ACE’s Frayling attacks planning of Cultural Olympiad

Outgoing Arts Council England chairman Christopher Frayling has hit out at the organisation of the Cultural Olympiad, claiming that it has “too many front doors” and needs one “ringmaster” to oversee the event.

He made the claims in his valedictory lecture at the Royal Institute of British Architects, which marked the end of his tenure at ACE. He is succeeded as chair this week by Liz Forgan.

Frayling said: “If my reading about the Festival of Britain in 1951 and my own experience of steering one of the zones in the Millennium Dome are anything to go by, you need a single creative ringmaster, or ringperson, with a vision to hold such a project together. Like architect Hugh Casson in 1951 and film director Zhang Yimou in Beijing 2008.

“At present, there are too many front doors – one called LOCOG, one called ODA, one called the IOC, one called DCMS, one called the Mayor’s Office, and one called the arts council. Not a recipe for creative success and giving artists the lead.”

Frayling’s complaints echo similar concerns already expressed by the arts community itself.

While a number of industry figures have had prominent roles in both the London 2012 bid and preparations for the Cultural Olympiad – Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly and Keith Khan, who spearheaded the Millennium Dome and Manchester Commonwealth Games opening ceremonies, have both been given key roles – no-one has been given overall control of the cultural element of the Olympics.

ACE has recently been given responsibility for delivering a number of events linked to the Olympiad and Frayling believes that it should be involved even further.

He added: “[We should] have a single creative intelligence leading the project – and give it to the arts council to run. We have just the right structure for it – national policy, regional distinctiveness and delivery.”

Meanwhile, Frayling also used his speech to call on the arts council to improve its visibility, suggesting that it should look to change its logo.

“One issue that came up during the Arts Debate [a survey of the public conducted by ACE] was the visibility of the arts council in the public mind,” he explained. “A significant number of people surveyed said that the council’s work did not touch their lives… when in fact it did.

“To be honest, the council’s logo does not help. It bears an unfortunate resemblance to a rubber stamp – just as one of its predecessors was a red paperclip – too small, too invisible, too well-mannered, too unmemorable, too discreet, and if you’re not careful it looks like the stain left by a coffee cup.”

He also complained that some companies who are funded by ACE do not do enough to make it clear where money for their shows has come from.

“If you look at theatre or opera or music programmes of 30 years ago, there’s often a full page explaining what the arts council does and how it spends money on the public’s behalf. Today, sponsors who have put in a fraction of the council’s contribution get a huge and flamboyant logo… the public funding of arts organisations and events is completely taken for granted.”

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