London 2012: Legacy Report

The Long Read

Just published on the Arts Council England website: Reflections on the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, which combines a summary of the Cultural Olympiad‘s achievements and legacy by its director Ruth Mackenzie (Manchester International Festival‘s first General Director) with an executive summary of the evaluation report conducted by Dr Beatriz García of the Institute of Cultural Capital, a Liverpool-based research centre that builds on the Impacts 08 evaluation model.

It’s a great read, packed with evocative descriptions of artistic creations and plenty of facts and figures. The introduction by the Chair of the Cultural Olympiad Board, Tony Hall, sums up nicely the ambition of the project: not art for art’s sake, but art for the sake of more art for more people.

We all hope that the legacy will be more chances to enjoy the fruit of that infrequent marriage of ample budget and unbounded imagination.
– Tony Hall, CBE

Ruth Mackenzie’s “summary of learning points” surveys a wide range of categories, from artistic innovation to cultural tourism legacy.  I have summarised the summary below:

  • National scope: the Cultural Olympiad engaged communities across the UK for 4 years and it has now handed off the cultural torch to both Derry-Londonderry 2013 City of Culture (Northern Ireland) and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games (Scotland).
  • Participation: mass participation projects, such as Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege, and large-scale learning programmes, such as Tate Movie, a collaboration with Aardman Animations engaging 25,000 offline and 9,000 online, helped raise the participant numbers to nearly 6 million.
  • Skills development: informal and formal learning opportunities were built into the programme, with for example a Creative Jobs Programme managed by the Royal Opera House offering 40 paid apprenticeships to unemployed young people in London.
  • Diversity
    • Cultural diversity: an inter-nation event such as the Olympic Games is a good pretext to present culturally diverse artistic creation, whether it is by bringing together UK-based artists of diverse origins, inviting projects such as Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, composed of musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other Arab countries, or giving a new twist to the Africa Express collective of western and African acts by putting them all on train for a national tour.
    • Ability diversity: the London 2012 Festival created the world’s largest ever commissioning fund for disabled and Deaf artists, which culminated in the Unlimited festival-within-a-festival at the Southbank Centre, featuring 29 new works, some of which are now touring internationally. The excellent Liverpool-based DaDaFest – Disability and Deaf Arts Agency and Festival – have a few videos on their website about their Unlimited commissions.
  • Large scale innovation: with a strapline promising ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences, innovation was highly encouraged. Amongst other feats, the festival managed to get Big Ben to divert from schedule and West Midlands Police to tweet about  Stockhausen’s World premiere opera, which involves 4 helicopters and a dancing camel.
  • Free: admission to National Museums is free in the UK, and many Cultural Olympiad events and experiences were also free of charge. As the report states, “Audiences are more generous with their time and more willing to experiment with unfamiliar art, if they are not paying to attend.” This was also a bonus for international visitors.
  • Unusual venues: whereas “The use of the public realm, parks, streets, squares, shopping centres, has long been a traditional audience development policy especially for local authorities”, London 2012 Festival also invested natural and heritage sites, such as Britain’s coasts for Peacecamp.
  • Cultural tourism partnerships: the overt goal was to not only encourage domestic and international tourism in 2012, but also in further years. Visit Britain – the national tourism board – and Arts Council England are stated to carry on working together on joint initiatives.
  • International partnerships: co-commissioning with international partners is both a way to diversify and enhance the national cultural offer by bringing together British and international artists – and to showcase featured British artists in partner countries.
  • Digital: finally, under the Digital heading are filed diverse initiative such as digital marketing (with successful use of social media), digital communications (i.e. broadcast) and digital arts (such as Yoko Ono’s Serpentine programming and North-West-based Abandon Normal Devices festival). A free, on-demand digital archive of all the works created in 2012 called The Space, a partnership between Arts Council England and the BBC, which paves the way for the Digital Public Space currently developed by the BBC.

The second part of ‘Reflections’ is the executive summary of the evaluation report, which full version is available on the Institute of Cultural Capital website, with additional insights in the appendixes and case studies on Arts and Disabilities, Youth Projects, Stories of the World, Creative Jobs, Tourism and Social Media Analysis.

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