Placing culture at the heart of the Games : key achievements and challenges within the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad

Garcia, Beatriz

Putting ‘culture at the heart of the Games’ was a feature of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad’s strategy since the bid stage and was widely considered to have been a distinct dimension of London’s 2012 unique offer. When the Cultural Olympiad launched in 2008 and, again, within its culmination as a 12-week London 2012 Festival in 2012, the centrality of culture to the Games was consistently emphasised. While many other host cities have aspired to achieve synergy between culture, sport and education, success in this area has eluded most previous Games. Ongoing challenges with branding and marketing regulations, budget commitments, and the publicity priorities of core Games stakeholders, all frustrate achievement in this aspect of the hosting process, making culture one of the most difficult things to get right within an Olympic and Paralympic programme. This paper articulates the support for London’s claim to have fulfilled this vision, while also indicating the challenges the host city’s stakeholders faced in putting culture at the heart of the Games. It addresses three main questions: 1) How was the aspiration to place culture at the heart of the games delivered and did it succeed? The evidence shows that this aspiration was successfully met mainly thanks to the consistent adherence to a series of core values which translated into actual artistic programming decisions; the exploration of innovative branding approaches; the involvement of partners with a vested interest in the Games at large, and investment into nationwide infrastructures to make the Cultural Olympiad an effective platform for people to feel part of the Games experience, beyond London and ticketed sporting arenas. 2) Did the public acknowledge the achievements of the Games cultural programme? The scale of public awareness about the Cultural Olympiad was remarkable, peaking at 29% of the UK population and 40% of Londoners in 2012. People tended to agree that the Cultural Olympiad was a relevant dimension of the Games and over 70% of attendees to activities indicated that their experience positively influenced their overall Games experience. 3) Did the UK cultural sector value the existence of a Games cultural programme? The majority of programme delivery partners and contributing artists considered the Games connection relevant and saw added value in being part of the Cultural Olympiad. Key additional benefits of such association are described as feeling part of a bigger national celebration, attracting different participants or audiences and gaining greater national profile.


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