So amongst a fanfare of coffee and croissants the Arts Councils (led by England) and London 2012 announced ARTISTS TAKING THE LEAD. In brief it’s a call for ideas from artists – 12 of which will be supported with up to £500,000 to create twelve inspirational commissions to celebrate the coming of the Olympics.
Moira Sinclair (ACE London) talked of how this was a unique (a word she doesn’t use very often apparently) showcase for UK artists. A celebration of the imagination that captured the moment and left a real and genuine legacy. An opportunity to look again at places across the UK with fresh eyes and to mark the coming of the Olympics with work that will surprise, delight and amaze.
Barbara Follett (Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism Minister) was excited about how this ambitious scheme was opening up opportunities across the nation. A real opportunity for artists to be adventurous, be bold and work outside of the comfort zone.
Picking up on Barbara Follet’s rally cry of ‘This is our time. This is now…get on with it, do it’ Lord Coe added his own. ‘This is an opportunity’ he incanted ‘that we cannot allow to dribble through our fingers’. An opportunity to inspire, to reach out, to change attitudes, to give people the permission to express themselves through sport and art.
Money was a major theme of the Q and A. Where was this money coming from – and would it impact on funds available to existing activity and organisations asked Charlotte Higgins. The responsive was an emphatic ‘No’ – in England this was money from managed funds, the Arts Council’s strategic pot. An equally emphatic (and unsurprising) no was given to my question which I’d been asked earlier by Radio Cambridgeshire – in a recession couldn’t this money be spent more wisely?
Lord Coe gave perhaps the clearest answer – ‘excellence’ he said ‘is the litmus test for any country. This is a scheme about excellence and ambition. There is never a bad time to invest in excellence’. Alan Davey CEO of ACE is ‘passionately’ championing cultural spend. Arts spend in a difficult time is excellent spend and shouldn’t be touched in any circumstance’. I could imagine John Humphries laying into that one – but thankfully Jeremy Sallis of Radio Cambridgeshire wasn’t in that terrier mode of broadcaster. You can hear my interview here for the next seven days (1 hr 40 mins in)
On my table though (which included the artist Bob and Roberta Smith
discussion quickly led onto the impact of the Olympics on the East End. ‘The last thing London needs is a big land mark sculpture after being decimated by the Olympics’ and perhaps the big idea should be a horticultural project which re instated the allotments.
The links between sport and art were questioned. Some of the underlying themes of the Olympics are difficult (nationalism, tricky politics, big muscles). All areas an artist is likely to want to explore or reveal – but will that be something the Arts Council and the Olympic bodies can stomach? ‘We’ve been here before it was noted with the Millennium Dome’.
But that’s where the regional panels come in (I sit on the one in the East) which are predominantly independent. With out the baggage of politics, sponsor sensitivities or anything else for that matter it’s our role to champion and select the best ideas. And you can bet your bottom dollar – as this is art we are talking about -that somewhere across the 12 regions the best idea will have all the things the speakers talked about but will also be subversive, difficult and controversial. Or at least let’s hope so.
Ultimately this scheme will stand or fall by the quality of the ideas submitted and yesterday was all about raising awareness – the tricky (but exciting decisions) come later. It only takes 400 words, 1 3 min video and / or 5 images to submit a big idea. To echo Barbara Follett ‘do it!’