London 2012: dragging art across the Olympic finish line

Posted on January 20, 2012

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Humans have been subject to plunder throughout the ages. King Tut had tomb raiders, English mail trains had Ronnie Biggs, Jennifer Anniston’s hair had Angelina Jolie, and for the last few years UK arts funding has wrestled with 2012’s sporting goliath – the Olympics.

While I’ve been pumping up my shot putt arm and nurturing a Gladiator-shaming javelin swing, the Government has been stealthily siphoning off £100 million from arts spending to bail out the Olympic bill as it swells like Boris Johnson’s belly after a five day crumpet binge.

It’s a sticky issue, to say the least, and it keeps getting messier. Our floppy, flaxen headed mayor’s New Year tirade of joy on the ‘extraordinary’ months ahead will have proven about as useful as a chocolate teapot for the thousands of poverty stricken families too scared to switch on the heating this winter, while David Cameron’s very generous gift, of over £40 million further funding, for Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony extravaganza, serves as a wonderful means to compound his status as a complete and utter pillock.

Even I know the public purse isn’t meant to be pillaged for the opening and closing shows. But in the name of art, and a way to kick start the economy, apparently it’s fine. Obviously, for Mr Cameron, this is all for the greater good and definitely not about giving China the finger, while simultaneously skipping along Downing St, gleefully singing the ‘London 2012 was better than Beijing 2008’ song. Definitely not.

The £19 million sculptural brainchild of Anish Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmond

The four year ‘Cultural Olympiad’ arts programme accompanying the games was an opportunity for London to flex its creative muscles like never before, and provide a platform for small arts organisations and local artists to showcase their talent, but the concept has barely limped off the ground as of yet. Let’s take a look at the fruits of our nation’s artistic endeavours for 2012 so far. In the spotlight we’ve had Anish Kapoor’s giant, red, Olympic torch sculpture, which bears a striking resemblance to a mangled rollercoaster; Tracey Emin and her Turner prize cronies unveiled their very unexciting Olympic posters last year and Martin Creed – in a spectacular feat of cerebral agility – wants to get everyone in the country ringing a bell at the same time.

As much as I love seeing arts funding dive straight into the pockets of those with enough £20 notes spare to use as toilet roll, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve missed out on some superior efforts from more obscure artists who couldn’t jump on the Olympics’ cultural bandwagon. Sadly their media sparkle obviously isn’t as luminous as the big names headlining this summer’s festivities.

Don’t get me wrong, I plan to fully enjoy our tax-funded 2012 party, especially the 20-metre zorbing pool that’s to appear in my neighbourhood, but there will definitely be a little voice in my head shrieking ‘THIS ISN’T RIGHT!’ as I hurtle across the water upside down. And not just because I don’t look good in transparent plastic.

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Posted in: Art and Culture