How times change. Back in 2011 there was plenty of concern around about the coming Olympic and Paralympic Games - I wrote a piece for this website wondering if they would be a 'triumph or a tragedy, a uniquely exciting moment or a great missed opportunity'. There were concerns about cost, the dominance of London, whether the ticket distribution was fair, whether the security would be sufficient, and lots about potential travel chaos. It could go either way.
I think looking back this was all just a touch of normal British caution. We like to be reserved about the potential for great moments in our national life. But as the launch approached, everything seemed to fall into place --even the weather. The torch relay all around in the UK was a vivid, heart-warming success which bound communities into the approaching Games. At the Barbican our continued involvement with East London came to a climax in a spectacular community event in Dalston Square, as the torch relay passed by, and then our East London Creative Jazz Orchestra played on the iconic setting of the steps of St Paul's Cathedral as the torch entered the City of London.
The day before the Games, I walked past as the countdown clock in Trafalgar Square showed 11 hours and 11 minutes to go, and wandered through a London that was totally prepared, beautifully sunny, optimistic, and one sensed the mood --this was going to work. Then the totally original, brilliant opening ceremony of the Games absolutely reinforced that feeling: Danny Boyle's overwhelming hymn to contemporary multi-cultural Britain was a piece of genius that perfectly set the scene for what was to come. We were launched.
Looking back on it now, the Games provided a unique opportunity for us to come together as families, audiences, communities and friends. The buzz around the stadiums was unmistakeable, the sporting achievements of Team GB were astonishing, and perhaps above all what made an impression on all who attended the Games was the spirit of the volunteers: their presence made every event a highlight, every welcome was full of optimism. People even began to talk to each other on public transport...
It was a great moment for our country, and along with everyone else in the arts I was delighted that culture and participation were able to play such a key part in this unique moment. The Cultural Olympiad, chaired by Tony Hall and directed by Ruth McKenzie, was a stunning collection of remarkable events which took the spirit of the Games around the country and involved millions in their ambition. At the Barbican we had a once-in-a-lifetime series of events from Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra appearing with Simon Rattle and the LSO (who went on to appear with a very different soloist in the form of Mr Bean in the opening ceremony!) to Cate Blanchett, the Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal dance company, Peter Sellars, the Olivier award-winning contemporary opera Einstein on the Beach, and much much more. It all had a real sense of event, and involved the widest possible range of audiences.
Then the question came: what next? How could we ensure the continuity of everything that had been achieved in this unforgettable period, and create a legacy for the future? There will be many answers to that question including the legacy of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park itself, now the subject of so much fascinating planning and investment (including by arts organisations), and where the Barbican with its partners Create London mounted the Open East festival to reopen the north of the park on the first anniversary of the Games.
One key answer has been the creation of the Spirit of 2012 Trust, to build a legacy and ensure that the life-changing effects of the Games continue to be felt. As a trustee, I feel both honoured and excited to be involved in ensuring that the investment from the 2012 Games is continuing to help the arts change our lives. With an endowment of £46m from the Big Lottery Fund, using some of the proceeds of the sale of the Olympic village, Spirit has set out on a path to fund projects up and down the country that capture the spirit of that summer, to improve the quality of life and make people feel better about themselves.
If it is not too banal to put it this way, we are investing in happiness, in the belief that the arts can transform people's experience. One of our first projects we have funded is the development and expansion of one of the most successful projects from the Cultural Olympiad, Unlimited. They support disabled emerging artists, enabling them to create and showcase their innovative and arresting work, showing how creativity can surmount obstacles and be an inspiration to us all. We are also funding Volunteer Arts Week which has just finished, a nationwide programme of events that celebrate and enable volunteering --such a feature of the Games-- to be embedded in arts organisations around the country.
This is the way forward-- to enable everyone to see how participating in and creating art can truly change their lives for the future, giving a sense of value, a sense of achievement, and a sense of sheer fun. As a country we surprised ourselves with the success of the Olympics --now we will surprise ourselves with how far into the future we can take the Spirit of 2012.