Cultural Olympiad to accompany the London Olympics

cultural olympiad

Elisabeth Streb’s Extreme Action, One Extraordinary Day, one of the London 2012 Festival Cultural Olympiad commissions; photo by Antoine Douaihy

For those of you who aren’t into sports so much, there will still be plenty to do this summer in London outside of the Olympics. Ruth Mackenzie, formerly head of the Scottish Opera and the Manchester International Festival, has a new project on her hands. Her Cultural Olympiad, running June 21st through September 9th, will bring 25,000 artists to Britain from the 204 countries participating in the Games to put on 12,000 events.

Costs will run high, as seems to be the trend in the art world this year [see Christie’s New York evening sale of post-war and contemporary art on May 8th, which closed at a record $388 million]. Though Mackenzie didn’t give a specific figure on May 2nd when announcing the Olympiad to the New York press, costs for this incredible program will likely top £52,000,000. “Let’s put art back at the heart of the games,” she urged. Where the funding is coming from is another question, though, as many of the events will have free entry.

This country-wide effort to set art on an equal footing with sports in the arena of mass culture will include the first permanent installation by sculptor Rachel Whiteread; a BMW designed by Jeff Koons; an inflatable ‘bouncy-castle’ Stonehenge that will pop up across the U.K.; and even a light installation designed by the New-York-and-Amsterdam art collective YesYesNo to send messages down the entire 73-mile-length of Hadrian’s Wall, the historic border of the Roman empire.

The Cultural Olympiad promises to be a fantastic blending of all of the arts: theater, dance, visual arts, music and design. Running prior to and after the end of the Olympic Games, it will offer visitors – and athletes, if they can steal away from the field – a chance to consider history and current events through a beautifully contrasting lens. It also might appease grumpy Londoners, sick to death that their city is even more overrun with tourists than usual.

It seems the question is not what to do, but how to do it all?


Emily Nathan. artnet. “Cultural Olympiad 2012: Art at the Heart of the Game.” 

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