Day One: London 2012 Creative Programmer reflection

It was immediately apparent on my first day in Vancouver that experiencing an Olympic city during the games time period is a rich and unique opportunity. My first stop was to register at the British Columbia Media Centre, a slick and professional operation with all the amenities that money can buy and a perfect office from home for the world’s journalists. On my way to the centre, it was immediately obvious that there is not one story or one brand when it comes to the Olympics. Projections, posters, and banners are everywhere with British Columbia proclaiming ‘ you’ve got to be here’, the city of Vancouver stating ‘We were made for this’ and the multiplicity of pavilions promoting their own brand messages, from the Aboriginal House to Atlanta’s. Vancouver 2010 IS welcoming the world and what you see and hear is a multiplicity of voices and a proliferation of brands.

This does however beg the question of what the true extent and scope of the culture on offer?   What culture is being represented and which cultural organizations are joining in seems impossible at this point to figure out with the multiplicity of cultural programmes taking place, many of which seem to be additional to the official programme of the Cultural Olympiad (which also includes CODE (Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition) and that encompass cultural programmes from the four host nations and the many pavilions. The Cultural Olympiad publicity does not cover or contain all this cultural activity I have come across so far. Decentralised and self organizated cultural activity and programmes is certainly something to be encouraged but as a visitor to the city, unless it is presented as one for the games, it’s tough to make any sense of.

As I walked past the very long early morning queue of people going in to see the Da Vinci exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, I wondered how many of these people were Olympic sports tourists and if they were, why this event was not part of the Cultural Olympiad? Conversely, the excellent NeoGrafik project – a site specific graffiti and projection work – which is a part of the official Cultural Olympiad and a CODE event – did not have any visible brand association to the Cultural Olympiad at the site but neither did it have any audiences.

Granville street on the other hand, fully branded on both sides of the street with Cultural Olympiad banners had a host of street arts interventions and crowds of people playfully engaging with sculptures, installations, objects and street art acts and strollers that lined the streets as part of the life of the city around games time. So, this street was part of the cultural offer too and the sports tourists wandering the streets were taking part in it. Artworks out on the streets seems to benefit from the opportunities that games times brings for making a relationship between culture and sport and both its audiences. One event in particular caught my imagination and made the link between art and sport explicit in an instant. It was a simple art work – a solo street performer standing on a plinth with two tennis racquets in his hands, making small movements and freeze poses in a cycle of movement gestures.

Reflecting on this first day and the delivery structure for culture in the city, I found myself questioning what the role and function of an official Cultural Olympiad was and that maybe it could be enough for a ‘Cultural Olympiad’ to simply be an open platform and brand which invites all cultural organizations, artists and groups operating in the host city and wider to create and promote games time inspired programmes and events? Is there indeed a need for a central programming and curatorial structures and if there is, might it benefit from having a very tight, even singular artistic and legacy focus. Perhaps the Cultural Olympiad in future years could be as simple as an open invitation to all to create something special for the streets – because that is where the sports tourists are and the real audience development opportunity. It is also where many of the world’s journalists are wandering between sports events and one effective way of getting on to their agenda.

Debbi Lander, is the Northwest Creative Programmer for London 2012 and is contributing to Culture @ the Olympics during her time in the city.