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Will the Olympics Drain Away Much Needed Art Funding?

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OLYMPIC STADIUM
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As 2012 looms, the questions are still being asked: will it be a triumph or a tragedy, a uniquely exciting moment or a great missed opportunity? Will the Olympics drain away much-needed arts funding, or enhance the standing of UK culture around the world?

At the Barbican Centre we have firmly believed, since the moment that London won the Olympics, that being the host city of the games must mean much more than just mounting a great sports event.

London is a cultural capital of the world, and it would be very strange indeed if culture did not feature at the heart of our celebrations around the Olympics. This is a unique opportunity to show that we can punch above our weight and co-operate and collaborate to provide something special for the many diverse audiences who will gather in the capital during 2012.

From an arguably uncertain start, the Cultural Olympiad has now achieved both focus and excitement both in its big participatory projects like the Big Dance, and in its specially curated projects that artistic director Ruth McKenzie has brought together in a remarkably short space of time.

The 2012 Olympics has enabled the Barbican, the nearest major arts centre to the site of the games, to pull together a remarkable programme for the first six months of the year featuring a range of international collaborations:

America looms large, from the visits early in the year of the New York Philharmonic and the Kronos Quartet, to the UK premiere of the iconic music-drama Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, through to the Americas stage which we will mount at the Tower of London as part of the BT River of Music project the weekend before the games. Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will join forces with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle on the days before the opening of the Games to bring Marsalis's Swing Symphony to the UK for the first time.

But there is a bigger perspective to this than simply the excitements of the year. The way the events have been pulled together and co-ordinated, by a Cultural Olympiad Board powerfully led by Tony Hall of the Royal Opera House, has shown a way forward - that organisations that might have previously just defended their patch, or sought to rival each other - the BBC, the Arts Council, the GLA, the Tate - have actually been around the same table, and pointing in the same direction in their desire to bring the best to audiences. At a time when resources are ever more stretched, which given the economic climate will certainly continue to challenge us after the events of 2012, the guiding spirit of the future must be collaborations and partnerships, both between arts organisations, and between (for example) the arts and education sectors.

Not a boring, unimaginative reduction of resources, but a sharing of imagination so that we can create more from less, more impact from the activity we all believe in.

In the City of London there is a wealth of organisations devoted to the arts, and around the Barbican Centre there are new buildings springing up - the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's exciting new building at Milton Court, and two new cinemas for the Barbican itself on Beech Street.

Add to this the London Symphony Orchestra's marvellous education centre at St Luke's in Old Street, as well as the existing buildings of the Barbican and Guildhall School, and you have an emerging cultural quarter that can improve the offer to audiences right next to the vibrant areas of Smithfield and Clerkenwell, Old Street and Shoreditch.

This can be a major contribution to the animation of an ever more lively area of London. And it is based on working together, respecting our own identities as institutions while collaborating to achieve more than the sum of our parts.

As we reach out to East London, offering young people the chance to engage with international excellence on a local level, through encounters with the Barbican or Guildhall or LSO, we are building the arts audience of the future. This could be a really powerful legacy of 2012.

Visit the Barbican's website here

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