Olympic Legacies – Cultural Transformations

How can the legacy of the Cultural Olympiad be documented and maintained?

A keyword of the London 2012 Olympics has been ‘legacy’ – that notion of securing a longer-term impact for the Games, which both LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe and IOC President Jacques Rogge stressed in their speeches during the Opening Ceremony last night. (It is also the concept that has been so brilliantly lampooned by the BBC‘s Olympics mockumentary “Twenty Twelve”, in which the Head of Legacy and Head of Sustainability fight tooth and claw over the vagueness of their remits.)

Legacy is also a central issue for the Cultural Olympiad – both for the programme as a whole, designed as it was to bring culture to the masses, and for the individual artists and organizations involved. It involves both the documentation of the Olympiad itself – a way of preserving its artistic legacy – but also an attempt to continue the public engagement and idea of cultural citizenship promoted by the season of events.

For Shakespeare’s Globe the first step in securing the artistic legacy of the Globe to Globe Festival was to digitally document the season. This involved filming all the productions, which are now available online on thespace (a portal documenting many aspects of the Olympiad, and designed to transform the way people connect with culture), as well as undertaking company interviews for the Globe Archive (also available online) and capturing the festival in photographs.

A further feature of the digital documentation was the Globe to Globe blog – instantaneous responses to the shows written by a group of academics, including staff from King’s. Dr Sonia Massai, from the Department of English and the London Shakespeare Centre, wrote on the Italian production of Julius Caesar, while Professor Ann Thompson, also from English and the Shakespeare Centre, wrote on the Lithuanian version of Hamlet. As a German Studies specialist, I wrote (together with my colleague Jeannie Farr) on the Bremer Shakespeare Company‘s German-language production of Timon of Athens. These blogs in turn mark the first step towards a book project, Shakespeare Beyond English: A Global Experiment, edited by Christie Carson and Susan Bennett. You can read my blog review of Timon of Athens on the Globe’s website here.

Yet legacy means more than just the documentation of the events, and the academic discussion derived from this. The Globe to Globe season relied heavily on volunteers, as did so many elements of the Olympiad, including last night’s Opening Ceremony. ‘Globe Ambassadors’ were sought for each of the 37 languages represented in the festival, and ultimately a group of over 80 Londoners were formed who promoted the season, bringing its message to groups it might not have reached otherwise, and acting both as ambassadors for the theatre, and for their own linguistic communities and the wider London 2012 Festival. City, national and international identities were activated through participation in a cultural event like the Globe to Globe season – and now organizations like the Globe are working out how to capitalize and build on the volunteer networks, and the cultural activation of local and global communities, that have been a product of the Olympiad.

How this process might be managed, and whether the Olympiad can have a legacy beyond the first step of documenting the artistic events involved, are just some of the issues that will be discussed at the German Department’s event in the Arts and Humanities Festival 2012, on ‘Staging German Culture: The Representation of Germany in the Cultural Olympiad’.

Dr Ben Schofield, Department of German

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