Skip to main content Skip to site map (in footer)

Holding a Flame for 2012: Why we won’t forget the legacy of Cultural Olympiad

  • Date: 16 October 2012
  • Artform: All, Combined arts, Dance, Libraries, Literature, Museums, Music, Theatre, Visual arts
  • Area: South East
Flag Queen greeting the crowds waiting for the torch, Blue Touch Paper Carnival, 2012 Flag Queen greeting the crowds waiting for the torch, Blue Touch Paper Carnival, 2012, Blue Touch Paper Carnival

With the close of our epic four-year Cultural Olympiad programme, we celebrated its success in the South East, which saw record numbers of participants, captured hearts and imaginations and made waves nationally and internationally.

This summer, the region experienced the pinnacle of the Cultural Olympiad, which included the 12-week long London 2012 Festival, which brought the country’s most talented artists to millions, the exciting Torch Relay celebrations, which were illuminated with a rich selection of arts and culture, and the large-scale community celebration Tree of Light.

From Dover to Oxford, thousands of local residents were able to take part in the excitement and values of London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. An estimated 4 million people participated in the Cultural Olympiad in the South East over the four years. There were 29 London 2012 Festival projects, reaching 662,289 people – from Richard Wilson’s Hang on a Minute Lads I’ve Got a Great Idea at De La Warr Pavilion, which attracted 100,000 visitors, to World Stories: Young Voices, the new permanent gallery created by young people at Brighton Museum, which engaged 1800 young people. 

Our Cultural Olympiad journey began in September 2008. Arts Council England staff in the South East worked with 50 local authority partners and hundreds of arts and cultural organisations, artists, higher education institutions, agencies and funding bodies to create UK’s largest celebration of arts and culture right here in the South East.

With Stoke Mandeville, home of the Paralympic Movement, based in the South East, it is fitting that one of the South East Cultural Olympiad’s biggest achievements was our work to promote, develop and showcase Deaf and disabled artists. As a testament to this, 29% of our Inspire Programme was delivered by or including Deaf or disabled people. 31 disabled artists, 10 disabled-led organisations and 90 outdoor arts practitioners underwent training or leadership courses. Over 12 Cultural Olympiad commissions were led by disabled artists including Rachel Gadsden's Starting Line and Jon Adam's Look About.

We also saw ambitious, life changing projects like Gold Run, whose talented learning disabled artists and performers brought the Paralympic story to life through a multi-art form performance and graced the stages of Brighton Dome, Glyndebourne and Chichester Festival Theatre.

With so many fantastic Cultural Olympiad projects, there are some that will surely bring back fond memories. One that captured many hearts is our Artist taking the lead project The Boat Project – a seafaring yacht constructed with over 1,200 wooden donations and whose stories were collected, named Collective Spirit. The project was masterminded by internationally renowned UK artists Lone Twin from 2011 until now. Working with a team of three boat builders and 30 volunteers, Lone Twin constructed the 30-foot vessel and launched it to 1,000 members of the public.

The yacht and its nominated crew spent the summer on a maiden voyage around the south coast, where the boat was admired and celebrated by 100,000 people, who took part in a myriad of arts and cultural activities organised by the boat’s hosts including Turner Contemporary, Milton Keynes International Festival and Brighton Festival.

The Collective Spirit will live on, through future exhibitions and sailing opportunities. This month Collective Spirit will be exhibited in the Quadrangle on the Strand Campus of Kings College as part of The Arts & Humanities Festival 2012 from 15 to 27 October. The visit will be accompanied by talks and performances – further information is on

Marina Norris, Senior Manager, Corporate Planning and 2012 Lead says: ‘Through the energy, vision, investment of all of our partners, the Cultural Olympiad brought to life the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and opened up the incredible opportunities the Games presented in engaging local communities through arts and culture.
‘Without a doubt, London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was a chance to see our country, our communities and ourselves differently, the Cultural Olympiad played an important part at local level engaging many people of all ages which not only created lifetime memories but will also leave a lasting legacy.’
The national Cultural Olympiad evaluation will be published later this year. For more information, see Cultural Olympiad 2008-2010 report  and Cultural Olympiad 2010-2012 report.