Ruth Mackenzie CBE
Consultant and Recently Director, Cultural Olympiad at London 2012
As Director of the Cultural Olympiad, I was proud to have the opportunity to oversee the largest cultural festival the UK has ever seen. The London 2012 Festival promised a ‘Once in a Lifetime’ experience and it did just this, with some of the world’s biggest and most revered artists taking part, from Jay Z to Olafur Elliasson. We were proud to involve our leading UK artists, including Martin Creed, Mike Leigh, Tracey Emin and Jeremy Deller and we strived to create experiences people would never forget and that they would cherish forever.
We also sought, following De Coubertin’s vision, to boldly position culture side-by-side with the greatest sporting event in the world. In doing this, we were saying something about our time - about the extraordinary creativity of the UK in the 21st century and the quite unique ability of arts and culture to bring our people together. I am proud to say that we reached audiences of over 43.4million and we commissioned over 40,000 artists.
Our remit was UK wide – we had to reach and involve people from across our Nations and Regions and of course, culture was a key part of London 2012’s armoury in this respect. However, we delivered significantly in the east London boroughs. Those living here were the hosts and had their lives most acutely effected by the games - and they needed to be connected too. Events such as the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend, initiated by Create, did just that and on real scale. Create itself had much to do with our work in east London and our joint commissions, such as those with Frieze Projects East and Jeremy Deller were indeed highlights of the programme and reached tens of thousands of east Londoners.
I am happy, as a Create London Board member and as someone who led on culture for 2012 and was charged with leaving a legacy, to see that Create continues to grow. With a staggering 55-60% of east Londoners still unengaged with arts and culture, it needs to. Connecting the wealth of London based artists and arts institutions to people who live in the area is a mission we cannot do without. Deprivation is a significant barrier to engagement, but during a time of continued change in the area, and indeed as the creative industries continue to enjoy significant growth, artists are ideally placed to bridge and support those living in challenging conditions. New Create London projects such as Open School East, the Blackhorse Workshop in Walthamstow, give us real evidence to show how artists, connected to community life can provide real riches and opportunities for positive change.
I would argue that Culture and the arts, if channeled effectively, can cut powerfully across many areas of the ‘Convergence’ agenda, a strategic plan to socially and economically transform east London. East London’s 13,000 artists and creative businesses, if enabled and supported are placed to bring real insight and practical skills to issues such as making neighbourhoods safer, contributing towards job creation and well-being. Artists are assets to any community, we have to work harder for all to see the merit of this. The work Create is doing is bold, dynamic and nudges artists into spaces in our community where real lessons can be learned and progress made. We must all continue to support them.