While the Olympic flame is extinguished, the London 2012 Festival goes on and is poised to fill the void in everyone's life after the Games come to an end. By presenting 'once in a lifetime' cultural experiences, the merit of which aims to match the athletic excellence demonstrated by Olympic champions, the festival fulfils an important dimension of the Olympic experience: to champion artistic excellence.
The festival began officially on the 21st June and has commissioned outstanding new work around the UK, while also embracing some of the best work that was created within the Cultural Olympiad that has taken place over the last 4 years.
In this interim period between the Olympic and Paralympic Games, those who still have the will to live can witness a string quartet playing from a helicopter in Birmingham (Mittwoch aus Licht), a digital light display along Hadrian's wall (Connecting Light), an experimental cinema festival in Manchester (Abandon Normal Devices), and a light display generated by runners going up Arthur's seat in Edinburgh (Speed of Light), among many other events. Each of these examples are part of the Olympic programme, which, unlike most sports mega events, aims to champion creative as well as athletic talent, both established and emerging.
Taken together, the London 2012 Festival and the wider Cultural Olympiad programme is the largest arts celebration to have taken place, since the first formal inclusion of an arts programme within the Olympic Games in 1912. Their contribution provides a crucial reflection on the broad aspirations of London and the UK as host city and nation. Not only does it confirm London's status as a world-class hub for creative talent, it is also the best demonstration of how London 2012 has been a nationwide Games, with activity being led by and taking place in every UK nation and region. The Festival has also ensured that many of the events are freely available, though some are subject to booking as there are limited numbers.
With all the talk about Olympic legacy, cultural activity may be the most widely experienced part of the Olympic programme. Countless creative organisations have got involved with producing work as part of the 'Inspired by London 2012' programme, from small theatre groups to large-scale international exhibitions.
When the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, first imagined the role of the arts within the Games, he was interested in athletes nurturing their minds through culture and education, alongside their athletic development. Taking this forward, there is even a cultural programme within the Athletes Village, where Tony Hall, director of the Royal Opera House and Chair of the Cultural Olympiad Board is Deputy Mayor.
All of this should remind us that when we evaluate the Games, it won't do just to focus on inspiring a generation to strive for excellence in sport. The Olympic motto 'faster, higher, stronger' was not taken from some sporting event. In fact, it adorned the wall of an educational institution, which Coubertin encountered on his Olympic journey.
In this respect, the pursuit of creative excellence is as much a part of the Games today as it has ever been. Whether it is Danny Boyle's Opening Ceremony, the radical design of the London 2012 emblem, or the London 2012 Festival, culture permeates all aspects of the Games and is a critical route through which to keeping the Olympic movement alive.
Find out more
London 2012 Festival
Mittwoch aus Licht (22-25 August)
Argyle Works, Great Barr Street, Birmingham, B9 4EX
Connecting Light (31 Aug - 1 Sep)
Hadrian's Wall, Various Sites, Hexham
Abandon Normal Devices (29 Aug - 2 Sept)
Manchester, various venues
Speed of Light (9 Aug - 1 Sept)
Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh, EH8 8