The National Portrait Gallery's new Road to 2012 exhibition is helping to build an understanding of the Cultural Olympiad
By Will Cantopher
A London gallery is currently paying striking tribute to the faces of the 2012 Olympic story, from people who have played a key role in building the facilities to some of our young champions-in-waiting.
A regal-looking former Labour minister, Tessa Jowell, is also part of Road to 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery.
The exhibition is notable for giving a kick start to the Cultural Olympiad.
According to curator Anne Braybon, it is "a brilliant opportunity to bring art and sport and achievement together."
The idea of culture has been bound up with the modern Olympic movement, she points out.
Yet most people are unclear what the Cultural Olympiad is actually about, a view not helped by 2012 chiefs appearing only now to start to work it out.
"We won the games on the basis of doing culture, but they didn't get the people in place," reckons the Evening Standard's Louise Jury.
"Finally, this year, they've now got a team who've run big international festivals before," she says.
First outline of the programme
A clue resides in her use of that f-word, with the mantra from organisers now embracing the terms 'festival' and 'summer finale'.
This is echoed in the words of Royal Opera House executive Tony Hall, the man charged with turning the Cultural Olympiad around.
When people understand that from mid-June to the end of the Paralympic Games, there's going to be a festival of arts and culture, people sort of get it...
2012 culture chief Tony Hall on the Cultural Olympiad
"When people understand that from mid-June to the end of the Paralympic Games, there's going to be a festival of arts and culture involving our museums and galleries and our creative industries, such as fashion, people sort of get it," he says.
The Cultural Olympiad, in his view, will offer a finale which people will look back on and remember.
If it works, he continues, it will change perceptions about us abroad and also bring people into the arts, "inspired by this festival running alongside the games".
Asked about the content of such a festival, Mr Hall confirmed the first outline of the programme is to be announced in October this year.
The detail will be fleshed out with more events added in the spring of 2011, he says.
Tony Hall, chair of the new Cultural Olympiad board, outlines his timetable
"What I hope we'll be able to say is, look, if you come along at a certain time to the banks of the Thames, or X place or Y place and also to the outer boroughs, these things are going to take place.
"For the moment though we're still working on it."
So that's all clear then? Not quite.
Our Olympics correspondent, Adrian Warner, understands that with two more years to go to the games, sponsors are seeking clarification about the Cultural Olympiad.
They haven't been impressed thus far, he believes, and they have to pay for most of it.
But Mr Hall dismisses the charge: "The sponsors I've been speaking to have been very clear and enthusiastic," he maintains.
"They understand the notion of a festival bringing the best of this country and from around the world to perform here in 2012 when the best sportsmen and women from around the world are coming here too."
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