Page last updated at 05:57 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 06:57 UK

Holding Olympic 'culture' baton

Katherine Jenkins
Katherine Jenkins performing at the London 2012 handover concert outside Buckingham Palace on Sunday

by Wena Alun Owen
BBC news

Barely has the closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics finished before the build-up to the 2012 event has begun.

Team GB are be riding the crest of their accumulative medal wave, so selling the idea of London 2012 as the ultimate in sporting events should be relatively easy.

The cultural side of the Olympiad might be a tougher nut to crack.

Not everyone will know that a four-year programme of cultural celebrations is organised in the Olympic host country.

When the announcement for the Olympics was made in June 2007 Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, described the Cultural Olympiad as "absolutely central" to the vision of what could be achieved.

"Winning the right to stage the Olympic Games in 2012 was always about more than simply hosting a few glorious weeks of sporting excellence in five years' time," she said.

Gwyn L Williams
I've taken this job on because I want to make a difference
Gwyn L Williams

Each of the four regions which make up Great Britain will have a creative programmer in charge of events - and in Wales the job belongs to Gwyn L Williams, the former chief executive of Llangollen International Eisteddfod.

He hopes his experience in the arts will give him a good grounding for the task ahead, although the 'newness' of his current post is a challenge.

"Llangollen was an established festival with an annual rhythm, whilst the Olympiad is something we have had to produce ourselves," he said.

Even people who have never heard of the cultural side of the Olympics will have seen part of what they do as every single ceremony - from the opening, to the medals, to the very end - is part of it.

The difference in London 2012 will be the scope and breadth of the projects covered, said Mr Williams.

"Anything from flower arranging in Talwrn on Anglesey to Welsh National Opera has the chance to be involved," he said.

Taking on a project which was a blank page was "scary but exciting", he added.

"I've taken this job on because I want to make a difference.

"If at the end of 2013, when my contract ends, that has not happened then I haven't done my job properly," he said.

The initial response from within the arts community has been "fantastic", but there were people who had been disappointed when current projects lost money to the building of the Olympic infrastructure in London, he said.

Nicole Cooke winning her gold medal in the women's road race
Sporting triumphs can be used to promote the next event.

"I understand this completely, and it is a pity, but my job will be to get as much money as possible back into Wales," he said.

The cultural events will also be bringing unlikely groups together to work for a common goal, he added.

This includes a project between the Welsh-language Urdd and English-language Valley Kids.

"The idea of getting the two working together would normally be totally bananas but they are coming together because of the Olympics," he said.

Mr Williams is also planning to visit to the Paralympics in Beijing because a big part of the Cultural Olympiad is working with the disabled.

Ultimately it is up to the people of Wales to make the most of the situation, and to leave a legacy with a uniquely Welsh flavour, he added.

"Someone will always complain, but I don't want Wales to be left behind," he said.

"Yes people have lost money for their projects, but there's no point sulking in a corner.

"We have to work to get that money back into Wales."




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