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12,000 cultural events across Britain to celebrate the Olympics

By Korea Herald

Published : July 16, 2012 - 19:36

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LONDON ― Every street, alley and grassy knoll here will be alive with a cacophony of ringing bells ― church bells, bike bells, doorbells and a ringing-bell app downloaded to smartphones. Or at least that’s the plan behind “All the Bells: Work No. 1197,” a massive interactive performance art project created by artist Martin Creed to mark the start of the London Olympic Games on July 27.

“All the Bells” is one of 12,000 cultural events unfurled across Britain to celebrate the Games. The Cultural Olympiad officially launched in 2008, but activity has reached a frenzy as towns across the land mount performances and artistic spectacles. The events include a life-sized inflatable moon-bounce version of Stonehenge created by artist Jeremy Deller that is popping up all around the country and Peace Camp, an exploration of love poetry by theater director Deborah Warner and actress Fiona Shaw designed to be experienced at remote beach locations.

The bulk of performances and exhibitions have landed in London, including a Pina Bausch retrospective, the World Shakespeare Festival, the premiere of ex-Blur singer Damon Albarn’s folk opera “Dr Dee” and major exhibitions of Damien Hirst, Yoko Ono, David Hockney and Lucian Freud. Always one of the great cultural cities of the world, London is like an overstuffed cabinet of wonders this summer, with more attractions than any one person could possibly attend ― even the director of the Cultural Olympiad, Ruth Mackenzie.

Described by the Guardian as “the cavalry,” Mackenzie was drafted into the job in 2010 with a mission of bringing focus to an unruly mass of events. “The good thing about coming in with two years to go is that expectations are quite low about what you can achieve,” Mackenzie said last month, drinking tea in a museum cafe high above Trafalgar Square. A former head of the Scottish Opera and the Manchester International Festival, she has cropped silvery hair and a surprisingly mischievous air for someone controlling a huge arts festival.

Mackenzie saw the Olympiad as a chance to stage some extraordinary performances in a moment of global belt-tightening. (She estimates the spending for the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival at around 100 million pounds, or $136 million.)

“What can you do creatively that is once in a lifetime? I think Gustavo Dudamel and Simon Bolivar turning up in Raploch is once in a lifetime,” she says, referring to a June concert in a small Scottish town in which Dudamel conducted a symphony made up of local children and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Another favorite example is “One Extraordinary Day,” featuring Elizabeth Streb and her daredevil Brooklyn dance troupe scaling an undisclosed London landmark.

Arts festivals have been a component of the Olympics since the ancient Greeks, but there are surprisingly divergent views about how to stage these events and how integral they are to the experience. The Los Angeles Olympics Arts Festival in 1984, for example, had a catalyzing effect on the city, according to theater director Peter Sellars.

Beatriz Garcia, head of research at Liverpool’s Institute of Cultural Capital and author of “The Olympic Games and Cultural Policy,” said Olympics arts festivals “are the one aspect of the Games that offers greatest flexibility to include and represent diverse communities and their voices, as well as highlight the best art and cultural offerings available, which in turn may lead to long-term economic returns such as increased tourism.”

By Joy Press

(Los Angeles Times)

(MCT Information Services)