What counts as #OlympicArt during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games?

What counts as #OlympicArt during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games?

The Culture @ the Olympics team is in Rio throughout the 2016 Olympic Games, as we have done since 2000 across nine Olympic cities. We are documenting and reporting on the Olympic Games cultural dimensions from all relevant angles.

Editor in chief Beatriz Garcia is focusing, once more, on one of the Games shiftier components: the often confusing and hard to pin-down ‘official’ Olympic cultural programme or Cultural Olympiad.

Rio is the first summer Games host city that has decided to break with the tradition started by the Barcelona 1992 organisers in 1988, when they decided to launch their cultural programme just at the end of the Seoul Games and have it develop over four years (one Olympiad). In Rio there has been no four-year Cultural Olympiad, and there was not a clear cultural and arts hand-over from London 2012  (with some exceptions, which Beatriz will report on separately). Instead, we have a collection of programmes, mostly happening during Games time in 2016, and led by three main entities:

  • the culture team at the Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee, led by Carla Camurati under the umbrella of ‘Celebra
  • the Municipality of Rio, through the Secretaria de Turismo, who have funded the largest LiveSite hub to date, and the Secretaria Municipal de Cultura, who have created for the first time a unifying ‘Passaporte Cultural’ for the city
  • the International Olympic Committee, through its Foundation for Culture and Olympic Heritage which, for the first time at an Olympic Games, is taking the lead on a series of high profile artistic initiatives.

Overall, Rio’s version of the Cultural Olympiad, through its ‘Celebra’ umbrella, comes up as an eclectic collection of mini-festivals, a few large-scale visual interventions, a bunch of art ‘pop-ups’ (an increasingly popular concept worldwide, fuelled by social-media) and, of course, a range of VIP functions and Olympic staples such as the ‘Olympic Film’ and ‘Olympic Posters’.

Visitors and residents may not find it easy to get a sense of the whole. Here you have a few quick reactions regarding the highlights – as well as ongoing challenges – for this important but often invisible dimension of the Olympic Games fortnight experience.


(up to the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony):

Rio Municipality Activity: Tourism Secretariat / Riotour

  • Live Sites area, the largest to date, transforming a previously derelict area of the city into a brand new ‘Olympic Boulevard‘ including the new Museum of Tomorrow and a record breaking mural by Brazilian artist, Eduardo Kobra

IOC led activity:

  • The first Artist in Residence programme, featuring French graffiti artist JR as well as German writer Tilman Spengler and American viner artist Gerald Andal  (see more detailed analysis piece here)
  • The Olympic Laurel, presented during the Opening Ceremony on 5 August

Rio Municipality activity: Culture Secretariat

Rio 2016 programme: Celebra

  • Aspirational linkages with artists from the next summer host, Tokyo 2020, through the work of sculptor Mariko Mori and her ‘sixth Olympic ring’
  • Continuation of the artist-led Olympic Poster tradition, resulting in 13 posters by 13 Brazilian contemporary artists


  • The lack of unified branding and denominations for Olympic related cultural programming, which makes much of this activity invisible to Olympic fans. The hashtag #olympicArt has been suggested as a means to tag activity but, so far, the take up is slow and of mixed relevance. Furthermore, the proposed ‘Celebra’ umbrella is underused and has not an easy to find page within the official Olympic and Paralympic Games website, as it is not part of the current navigation panel.

Dr Beatriz Garcia will be observing how the programme evolves and how its narrative progresses, both through official and unofficial (online, user-led) channels. This will work will help inform her research on the cultural dimensions of the Games and the role art and artists can play in shaping Olympic narratives and broadening up Games-time voices from a local, national and international identity point of view.