Let's have a cultural Olympics

The director Jude Kelly will run an arts festival alongside the Olympic Games if London's bid wins through. Plays and proms will make the capital buzz, she says

Thinking about Britain in the context of a bid for the Olympic Games, I have been inspired by John Donne's meditation: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..." Those of us who have embarked upon this marvellous adventure - I will chair the bid's Arts, Culture and Education Advisory Committee - have done so in the belief that Britain can gain something precious by sharing in the uniquely egalitarian idealism of the Olympic movement.

Thinking about Britain in the context of a bid for the Olympic Games, I have been inspired by John Donne's meditation: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..." Those of us who have embarked upon this marvellous adventure - I will chair the bid's Arts, Culture and Education Advisory Committee - have done so in the belief that Britain can gain something precious by sharing in the uniquely egalitarian idealism of the Olympic movement.

When I was growing up, I was struck by the fact that some people seemed to have many more opportunities than others, depending on resources, advantages and the luck of the draw. As an artistic director, much of my work has tried to create contexts challenging the idea that only certain people should enjoy opportunity.

I was drawn to the Olympics by the idea that the Greeks used them as a mechanism for talking about the ideals of art and sport. My interest deepened when I investigated the ideas of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement. His definition of Olympism embraced principles that went far beyond those of a simple sports competition: he was searching for an ideal of a higher life. The Games would represent a platform of high achievement for people of egalitarian origins. There would be a four-yearly festival that would bring every nation together in optimism and the celebration of human endeavour. The idea that every nation has an equal right to compete makes the Games a powerful political symbol.

No one could have guessed that Kelly Holmes would be a double gold-medallist at the last Olympics. Combined stamina, drive and imagination permits both individual achievement and the collaborative spectacle of the modern Games. The Olympian model encourages us to strive to be better citizens of the world in which we live, and to create a legacy for the future.

I knew from the age of 12 that I wanted to be a director, to join the community of the theatre. The sense of belonging, the shared ideals, the working together for a greater understanding of the worldguided me to my work. I now know that these ideas are mirrored in sport.

I took up windsurfing in my thirties. I wanted to experience the exhilaration of an intense physical sport, competing against the elements and myself. Many people thought it was strange that someone so involved in art could also be involved in sport. There is a kind of tribalism in our society, in which people are expected to be one thing or the other. We often ask young people to make this kind of choice; to be "arty" or "sporty". Far from regarding the world of sport as the enemy to art, we should be encouraging affinity between sporting and creative opportunities. The Great Exhibition of 1851 led to the establishment of the Natural History, Science and Victoria and Albert Museums, Imperial College, Kensington Gardens and the Royal Albert Hall. The 1951 Festival of Britain produced the Royal Festival Hall, which kick-started a creative quarter on the South Bank.

With our great architects and planners, we have the chance to transform London in the 21st century: creating a brand new city in the undervalued east, redefining the historic museums quarter of South Kensington in the west, shifting international transport links to the north and unleashing the power of the unrivalled cultural strip on the South Bank.

London is well-positioned to explore how the Olympic principles of sport, culture, education and environment speak to the concerns of the present day. The city's cultural leaders share my belief in the importance of education, which has led us to the idea of an Olympic Institute; a centre of learning that crosses the boundaries of sports, science and arts. Our vision is that the institute, sitting in the Olympic Park, will have a mission to demonstrate De Coubertin's vision of Olympism. It will develop partnerships and research programmes and stage events that show the impact of sport, culture and education on health, citizenship, the environment and regeneration.

Britain's relationship with the sea and its history of maritime activity have contributed to a wonderfully diverse culture. As a child in Liverpool, I learned early on what it was like to grow up in a port. I remember taking ballet classes in the West Indian Centre in the middle of Liverpool's Chinatown. Vivid images of people from all corners of the world using the port have remained with me throughout my life. London is the most multiracial city in the world.

For the Olympic bid, we intend to sail a full-size ocean-going clipper - the Olympic FriendShip - around the world, crewed by young sailors and accompanied by students and professional artists, scientists and ecologists. We will launch it in Beijing in 2008, taking the theme of those Games, "Sail Onwards in Hope". The FriendShip will gather cultural bounty on this journey and sail home laden with the wealth of the world's ideas and partnerships. Its docking in London will signal the renaissance of the East End and the beginning of the Olympics.

Working with our partners, including the BBC, we will also launch a four-year Virtual FriendShip to run parallel to the sea voyage. This web journey will be powered by the Global Gateway, a web portal linking every school, which explores internationalism and contemporary cultures.

The voyage starts now. This summer, London will hold a Friendship Week in honour of the Olympic Games. The Olympic Park will bring to east London a new understanding of our cultural heritage through the Five Ring Project - a contemporary gallery and arts space at the hub of the Olympic neighbourhood. The five boroughs of east London have joined together in a historic partnership to explore opportunities for creativity. They have already proposed plans for a festival fringe, to draw on local talent, and for new ways of supporting creative industries.

The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Globe theatre will co-host Shakespeare productions from across the world. The BBC will commission composers to work on an Olympic proms; the Royal Opera House will commission an Olympic opera; and I have found enthusiasm around the country for celebrations in parks and squares on giant screens and stages.

The chance to take part in what is perhaps the greatest cultural undertaking of a lifetime - the race to win the Olympic and the Paralympic Games for Britain - really matters to me. I passionately believe we should put all our efforts into the bidding race and I believe we can win.

www.london2012.org

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