£87m Cultural Olympiad will be a one-woman show, says boss
Ruth Mackenzie, the director of the Cultural Olympiad, a series of arts events accompanying next summer's Games, has defiantly hit out at its critics, refusing to make the programme any more transparent.
At least £87m has been spent commissioning art, including 30ft crocheted lions, 10-metre-high puppets and a football pitch hidden within a forest that is unlikely ever to be used.
Before Ms Mackenzie's £130,000-a-year appointment last year, the Olympiad was derided by artistic figures – including Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate galleries, and Turner prize winner Grayson Perry – for being bureaucratic and difficult to understand.
Now, Ms Mackenzie has hit out at the critics, saying she and she alone will decide the Olympiad's £87m programme without recourse to committees. According to her, "the year of the committee" has made way for a one-woman-led "year of delivery".
"It comes down to me," said Ms Mackenzie. "None of the best festivals have an open and transparent process. Glastonbury is one person's flavour. Salzburg or Edinburgh – any of the great festivals – they are all curated.
"I use the metaphor of a chef. I see what's good and fresh and put it together to tell a story and make it a delicious and amazing experience. The more people you have doing that the worse it is. Great banquets by committee? Name several!
She also distanced herself from the Olympics' bureaucratic reputation. "The whole process of making the Olympics happen has its share of committees and bureaucracies," she said.
Ms Mackenzie, a former general director of the Manchester International Festival, said her consultation would extend to "some advisers ... lots of friends". But "anyone who wants to can email me and give me a brilliant idea".
Critics note, however, that the Olympiad draws much of its funding from the beleaguered public purse. At least £27m of the Olympiad's total budget will come from Arts Council England, which recently implemented arts cuts nationwide.
Her comments are unlikely to be greeted cheerfully by arts organisations, many of which have endured swingeing cuts to their annual budgets. "Public money needs public accountability, and that's the same for all arts organisations," said Marcus Romer, the artistic director of York's Pilot Theatre, an award-winning touring troupe based at York's Theatre Royal, whose budget was frozen in the recent spending round.
"Programming is a sort of alchemical art. If it fails, the chef and the restaurant will never curry favour again."
Before Ms Mackenzie's appointment, Mr Serota questioned whether her employer, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, was the right body to be running the Olympiad. And Mr Perry said: "the texture of the Olympics is not a happy context for art."
The Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies, while not under Ms Mackenzie, will cost an additional £40m.
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