Monday, July 23, 2012

London culture is more than just the Cultural Olympiad

Last Saturday, Dance Nations Dalston took place in Gillett Square. It was already being treated as an overspill linked to the Olympic torch relay passing through Dalston as an annual collaboration with the Barbican. In fact, it suddenly got upgraded last weekend because the main Hackney Olympic celebration in Clissold Park got cancelled due to a waterlogged park.
So a few parts of that, notably the Rio carnival celebration, were integrated into ours, with hard work from our stretched resources (e.g. Clarissa and Dominic). And it all went off wonderfully, with 2000 or so at any time thronging the Square. And all the local bars and food stalls made a good amount of money to keep going. (I ended up running the VIP bar, pouring apple juice for the likes of Sir Nicholas Kenyon and Ruth McKenzie. "I know my place" as Ronnie Corbett used to say on the Frost Report.)
Meanwhile, we had a huge event of River of Music on 6 stages, a bit like Womad but spread out! And we had such an overkill. John L Walters' review in Guardian shows how dynamic the Europe stage was. But there was Zakir Hussain in Battersea Park, Hugh Masekela, Wynton Marsalis.
It's great to be let loose in the sweet shop from time to time. However, this focus on such large-scale events may make one forget that London is a year-round vibrant place. We had lovely gigs at the Vortex during and before the River of Music, e.g. Richard Fairhurst yesterday (Sunday) but it's not officially deemed part of the London 2012 cultural offering. Indeed, Arcola Theatre, around the corner, is closed for refurbishment.
As with any such event, one tends to think that the culture will "leave" as soon as the big event is over. But come September, the Vortex will still be hosting over 100 gigs over the rest of the year alone, and will still be going while the Olympic park is shut. Somehow, the importance of the year round London culture is forgotten. We get a similar feeling around the London Jazz Festival. We have a 365 days a year festival at the Vortex. And there are still loads of musicians and others plying their trade. It shouldn't be that they have missed the boat if they weren't in the Olympiad, or that they should be happy with a few minutes of activity. And indeed many musicians, we know, are being encouraged to play for nothing during the Games.
Perhaps it's just that the government after "bread and circuses" to keep us all happy and deflect us. The Romans were a bit cleverer though. As Juvenal said: "Panem et circenses" which didn't just last a few weeks.
We need to make sure that culture is supported all year round. Not just giving single gigs to people in projects which may be of limited life and creative worth for a few days.

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