Magazine article The Spectator

Counting the Cost

Magazine article The Spectator

Counting the Cost

Article excerpt

An estimated one in three of the world's six billion people will watch the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. How will Britain fare in that global spotlight?

Having committed more than £600 million to prepare our athletes and competitors, there's not much more that the government can do on the haul-of-medals front. The Cultural Olympiad, which will present the best of our arts and culture, is another matter.

Undoubtedly, Britain has some of the best museums and galleries, concert halls and theatres, and some of the finest artists in the world, so ours should, as Tessa Jowell hopes, 'be better than any Cultural Olympiad that has ever been before'. We have five years in which to make it so, but we had a thousand to prepare the Millennium celebrations and they received somewhat mixed reviews.

The marriage of sports and the arts has its origins in the first Games in 776 BC when each Greek city sent its best athletes, artists, poets and performers to Olympia. When Baron de Coubertin refounded the Games in 1894, this history was foremost in his mind. He organised a conference in Paris in 1906 which determined that there should be medals for sculpture, painting, music and literature -- a Cultural Olympiad that would mirror the Games. The cultural medals were dropped in favour of exhibitions in 1954, and today each host city signs a contract with the International Olympic Committee committing itself to a programme of cultural events.

In recent years, Sydney, Barcelona and Athens have each interpreted the idea of a Cultural Olympiad in different ways but all have been applauded. London's could be even better but already there are question marks over its financing. With the predicted costs of the 2012 Games rising from the original £2.4 billion to £9.3 billion, and unable to get extra funding from the Treasury, Ms Jowell last month raided the National Lottery taking £675 million to shore up the Olympics' budget. This will reduce expenditure on the arts, a major beneficiary of the Lottery, by £125 million.

The chief executive of Arts Council England, Peter Hewitt, was 'deeply disappointed that more money is to be diverted away from the arts to pay for the Games'.

He fears that 'the impact is likely to be felt across the whole of England and disproportionately by smaller arts organisations and individual artists, precisely the sorts of people who may be asked to contribute to the Cultural Olympics'.

Their ability to do so may be further restricted by the government's Comprehensive Spending Review, to be announced in the autumn, which is likely to impose a 7 per cent cut on budgets of the Arts Council, museums and major arts companies, making Tony Blair's recent boast that the government has created a 'golden age' for the arts in Britain sound somewhat hollow.

The proliferation of committees organising the Cultural Olympiad contrasts with the constraint on budgets. Reporting to the Olympic Delivery Authority and the Vision 2012 Project Board, there's the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), the Cultural and Creative Advisory Forum, the London Cultural Consortium and committees of the Greater London Authority, the Arts Council and the DCMS. None of them is able to say how much each will be spending on the Cultural Olympiad. None is anticipating any 'new' government funding. …

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