October 26 2014 Latest news:
Aldeburgh Music's orchestras are attracting an increasing number of outstanding young musicians from around the world: in the picture, the Britten-Pears Orchestra at Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Regional arts could provide an alternative to 2012's summer of sport.
Andrew Clarke, Arts Editor
Friday, December 9, 2011
Can I confess something? I am dreading next year. The Olympics are already starting to bubble and build on the horizon like a particularly violent storm.
For me 2012 is looking dark and menacing. My world is likely to be torn apart with sporting lightning bolts as everyone gets caught up in Olympic fever. Lots of flag waving and jingoistic nonsense. Bah humbug.
Talking to a friend about this overwhelming sense of dread and despair, he confidently diagnosed me as displaying symptoms of Olympic fatigue. It’s a pity he’s not a doctor because he may have been able to prescribe me something to alleviate my ailment.
Instead I am going to have to sort myself out. The current economic situation precludes my preferred solution which is packing everything up, fleeing to a particularly warm and attractive desert island and setting up my own arts centre.
However, this romantic pipe dream did set me thinking about ways to combat the Olympic insanity closer to home.
The trigger for my current mental malaise was the arrival this week of an email sent by the organisers of IP-Art 2012. It should have been an inoffensive fact gathering missive asking various cultural organisations about what they were planning for next year. Unfortunately, they offered a suggestion, which was the obvious: “something Olympic perhaps?”
I have to say I wasn’t the only one who saw red. My fellow directors of the Ipswich Film Theatre Trust immediately decided to programme a season of films which were shot in East Anglia. After-all IP-Art is supposed to be the celebration of local arts.
My mood wasn’t improved when I read in the national press that Andrew Lloyd Webber and other West End theatre owners are thinking about closing down for the entire two weeks of the games.
For 24 hours darkness descended. Then a conversation with a friend in the tourism world got me thinking. Instead of being overwhelmed by the Olympics, the arts should mount a vigorous alternative programme of events which not only provided us with something entertaining and different but also pulled people away from the overcrowded capital and out into the regions.
Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk are all culturally rich places, teeming with creative energy and rejoice in a variety of gorgeous landscapes. We should be selling ourselves as the ultimate cultural refuge.
The arts should be able to supply some brilliant counter-programming for those wanting to sample a wide variety of experience during our Olympic year.
Also, cultural Britain – particularly cultural East Anglia, as we are so close to London – should be a huge money-spinner. Suffolk’s festival season already attracts tourists and arts lovers. I’m sure that some well selected music performers, some well reviewed plays and distinguished playwrights will attract more people out of the hot, congested capital.
We are well blessed in this part of the world with some fantastic theatres and festivals but they need to be promoted outside the area. Sometimes I think we merely preach to the converted. East Anglia needs to start selling itself to the world outside.
It doesn’t come easy to us but if we want to be seen as something more than a rural backwater then we have to start promoting ourselves. True, part of our charm is that we are not over-run with tourists but we have got room to fit some more in.
East Anglia should be the perfect destination for those wanting theatre instead of athletics, music instead of swimming and art instead of field sports. I’m sure the directors of Bury Festival, PULSE, Latitude, IP-Art, HighTide and the Aldeburgh Festival are all busily drawing up a dazzling programme but it needs to be sold now. Suffolk tourism needs to be getting the message out there. Next summer will be too late.
We need to celebrate our artistic achievements because, quite frankly, we produce work that is every bit as good as much of what appears on the London stage. We need to shout about the excellence of our arts scene – particularly if the West End is not bothering to compete with the events being staged at Stratford.
It’s difficult to understand their reasoning. Much of the West End theatre income is derived from tourists. Experts are predicting that London is going to be awash with visitors next year and they aren’t all going to be spending every waking minute at the Olympic stadium.
Horror of horrors, some of them may not even be interested in attending at all – sitting way up in the gods watching ant-like figures scurrying around a running track.
If the arts world gets its act together then next year may not be as bad as I fear. There is a lot that we can do, there is a lot of creativity we can harness which will put East Anglia on the arts map, and will show the world that Britain has more to offer than just sport.
I am not anti-Olympics. If people enjoy them that’s great. What really depresses me however, is how we are all expected to be swept along in a patriotic upsurge of support.
Why aren’t I allowed to be indifferent? As the IP-Art email proved, suddenly everything has an Olympic theme. Suddenly the Olympics are being forcibly squeezed into areas of life where the event doesn’t naturally sit. It provokes me into making a stand. I resent being press-ganged into the madness of it all.
The Olympic cheerleaders are trying to get us all excited and for some of us we really couldn’t care less. I don’t begrudge sporting fans having a wonderful event to get excited about – good luck to them – but I do resent it shutting down theatres, diverting resources and reducing opportunities in other walks of life.
Instead of unifying a nation it actually serves to drive a wedge between people. I find it worrying that the Olympic movement are keen to ally the event to our sense of patriotism. Patriotic fervour is dangerous and divisive and it should be treated with extreme care.
Nationalism when linked with sport allows people to stray into frightening territory. Just look at football supporters abroad. It encourages people to disengage the brain and treat people from other nations with utter contempt.
This is one of the reasons I dislike The Last Night of the Proms. The music is fine. It’s the flag-waving that fills me with alarm.
For the arts the Olympics is the perfect storm. It has lots of promotion, lots of money and resources devoted to it which means that are fewer opportunities for the arts. I do hope the Olympics go well, I hope those who love sport have a really good time but please allow the rest of us to pursue our own interests. We don’t want to be left staring at an empty stage.