Olympic Games 2012: Legacy Debate

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Lord Hall of Birkenhead

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

Olympic Games 2012: Legacy

Lord Hall of Birkenhead Excerpts
Thursday 24th January 2013

(11 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, on securing this fascinating debate. I also declare interests, as I leave the Royal Opera House and head towards the BBC, as a board member of LOCOG and chair of the Cultural Olympiad board. I should point out that the Cultural Olympiad board has been asked to continue, to guide and draw action from an assessment being carried out by Liverpool University. This is due by Easter, and we will then take recommendations to the Government. However, I want to share what I think are some of the lessons from last year.

First, as has already been mentioned, one of the most striking aspects of the London 2012 festival was the level of participation. At every event, from the spectacular Fire Garden at Stonehenge to the UK’s biggest celebration of dance, the Big Dance to Unlimited, I saw how people of all ages and backgrounds seized the chance to be part of something creative, ambitious and big. We put events outside and in public places, and the audiences, large and diverse, found them. We wanted free events, and it paid off: 19.8 million people took part; 80% came for free.

Here is the rub: overall, 38% of those taking part were under the age of 24. This to my mind shows the immense appetite for culture among the young. One of the legacies must be to secure future opportunities for participation in culture for both young people and those who commonly feel excluded from the arts.

The festival also used the fact of the Games to highlight how good we are at arts and culture. About 40,000 journalists were in the UK to cover the Games, which meant that we could secure publicity for arts and cultural organisations both here and across the world. For example, the Cultural Olympiad programme in the West Midlands alone secured media valued at £11 million. That underlined the huge value of linking large-scale events to the arts and the importance of linking into similar nationwide events in the future, such as the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. By the way, the arts also need to work in close collaboration with agencies such as VisitBritain, building the importance of the arts and culture in tourism.

As has been said, Britain saw something that it liked about itself during the summer and during the festival. The world saw the strength of our arts and culture and why Britain is such a fantastic place to visit. However, as we all know, the artists and leaders who made it possible, such as Stephen Daldry, Danny Boyle, and many others came originally from the subsidised sector. Indeed, the festival could not have happened without the commitment of the publicly funded organisations—museums, theatres, galleries, opera houses, concert halls, and so on. Their financial strength over a long period gave them the security to create the ambitious commissions that we saw in the festival. Stable investment in the arts must be sustained if we are to maintain that legacy. With every £1 of public subsidy for the arts generating £4 of earned income, it also makes financial sense to do so.

To my mind, the festival underlined the strength and economic value of our cultural industries and the importance of nurturing creative talents in future generations. I am still really impressed by the way that the Tate, working with CBBC and the animators Aardman—the people who produced Wallace and Gromit—offered 34,000 children the chance to learn how to animate and create a film, “The Itch of the Golden Nit”. The film has already won a children’s BAFTA and a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest creative team ever. I guess that we will have to wait 20 years to judge its true success: to find out how many lives we changed and how many new animators and filmmakers the project created.

I know that the House has recently debated the EBacc, but I briefly add my view. The arts must remain at the heart of the national curriculum to allow all children, regardless of their background, the chance to develop their creative talents and contribute in future to our world-leading arts and creative industries. One day, we will look to a new generation to create an event of a magnitude to rival London 2012. Let us give them the skills to do so.

The Cultural Olympiad also gave us a chance to show the value of a creative education in helping young people to find jobs. Inspired by the work that we have been doing at the Royal Opera House, where 1% of employees are apprentices, the festival offered unemployed young people in the host boroughs apprenticeships in the arts. Forty per cent of the participants had secured a job by the time the scheme ended. That is why the Arts Council decided to fund a comparable, national creative employment programme. That alone could be an enormous legacy of the Cultural Olympiad, and one that demonstrates how much we achieve by investing in the creative talents of children and young people.

The festival also highlighted something key about the role of the BBC and the media more broadly. From the beginning, it was vital that the BBC, as a public broadcaster, was at the heart of the Cultural Olympiad. It delivered collaborations and coverage of exceptional scale and quality. It built, for example, on the World Shakespeare Festival, which was an extraordinary achievement, to create its largest ever education project. In the Radio 1 Big Weekend, it gave young people from Hackney and the East End the chance to work with their musical heroes and learn production and backstage skills. By the way, as I found out, it was a fantastic, exhilarating weekend.

The Cultural Olympiad showed how the BBC, working with cultural organisations, world-class artists and public and private funders can teach creative skills and transform the life chances of young people. It also underlined how important the media—in particular the BBC—are in fuelling public appetite for the arts.

One amazing example of that from last summer was The Space. This digital platform, funded jointly by the Arts Council and the BBC, gives people wherever they are a chance to experience the arts directly online. You could enjoy a private view of the Goldsmith College degree show or hear, if you wanted to, the Stockhausen helicopter string quartet as it played above Birmingham. There were many other rich, amazing events. It is clear to me that The Space and other digital innovations like it have immense potential for promoting the arts and giving people direct access to artists, performances and art. It is a profoundly important development, which comes out of the cultural festival.

I have always believed strongly that world-class art and culture should be available to everyone. Out of the many excellent things that the Cultural Olympiad did, fulfilling that goal is by far the team’s proudest achievement. I shall pick up on something that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said by remembering that, as we proved in that summer, if we bring everyone together—whether it is through sports, arts, tourism or whatever—we can achieve great things.