Thursday 8th November 2012

(11 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Hall of Birkenhead Portrait Lord Hall of Birkenhead
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My Lords, I declare interests, not just as the chief executive of the Royal Opera House, but as chair of the Cultural Olympiad board and as a board member of LOCOG. In those roles, I have seen at first hand the outstanding work of the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, whose excellent maiden speech we heard this morning. I congratulate him on that and on his central role in a summer that none of us will ever forget.

I should like to comment on the London 2012 Festival, which was the biggest of its kind in this country and one that raised the bar for future cultural Olympiads. Some 25,000 artists from 204 nations were involved and attendances topped 19.8 million people—80% of those at free events. Young people were at the heart of what we achieved; more than a third of audiences were between the ages of 16 and 24. That demonstrates that the arts can reach out to that difficult-to-reach audience.

Most emblematic for me was the opening day of the festival, which took place, in the pouring rain, at Raploch, near Stirling in Scotland. Raploch is one of the most deprived estates in Scotland, or indeed in the whole of the UK, but it is the home of Sistema Scotland, which teaches young children and young people to play instruments and to be part of an orchestra. On that night, young people from Raploch played alongside the Simon Bolivar Orchestra—a product of the original Sistema project in Venezuela—conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. It was an amazingly moving occasion and I was really pleased and proud that it could be the start of the festival as it showed the importance of music, art and culture to young people. As I drove back from Raploch in the pouring rain, I thought about something that the person who ran the festival said to me: “Music reaches people here in a way that nothing else can. We know. We have seen it”. Being involved in the arts and culture can give you a sense of confidence and self-worth and that is why it is so important that the arts remain strong within the national curriculum, and why they should be included in the new English baccalaureate. That would be a good legacy of the Games.

Another thing that happened as part of the festival was that 40 young people, who had been unemployed for more than six months, were given work placements at organisations involved in the festival. I hope that this will once again demonstrate what working in arts and culture can do for young people. I know this is a precursor to a much bigger scheme that the Arts Council has announced, involving the arts in tackling long-term unemployment. This is a great legacy of the festival.

One of the most striking things about the build-up to the Games last summer was the sense of excitement among the public; for example, the huge crowds that came out to welcome the torch and the fact that people wanted to be involved. Involvement was key to the festival too. As has been mentioned, on the opening day of the Games, Martin Creed created an artwork when he asked everyone to ring a bell. I rang my bell with the Speaker of the other place, and managed to get a blister. What amazed me was that 2.9 million people joined in—I repeat, 2.9 million. This tells you something about people’s desire to be part of an event that is bigger than themselves. As there were so many opportunities to be involved, new audiences were attracted.

When the Globe Theatre ambitiously put on all 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 different languages, people came from all around the world and 80% of those who came had never been to the Globe before. It was an extraordinary outcome. We need to look at ways of continuing that. One idea is a biennale, which is one of the things that the board I chair is looking at for the Government. It would be good to know that the Government are building on what was achieved this summer in terms of new audiences.

Another thing that was striking about the festival was the willingness of people to say, “Yes”, to make extraordinary things happen. Hadrian’s Wall was lit up with weather balloons along most of its length. It was really beautiful and it did not rain. The person in charge of this remarkable sight said that 120 separate landowners had to agree for this remarkable artwork to take place. As it was 2012 and as it was the Olympics, there was a sense of, “Let’s do it”. It is really important to see whether that power of “yes” can be taken forward. With luck, we will have pushed boundaries and, next time, dramatic things will be easier to do.

The Cultural Olympiad also challenged perceptions. Unlimited was the biggest-ever programme of arts and culture by deaf and disabled people anywhere in the world; 29 works were commissioned. Nothing had ever been done on that scale before anywhere in the world. In the same way that the Paralympics changed people’s perceptions of disability, this programme has raised the profile and created new opportunities.

One cannot underestimate what the summer and the festival did for bringing people who run things and create together and for establishing new contacts. For the first time, as it was 2012, we had homeless people singing in the Royal Opera House. What voices they had. It was so moving. It was such an important event that we cannot let it drop. It was an important collaboration.

The Cultural Olympiad board, which I was asked to set up, has brought together the arts and the funders: the mayor’s office, DCMS and the BBC, a very powerful combination. So many people right across the country have come together to do amazing things. Those contacts could be the greatest legacy of 2012, and who knows where that might lead. The key is not to drop it.

We have shown the world this summer what we can do in difficult financial circumstances. The arts matter because they are part of the creative industries, which are a large and growing part of our economy. However, what was done this summer was on the back of sustained investment in arts and culture at national and local level over more than a decade. It was that which produced the world-class expertise and talent to create both the London 2012 Festival and the extraordinary ceremonies that accompanied both Games. The Government have asked the Cultural Olympiad board to carry on and look at how we can ensure a long-term legacy. Securing sustainable funding streams for the arts will be key to this. We have shown what we can do but we need to continue to make the case to ensure that this is not a one-off but the beginning of a new, enhanced role for culture in the life of the nation.