular memory. One year, I wrote that the female comedians were not doing that well, and the comedy critic of Time Out wrote in all seriousness: "David Lister should expose himself to more female comedians." Perhaps I should get the train up to Edinburgh and do just that. It could be the funniest act on the Fringe.
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