Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 2012 Debate

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Lord Hall of Birkenhead

Main Page: Lord Hall of Birkenhead (Crossbench - Life peer)

Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 2012

Lord Hall of Birkenhead Excerpts
Monday 14th June 2010

(14 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on her maiden speech. It was a truly inspiring speech from someone who has inspired so many people.

I want to speak about the cultural side of the Olympics and what it means for this country. I must declare an interest as chairman of the Cultural Olympiad and a member of the board of LOCOG.

In 2005, the strength of our cultural offering played a significant part in our bid to host the Olympic Games. The originator of the Games, Baron de Coubertin, believed in a link between sport and the arts. Indeed, in 1948, the last time the Games were hosted by Great Britain, medals were given for the arts. Of course, de Coubertin was inspired by the ancient Games in which artists played their part alongside sportsmen. When London won the Games we promised to put culture back at the core of the Olympic programme. Our Cultural Olympiad was launched at the end of the Paralympic Games in Beijing nearly two years ago. It is a four-year programme of events inspired by the Games which will run until the last day of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. It is designed to give everyone in the country, especially young people, a chance to be a part of London 2012. The aim is to make a real impact which will leave a legacy lasting well beyond the Games themselves.

Just under a year ago, I was asked by the then Government and the Mayor of London to chair a board to run the Cultural Olympiad. I did not then, and I do not now, underestimate the challenge that we face. I said yes because I believe that this country has an enormous opportunity, with the spotlight on us in 2012, to showcase the breadth of our creativity, and the vitality of our arts and culture and heritage.

To do that we put together a board that met for the first time last autumn and which I believe includes the key organisations and key people who can help to deliver something very memorable indeed. We have also brought together the key stakeholders and funders. As I believe that broadcasting will be central and defining to people’s perception of what we offer culturally, the BBC’s director-general is also on the board. As with everything—perhaps even more so in the area of arts and culture—joining together to make sense of this extraordinary opportunity is phenomenally important.

Once formed, our first priority was to appoint someone to direct the Cultural Olympiad. In January this year, we announced the appointment of Ruth Mackenzie, formerly an advisor on broadcasting and cultural policy for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Before that she was the general director of the very successful Manchester International Festival, and has had many other jobs too. We have also brought in some real heavyweights to help her so we have a team in place now which is focused on delivery.

Many things have already been put in place for the Cultural Olympiad and are already involving people right across the UK. In 2008 and 2009, more than 1.5 million people participated in almost 1,500 events during what is called Open Weekend. That is an annual event which, this year, takes place between 23 and 25 July. On top of that, more than 180 cultural projects have been awarded the Inspire mark. That is a new idea which allows projects inspired by what the Games can do to attach the 2012 logo to their work. Through these projects there have already been 1,000 public performances and 2,200 workshops with audiences totaling almost 4 million people.

I shall give an example of what has been going on. Two years ago, at the time of the Beijing Games, the Essex Jiangsu festival took place celebrating 20 years of relations between Essex and the Jiangsu province in China. It brought performances and events to the UK for the first time, and gave local people the opportunity to take part, make new international relationships and develop new skills.

Another, but very different, project is the bandstand marathon. This is a national celebration of music performed by local musicians in their local cities, towns and villages, and is the most widely spread Inspire mark project in the UK. Last year, there were 120 simultaneous concerts in bandstands across England and Wales with more than 3,000 musicians from traditional brass and silver bands. In the south-west, they played to more than 50,000 people.

Those are just two examples—there could be many more—of how all sorts of people right across the UK are already getting involved. This is exactly what the Cultural Olympiad should be about at this stage: people and communities coming together. Listening to conversations about things that the Olympics are allowing to happen is really quite humbling. People are able to plot things because 2012 is happening, and they are things that they otherwise would not have done. That in itself will be a legacy.

Quite apart from the Inspire mark projects, some big programmes have also been announced for 2012. One very significant programme, which is especially appropriate for the country that led the world with the Paralympics, is called Unlimited. Led by the UK’s arts councils, it is the country’s largest-ever commissioning pot for art made by people with disabilities. In fact, we think it may the largest ever in the world. We have just announced some of the commissions which we hope will change perceptions in the ways in which the Paralympics, in the sports world, have changed perceptions. British companies such as the Graeae Theatre Company and Candoco Dance Company are world leaders, and they have already been commissioned for 2012. Candoco will engage two disabled choreographers to each make a large-scale dance piece for disabled and non-disabled dancers, including people from Beijing and Rio de Janeiro. Another big project is River of Music. It will be the largest series of free concerts ever on the banks of the River Thames and will involve musicians from all 206 countries participating in the Games. Young people from all over the UK will perform alongside some of the greatest pop and world musicians. It will be a very exciting weekend.

We have also announced a programme called Film Nation: Shorts, which will involve young people under 25 years old developing their film-making skills alongside professional film-makers. Some of the best films will be shown at the Olympic Park. Tate Movie will give school groups a chance to work together to create an animated film, working with some of the best animators in the world from Aardman, the Oscar-winning animation company that made Wallace and Gromit. The Tate Movie project will be the first of its kind: an animation made by children for children.

There is a lot already happening, but a couple of months ago the Cultural Olympiad board announced that the finale of the London 2012 Olympiad will be a 12-week festival across the nation opening on midsummer’s day and running until 9 September, which is the last day of the Paralympic Games. We all hope that the festival will be a way in which everybody in the UK can get involved and will give people a summer to remember. I love what Kofi Annan said about the Olympics:

“When the Olympics are staged in London in two years time, competitors from every nation will find fellow countrymen and women living here to cheer them on. The very diversity is what makes London such a dynamic, exciting and successful community”.

I hope that is what we can display to the world in our arts and culture.

There is another point about legacy. For my colleagues on the Cultural Olympiad board, developing skills and the legacy of the Games will be as important as the programme of outstanding art and culture. Planning in this area is under way, and we hope to have that completed by late autumn. Until recently, I was the founder chair of the skills council for the creative and cultural sector, so I have seen at first hand just what you can do by attaching young people to creative projects. There are lots of people who may not be able to sing, dance, paint or make music, but they can still be part of the creative process by building sets, marketing, looking after audiences or doing myriad other tasks involved in making performance happen. This is a big opportunity for us, as I know that it is for the Games as a whole, and it is an opportunity that I, and my colleagues, want to grasp in very concrete terms. To be able to say after 2012 that many young people have been given the chance to work alongside professionals backstage and that, through that, they have sorted out what they want to do with their lives is very important.

Equally, I hope that the Cultural Olympiad will show to the world what an extraordinary creative place east London is. What I see in those five boroughs is not the caricature of old. East London feels like a new city. I hope that the legacy of the Cultural Olympiad will have helped to build the creative skills and employability of the next generation of young people growing up in the boroughs around the Olympic village. Developing that is a major task for me, my board and the team.

The opportunity for us is enormous. An Ipsos MORI survey released in the past fortnight said that 87 per cent of parents felt that it was important that their child took part in cultural activities on a regular basis. I hope that the Cultural Olympiad and the festival will provide that opportunity to many young people. As if to underscore that finding, I shall end with a quotation from the mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, about the importance of culture for the winter Olympic Games. He said:

“The arts and culture I think has been the secret to our success, bringing crowds out and celebrating downtown, adding more depth to the whole event”.

In my own view, the greatest legacy for the Cultural Olympiad will be if we show not only how central culture and creativity is to huge events such as the Olympics, but how central the development of creative skills is for all our young people and how vital culture is for the country as a whole.