How much more culture will the Olympiad bring?
London won the Olympics for its promises on culture and legacy. But critics are complaining, cultural events are cancelled, and the big Olympaid events are yet to deliver. How much are we getting from the Olympiad?
Much of this would have been stopped anyway (after all, who wants to attend a cultural event organised by a smoothie brand).
But the press has attributed some of the cancellations to the Cultural Olympiad and the pressure of hosting the Olympics themselves.
Why the cancellations?
For some it's because acts have been booked out. The Big Chill Festival’s bosses said difficulty in booking the acts they wanted has meant they’ve cancelled. For smaller events, like the Cowley Road Carnival, an annual community event in Oxford, have been
And it’s also about money. Middlesbrough's Intro Music Festival was called off after the council's budget was cut and it decided to focus resources on Olympic and Jubilee events instead.
So is all the disruption worth it? There are great events in the Olympiad, like Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege (our banner image) which is an inflatable Stonehenge for kids to bounce on and art lovers to admire.
One problem with the Olympiad is that it's confusing. There are at least seven strands of activity, spread across the country, and often they have rebadged activity that would have happened anyway. But the Cultural Olympiad has been runing since 2008, and in that time the official figures give an idea of the huge scale of the programme. By the end of it:
- More than 16 million people across the UK will have taken part in or attended performances.
- 170,000 will have attended more than 8,300 workshops.
- 3.7 million will have taken part in 3,700 Open Weekend events
- The culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, the London 2012 Festival, provides over 10 million chances to see free cultural events.
These are the best figures we have for audiences. We also know that the cost of the Olympiad is over £97 million (€120 million). If we total up the number of people seeing it, that’s £5 (€6,20) per audience member. Not bad. (This is a very crude and foggy analysis - lots of the details we have are from a Freedom of Information Request)
And on numbers, the cancelled events that we have mentioned are tiny in comparison.
The Big Chill Festival usually hosts around 3,500 people. The Cowley Road Carnival similar numbers. The Intro Festival 60,000 at best. Even if ten similar events have been cancelled that’s only 660,000 people missing out - compared to the 16 million gaining from the Olympiad.
So the Olympiad looks less like an expensive waste of money and more like a good value approach to introducing people to culture. And it might be a good idea after all.
Banner image. Jeremy Deller Sacrilege, 2012, taken as part of the London 2012 Festival commissions. Photographer Angela Catlin
Big Dance. Photographer Hugo Glendinning
International Student Drama Festival. Photographer Allan Titmuss ©