Let the culture games begin

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And so they have begun; Rio got it’s last-minute act together and the world is now avidly and awe-edly watching the 28th Summer Olympic Games. The thrills and spills of super-human ability and endeavour is being played out on a screen somewhere right now. Inspirational, as they are meant to be. Not dirty and cheap and cheat-ridden.

But less obvious so far, is Rio’s cultural contribution (you may well have participated in  London’s cultural olympiad of 2012).  Alongside the physical muscular stuff the Olympic Charter (the set of rules and guidelines for the organization of the Olympic Games) states that

“The LOCOG shall organise a programme of cultural events which must cover at least the entire period during which the Olympic Village is open.”

Rio’s seemingly lack of a coherent (or even organised) plan of cultural activities has been picked up by journalist Kirsty Lang, Rio’s Secret Cultural Olympiad and spun as a headline around the internet.
Brazil’s home problems are not secret (“I have never faced a crisis like this”, José Beltrame, Rio’s state security secretary) and most likely arts funding is way down the list of priorities. Compare this South American country with the comparatively stable (and well-off) UK and it’s perhaps not surprising that the Cultural Olympiad that ran alongside the London 2012 Games has been hailed the largest cultural programme of any Olympic and Paralympic Games (British Council).
Indeed back then, 500 events (spread over four years ) played out nationwide, culminating in the London 2012 Festival (which included contributions from Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, director Mike Leigh, musician Damon Albarn, artists David Hockney, Lucian Freud, Rachel Whiteread, and writer Toni Morrison).
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It even had it’s own celebratory closing event – a  Bandstand Marathon – on 9 September 2012. A multi -taneous music event.  At 2pm in 200 UK locations participating bands performed the Coldplay 2008 single “Viva La Vida” simultaneously.

But of course Brazil is doing the cultural thing it’s way;  https://www.rio2016.com/cultura/en

In the build up to the opening there were reports of some visible cultural works;

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Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra has attempted a Guinness World Record for the largest mural created by one artist inspired by depictions of the Olympic Rings


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Whilst French statement artist JR has built these 2 immense installations (using canvas and scaffolding) in commemoration of the city’s games.  JR has history here, in 2009 as part of his Women are Heroes project he pasted huge female faces on to the walls and roofs of a favela to give women a visual presence.

But otherwise the cultural programme is being underplayed,”There will be lots of surprise events, they’re not advertised in advance.”They will be spontaneous and outside in the streets.”There will be flash mobs, dancing, street theatre and literary events, adding: “We have the weather for it, unlike London, and we should make the most of that.” (Carla Camurati, director of the Cultural Olympiad).A further attempt to keep a record of this cultural olympiad –  surprise version –  is here; http://www.culturalolympics.org.uk



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Meanwhile back at the main event. Well, you can’t miss it – the BBC broadcast schedules are full of TV and Radio coverage of the Rio games.  It’s practically wall-to-wall this time – BBC1 and BBC4, plus up to 24 live Olympic channels and on YouTube  via the BBC Sport YouTube channel.But if you are looking for an Olympic inspired film or drama there are surprisingly few to chose from. Surprising because behind every competing sport and every competing athlete there is a rich story of human endeavour; of triumph and disaster, the making of 21st century gods.  The training of bodies and minds (machines with mental fortitude), the supporting relationships (good and bad), the rivalry and pressure to win (or cheat), the glories and the downfalls – are such great grist for a film-makers’s mill. Perhaps they don’t appeal to Hollywood much though because, like the games themselves, Olympic heroes and heroines only come along every few years and then some are more memorable than others.


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Watch: 10 best Olympics films. Cool Runnings is probably the favourite here  – the quintessential underdog movie about Jamaican bobsledders, it’s the ideal combination of funny, goofy, and uplifting and made a whole generation know about and care about bobsledding.

Listen:  Recommended podcasts recalling past games – http://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcastplaylist/5-historical-podcasts-on-the-olympic-games-1.3693635

Read: Sport-writing often stands out. This is non-fictional work in a league of it’s own and the Olympics has inspired some of the best writing;

10 Books on the Greatest Olympic Moments of All Time – https://www.bookish.com/articles/10-books-on-the-greatest-olympic-moments-of-all-time/

and 10 best books about the Olympics – Daily Telegraph

For more literary interpretations try these novels inspired by a range of sports: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/aug/05/best-books-for-olympics-john-dugdale

Look (or buy): From poster to canvas Olympics inspired art is available to view in various ways;


SAATCHI ART47 Artworks Inspired by the Olympics curated by SAATCHI ART


Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 2.56.34 PMBRILLIANT BRAZIL: A RIO OLYMPICS INSPIRED COLLECTION –  eclectic find this;  hand-picked original art curated by one-of-a-kind emporium, Culture Label.

Official Olympics posters have been around since the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Selected by the Organising Committee to embody the spirit of the host country and live on as souvenirs once the games are over. Brazil commissioned 13 official posters for the Rio de Janeiro Games by a diverse roster of 12 Brazilian artists and one Colombian to showcase its diversity.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 3.03.41 PMWhilst select British artists have also contributed a range of thought-provoking posters for Rio 2016.  (Featured image – Tracy Emin Rio 2016 poster, courtesy of Counter Editions)

PS – Art Competitions were held at the Olympics 1912 to 1948. The winners of the competitions were awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals, similar to the winners of the athletic competitions. The events were inspired by Pierre de Coubertin, who wished to meld the competitions in sports with competitions in the arts. The art competions were dropped from the Olympic program because of the difficulty of determining the amateur status of the artists.  http://olympic-museum.de/art/artcompetition.htm 


Featured image: Juarez Machade, Official poster – Olimpiadas Rio 2016