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22 October 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

Art and the Olympics

Commissions for the Cultural Olympiad are unveiled

By John Sunyer

Today, the winning commissions for Artists Taking the Lead, one of the main schemes in London’s Cultural Olympiad, were announced.

Each of the 12 commissions, worth £5.4m in total, was picked from more than 2,000 entries, and will represent the nine English regions and the nations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Until today, there had been relatively little to show from the Olympiad, which has been criticised for lacking leadership and direction. But since the Royal Opera House chief executive, Tony Hall, was appointed this summer as the Olympiad’s new chair, it seems at last some progress is being made.

The artists presented their winning ideas at the Oxo Towern, about six miles away from the Olympic site at Stratford. Among the most impressive and ambitious projects were Craig Coulthard’s Forest Pitch, for which the artist will be “hiding” a football pitch in a forest, and Alex Hartley’s nowhereisland. Here, the artist brings Nymark, an island he discovered in the High Arctic region of Svalbard, to the south-west of England. Some of the other projects seemed less successful, but they were at least far-ranging in scope (giant lion sculptures, bus stops and Lady Godiva, to name a few).

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Sebastian Coe told the New Statesman that although the Olympics is predominantly a sporting event, the Cultural Olympiad will be one of the “most serious legacies” of 2012. “One of the accusations was that it [the Olympiad] was going to be the metropolitan ‘elite’ talking to each other, and it would be very narrowly defined . . . But we could not have been much broader in our approach, from the London bus stops through to the Leeds Canvas where you are using film, dance and theatre all within the same framework.”

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There has, however, already been a prolific response to the London Olympics from artists in east London. For an “alternative cultural Olympiad”, visit the Wick Curiosity Shop.