2012 Cultural Olympiad

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The 2012 Cultural Olympiad was a programme of cultural events across the United Kingdom that accompanied the 2012 Summer Olympics and 2012 Summer Paralympics.

The Olympic Charter, the set of rules and guidelines for the organization of the Olympic Games and for governing the Olympic Movement states that

"The LOCOG shall organise a programme of cultural events which must cover at least the entire period during which the Olympic Village is open."[1]

London 2012 Festival[edit]

The London Olympic Games' Cultural Olympiad included 500 events nationwide throughout the UK, spread over four years and culminating in the London 2012 Festival. The cost of the events was over £97 million[2] with funding provided by Arts Council England, Legacy Trust UK and the Olympic Lottery Distributor.[3][4]

Those involved in the festival, which ran from 21 June to 9 September 2012, included Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, director Mike Leigh, musician Damon Albarn, artists David Hockney, Lucian Freud, Rachel Whiteread, and writer Toni Morrison.[5][6]

Twelve British artists were commissioned to design posters for the games: Martin Creed, Bridget Riley, Rachel Whiteread, Chris Ofili, Tracey Emin, Bob and Roberta Smith, Anthea Hamilton, Fiona Banner, Michael Craig-Martin, Gary Hume, Sarah Morris and Howard Hodgkin.[7][8]

The Cultural Olympiad comprised a number of programmes including: Artists Taking the Lead, Discovering Places, Film Nation: Shorts, New Music 20x12, Stories of the World, World Shakespeare Festival. Many of these involved public participation; for example, Discovering Places encouraged people to explore their local environment and identify 2012 species, Film Nation was aimed at young people making short films, and Stories of the World involved young people working with 50 museums across the UK.[9]

The Bandstand Marathon on 9 September 2012 was the closing event of the London 2012 Festival, and saw live music events take place at more than 200 locations across the UK. Participating bands were invited by Coldplay to perform their 2008 single "Viva La Vida" simultaneously at 2pm to celebrate the end of the games.[10]

Artists taking the lead[edit]

Artists taking the lead consisted of 12 major Arts Council funded public art projects one for each of 12 UK regions.[11] Each project received £500,000 funding.[12]

Nowhereisland by Alex Hartley being towed to Weymouth Bay, 25 July 2012.
Region Project Artist Details
East On Landguard Point Pacitti Company A series of outdoor events, forming a community feature film
East Midlands Lionheart Project Shauna Richardson Three giant hand-crocheted lions recreating Richard the Lionheart's three lions crest
London Bus-Tops Alfie Dennen and Paula Le Dieu 30 LED screens on the roofs of bus shelters displaying works created by the public
North East ~Flow Owl Project and Ed Carter Electro-acoustic musical machinery powered by the River Tyne[12]
North West Column Anthony McCall A 100m vertical column of steam [not realised][13]
South East Boat Project Gregg Whelan, Gary Winters A 30 ft vessel made from donated wooden items[2]
South West Nowhereisland Alex Hartley A floating island nation
West Midlands Godiva Awakes Imagineer Productions A 10-metre-high carnival puppet of Lady Godiva
Yorkshire Leeds Canvas Quay Brothers Overworlds and Underworlds, a month-long series of interventions and art ambushes with film, music and movement
Scunthorpe Cycle Song Opera Proper Job Theatre Company Outdoor opera starring Richard Stuart, celebrating Scunthorpe's olympic cycling hero, Lal White
Northern Ireland Nest Brian Irvine, John McIlduff A creation made from donated objects and a large-scale music and choral event
Scotland Forest Pitch Craig Coulthard A full size football pitch hidden within a forest
Wales Adain Avion Marc Rees A mobile art space created from the wreckage of a DC-9 airplane

Paralympic Cultural Festival – Unlimited[edit]

Alongside the 2012 Summer Paralympics, the Paralympic Cultural Festival (or Unlimited Festival) brought hundreds of deaf and disabled artists together, and Unlimited featured 29 new commissions, including artist Sue Austin's film documenting her performances in a self-propelled underwater wheelchair, and Paul Cummins' 'English Flower Garden'.[14] Ticketed events were held at the Southbank Centre, as part of the London 2012 Festival, featuring the debut performance from the Paraorchestra.

The place widely regarded as an inspiration for the modern Olympic games, Much Wenlock, also featured with a May Day event called M21: From the Medieval to the 21st Century in collaboration with DASH (Disability Arts in Shropshire);[15] artists included Simon McKeown.

The Unlimited commissions drew much mass-media and popular attention,[16] as did the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony called Enlightenment, featuring Stephen Hawking.

New Music 20x12[edit]

New musical works commissioned from 20 composers performed around the UK and at the Southbank Centre, London. Artists included Howard Skempton, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Irene Taylor Trust, Luke Carver Goss, Joe Cutler, Graham Fitkin, Mark Prescott, David Bruce, Aidan O'Rourke, Emily Howard, Conor Mitchell, Sheema Mukherjee, Michael Wolters; Oliver Searle, Aaron Cassidy, EXAUDI, Richard Causton and Jason Yarde and Wonderbrass. [17]

World Shakespeare Festival[edit]

Most of the programming was part of a strand titled the World Shakespeare Festival, which included translations, adaptations, and re-workings of Shakespeare's plays.[18][19] Programming themed around the plays of William Shakespeare was a major part of the London 2012 Festival. It was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and sponsored by the Arts Council, BP and Lottery with about 60 participating organisations including the BBC, British Museum, National Theatre, the Barbican Centre, the Almeida Theatre and Shakespeare's Globe.[20][21][22] This festival began on 23 April 2012 and finished in November 2012.[23] It included approximately 70 productions related to Shakespeare's plays, over half of which were performed in a language other than English (particularly those which formed part of the Globe to Globe Festival at Shakespeare's Globe). Shakespeare also featured in the BBC's "Shakespeare Unlocked" 2012 season (particularly The Hollow Crown and in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.[24] The World Shakespeare Festival also included the Worlds Together Conference, an international interdisciplinary conference exploring the role of Shakespeare and arts learning in young people's lives.[25] At the grass roots and with the support of the performers' union, Equity, many events occurred around the country, not least the première of a new play entitled Shakespeare's Queen Elizabeth the Second, which was also performed in Stratford-upon-Avon and open air celebration of Shakespeare in, literally, John O'Groats and many locations south. Equity-backed events also occurred in London, for young people and school children, every two months from 2010–2012.

Poetry Parnassus[edit]

Poetry Parnassus was a week-long series of events at the Southbank Centre at the end of June, featuring poets from around the world in what has been described as "the biggest gathering of poets in world history", with one poet representing each of the 204 competing Olympic nations.[26] Led by artist-in-residence Simon Armitage, it was a festival of readings, performance, and debate that attracted an audience of more than 13,000 people.[27] The opening ceremony for the event included a Rain of Poems where 100,000 English translations of the 204 poets' poems were dropped from a helicopter.[28]

Tales from the Bridge[edit]

Tales from the Bridge was a vast poetry soundscape (among the largest ever created) commissioned by the Mayor of London for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.[29][30][31][32][33] The project was "installed for eight weeks along the entire length of the Millennium Bridge and experienced by an estimated four million people".[34] Collaborators for the project included Martyn Ware (The Human League) and Eric Whitacre, whose composition prefaces the piece. The flowing narrative of the main section drew on "the fascinating history of the Thames and the people, stories, life and times on both banks of the river", providing "a contemplative auditory platform that links the City of London in the north with the Southbank and vice versa".[35] Composed as a complex overlapping hybrid prose poem, and performed using subtle sonic textures and multiple interleaving voices, the text was conceived, written and vocally choreographed by Mario Petrucci. The project was shortlisted for the 2012 Ted Hughes Award.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Olympic Charter" (PDF). International Olympic Committee. 11 February 2010. p. 80. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  2. ^ a b Brown, Mark (12 March 2012). "Cultural Olympiad 2012 reaches the critical masses". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  3. ^ "Cultural Olympiad". London 2012 website. Archived from the original on 28 April 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  4. ^ Osborn, Michael (4 September 2008). "Why we have a Cultural Olympiad". BBC News. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  5. ^ "Cultural Olympiad reveals celebrity line-up". BBC News. 7 December 2010. Archived from the original on 20 May 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  6. ^ Brown, Mark (7 December 2010). "Cultural Olympiad's London 2012 festival lines up arts world A-list". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  7. ^ Jonathan Jones (4 November 2011). "London 2012 Olympic posters bring best out of BritArt". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  8. ^ "Posters". London 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  9. ^ "Cultural Olympiad". London 2012. Archived from the original on 21 March 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  10. ^ "Bands across the UK to perform Coldplay hit in closing event of the London 2012 Festival". Official site of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. London 2012. 7 September 2012. Archived from the original on 3 January 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Artists taking the lead". Arts Council. Archived from the original on 24 December 2011. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  12. ^ a b Brown, Mark (21 March 2012). "Newcastle floating artwork turns river into music". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  13. ^ Brown, Jonathan (16 April 2013). "Artist Anthony McCall's Olympic 'Column' for Merseyside scrapped". The Independent. Archived from the original on 1 May 2022. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  14. ^ Southbank Centre. Paul Cummins. The English Flower Garden.
  15. ^ "M21 brought disabled artists to Much Wenlock over the May Day weekend - Arts Council". 10 January 2013. Archived from the original on 10 January 2013.
  16. ^ "Disabled artists launch festival". 10 July 2012 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  17. ^ "New Music 20x12". London 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  18. ^ "London 2012 Festival: Drama on display – Features". The Stage. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  19. ^ Maev Kennedy (6 September 2011). "Biggest Shakespeare festival ever will straddle the London Olympics | Culture". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  20. ^ World Shakespeare Festival tickets go on public sale, BBC, 10 October 2011
  21. ^ Neil MacGregor (29 November 2011). "London 2012 Festival Top 10 guide: 3. The World Shakespeare Festival". The Daily Telegraph.
  22. ^ "A project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen". Year of Shakespeare. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  23. ^ "About the Festival | World Shakespeare Festival 2012". Worldshakespearefestival.org.uk. Archived from the original on 28 November 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  24. ^ Minard, Jenny (27 January 2012). "BBC News – London 2012: How Shakespeare's Tempest shapes the ceremonies". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  25. ^ "Worlds Together | World Shakespeare Festival 2012". Worldshakespearefestival.org.uk. 8 September 2012. Archived from the original on 24 December 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  26. ^ Flood, Alison (12 April 2012). "Poetry Parnassus to gather poets from every Olympic nation". The Guardian.
  27. ^ "World Poetry Summit at Poetry Parnassus", British Council.
  28. ^ Neil Curry (28 June 2012). "A deluge in London, but this time it's raining poems". CNN. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  29. ^ "Tales form The Bridge". atomictv.com.
  30. ^ "*from* Tales from the Bridge – the Poetry Society".
  31. ^ KitmonstersTV (1 August 2012). "Tales From The Bridge – Martyn Ware" – via YouTube.
  32. ^ "News 2012 – Illustrious Company". illustriouscompany.co.uk.
  33. ^ "KitMonsters – Tales From The Bridge".
  34. ^ "'A soundscape meditation on the history of the Thames' [The British Library]".
  35. ^ "Mayor of London press release". 29 July 2012.
  36. ^ "Ted Hughes Award – the Poetry Society".

External links[edit]