The arts provide Olympic fanfare
The London 2012 Festival starts off with a bang
By Julia Michalska. Web only
Published online: 21 June 2012
The London 2012 Festival gets off to a noisy start today 21 June as the French street arts company, Les Commandos Percus, take over the shores of Lake Windermere in Cumbria with a percussion and firework extravaganza. In Scotland, the Big Noise orchestra, a children’s charity programme, joins superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, for the Big Concert, an open-air event set against the backdrop of Stirling Castle. Peace and quiet are also far from the agenda in Wales, as the UK artist Jeremy Deller’s bouncy castle-style replica of Stonehenge, Sacrilege, pops-up at the National Botanic Gardens in Carmarthen. Other headline events today include the Peace One Day concert in Northern Ireland’s Londonderry, featuring Pixie Lott, Imelda May and the Guillemots and in Birmingham, the city's symphony orchestra will present the UK premiere of the choral work “Weltethos” by Jonathan Harvey.
The festival, a 12-week series of cultural events ushering in the Olympic Games, is the grand finale of the Cultural Olympiad, a programme that has been running since 2008. Much broader than the name implies, the festival takes place across the whole country, although many events are due to happen in the capital. With a total budget of £55m, the festival has pulled in many big names including the singer-songwriter Damon Albarn, the actress Cate Blanchett, the artist Tracey Emin, the hip-hop stars Jay-Z and Rihanna, and the animated characters Wallace and Gromit. The festival’s director Ruth Mackenzie defended the large price tag, saying: “I assure you, for a 12-week festival over the entire United Kingdom, compared with the budget for just three weeks in Edinburgh or the two weeks in Manchester, frankly it’s a pretty small investment,” calling it a “once-in-a lifetime event”. In all, around 25,000 artists from all 204 competing countries are taking part. 12,000 events are planned at 900 venues all over the UK.
The festival organisers have scored a coup with a new series of high-profile art commissions, the most visible of which is Anish Kapoor's Orbit tower, 2012, the UK's biggest public sculpture. Rachel Whiteread's frieze of gilded bronze, Tree of Life, 2012 for the Whitechapel Gallery's facade was unveiled last month, as was Ai Wei Wei's and Herzog & de Meuron's Serpentine Gallery pavilion. And London can look forward to three minutes of nation-wide bell-ringing on 27 July, the opening day of the Olympics, orchestrated by the artist Martin Creed. He says: “It's trying to make the maximum amount of noise you can make with an acoustic instrument.” Other programmes backed by the Olympiad committee include Art in the Park and Frieze Projects East, which have funded art commissions to help urban regeneration around the east London neighbourhood where the Olympic Games are being held.
For further information on the London 2012 Festival's see the official website and The Art Newspaper's July/August issue.
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