Arts and Culture Debate

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Lord Hall of Birkenhead

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

Arts and Culture

Lord Hall of Birkenhead Excerpts
Monday 9th July 2012

(11 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Earl on securing this debate three weeks into the London 2012 Festival, which is the best chance we have ever had to showcase the world-class nature of arts and culture in this country. I declare an interest as chair of the Cultural Olympiad board and chief executive of the Royal Opera House.

I would like to reflect a little on some of the things that we have learnt so far in respect of the festival. I remind noble Lords that there are 12,000 events featuring more than 25,000 leading artists from all 204 competing Olympic nations—no other country could do that. We wanted to attract the audiences. Some 80% of the audiences at Shakespeare’s Globe for “Globe to Globe” performances were new attendees, and 44% of people who booked for the RSC’s World Shakespeare Festival performances at Stratford-upon-Avon were also new attendees.

We also wanted to enable as many people as possible to experience the festival for free, so we created 10 million free opportunities to take part—3 million of these have already been taken up. We should not underestimate the power of free; some 10,000 people attended the opening concert in Derry/Londonderry, and tens of thousands attended the BBC’s Hackney Weekend. We should reflect on this as we plan for the future: free can work.

In its first three weeks, the festival has inspired the “Today” programme’s “Thought for the Day” twice. I had not thought of that as being a target, but there we are. It is a good indicator, I guess, because both occasions showed off the values and importance of the festival and the Cultural Olympiad. The first “Thought for the Day” was inspired by the first ever visit of the conductor Gustavo Dudamel and his Simon Bolivar Orchestra to the social housing estate of Raploch, near Stirling, where children have been learning orchestral instruments under Sistema Scotland—the same system that produced Dudamel and his extraordinary orchestra. On a really wet night, but a brilliant night, it showed the power of sustained investment in musical education to reach places that other things simply do not reach. That is an essential part of any strategy for the arts going forward, and I very much hope that the Henley review will be committed to it with real resource for many years to come.

The second “Thought for the Day” was inspired by the concert of homeless people at the Royal Opera House, organised by Streetwise Opera. This is the first time that it has ever happened in an Olympic or Paralympic official festival and we were glad to have them there. It was as profoundly moving as the concert in Raploch. Again it sent out a strong message to the world about the values of this country and the importance of the arts to regenerate and inspire communities and individuals, and again it demonstrated the power of creativity to give confidence and to raise self-esteem. Both events illustrate the importance of the London 2012 Festival’s power to generate interest right around the world, as well as in the UK, and to show the world the value we place not just on the importance of art but on the importance of free artistic expression.

Today, for me, the big question is how we ensure that this is not just a once-in-a-lifetime event but that it is sustained in the future so that even more people are given similar opportunities.