David Lister: Bard and the Proms add up to a very British Olympics

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The Independent Online

Three things are pivotal to the vision of Jude Kelly, the theatre and opera director, who will head the cultural festival. They are: that the festival reflects a multi-cultural society; that a symbol of the festival is an ocean-going clipper, the Olympic Friendship, which will be crewed by artists, scientists and environmentalists. It will make a four-year journey of discovery. And the third strand is an Olympic Institute, which will take a part of the Olympic stadium after the Games for "elite" arts, science and health projects.

Details of which plays and pieces of music will be presented are not yet decided, but Shakespeare and the classics, which were woefully lacking at the Dome, will definitely be shown.

The festival will, of course, catapult Ms Kelly to a key position in Britain's cultural pecking order. And that has been a long time coming. Before taking on the role of Olympic artistic director, Ms Kelly built up an outstanding reputation in the arts, and yet seemed to be the "nearly" woman.

She was the founding director of the Battersea Arts Centre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Her own productions have been staged at the National Theatre and the English National Opera, as well as at the Playhouse. Yet when she applied to run the National Theatre she failed to get the job, and was conscious of some unspoken bias against her.

Certainly, she is an outspoken and determined woman, eminently likeable, intense and serious, and committed to the arts as both a political force and something that can be life-changing. She has represented Britain within Unesco. Yet she surprised many in dropping her profile when she left Leeds to start an artists' centre in West Hampstead, north-west London.

But from now on the Olympics will occupy her and give one woman the unique chance to show her vision of Britain's arts and British society to the world.

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