Helen Thomas suggests that the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad offers a huge opportunity for voluntary arts practitioners

Two older ladies stand by a large quilt (with a seafront design, including beach, sea and beach huts).

 In the 1980s we were obsessed with asking our grandparents what they did in the war. In the 2030s, perhaps our grandchildren will ask “What did you do for the London Olympics in 2012?” For some the answer may be “Not a lot, I wasn’t interested in sport.” However, for many practitioners of voluntary arts and crafts the answer will be “I joined in with the Olympics, not by running a marathon but by sewing a quilt!”

 London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics with a promise that culture and education would be re-established as key components of the Games. The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad – a UK-wide series of events spanning four years – was launched on 26 September 2008 and will run until the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games on 9 September 2012. Voluntary Arts recognised that the Cultural Olympiad presents a unique opportunity to showcase the wealth of talent and creativity in the voluntary arts on a national and international platform and, in partnership with Making Music, created the post of Once in a Lifetime Project Officer to galvanise and support the sector’s efforts.


The opportunities for voluntary arts practitioners to participate in the Cultural Olympiad are varied and include: organising an activity for Open Weekend (held annually since 2008); gaining recognition for a project inspired by the Games by applying for an Inspire Mark, which grants a licence to use official branding on project material; involvement in a project organised through one of the Cultural Olympiad programme strands, for example PRS for Music Foundation’s ‘New Music 20x12’ commissioning project or ‘Film Nation: Shorts’ for young film-makers; or linking with one of the Legacy Trust UK projects such as the East Midlands Igniting Ambition Festival. Groups are starting to come up with projects that can be done very cheaply – and won’t cost the public a penny.

The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles is supporting projects inspired by London 2012. ‘A Gift of Quilts’ is encouraging stitchers to make and donate up to 500 patchwork quilts. The aim is to give a quilt to each country participating in the Games as a sign of friendship and peace. ‘Quilts 4 London’ is a project to make a pennant for each athlete participating in the Games – a total of 14,000. The project is open to all and gives quilters, felt makers, embroiderers and textile artists the opportunity to express their support. Both projects have been awarded the Inspire Mark. These are examples of people coming together to do something for a historical moment and producing something physical that will last for ever – like the Bayeux tapestry. The benefits are very tangible.


Some groups are using the opportunity to increase participation. ‘Dinosaurs Not Allowed’ is a showcase of traditional English dance organised on behalf of Open Morris for the Joint Morris Organisations. It is an attempt to reintroduce traditional Morris dancing as an activity attractive to children, in order to bring young blood into dance teams. The project is taking teachers into schools to train and build new dance teams, and offering performance opportunities alongside established teams. The project has been awarded the Inspire Mark and is to be included in Weymouth's Olympic and Paralympic celebrations.


‘Open Stages’ is an initiative originally inspired by the Games that has now taken on a life of its own and will have a lasting impact. It came about as a result of discussions between the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and Voluntary Arts about the World Shakespeare Festival. Open Stages is a two-and-a-half year programme of community theatre activity led by the RSC, which aims to effect a step change in the relationship between the amateur and professional performing arts sectors. Activities will include: a national Shakespeare-themed competition; regional and national Shakespeare festivals; and the National Shakespeare Challenge – encouraging companies to develop collaborative performances to be performed in their regular venues. Voluntary Arts hopes that it will be a model for how other major professional arts organisations could collaborate effectively with the voluntary arts sector.

At a time when funding is a major issue and constraint, it is inspiring to hear about people who want to participate in this extraordinary moment of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, who feel strongly that the voluntary arts sector should be involved and are just getting on and doing it. They prove that even if you’re not interested in sport, you can still take part and feel part of this experience. As well as legacy in terms of participation, profile and partnerships, the legacy will be in their memories.

 Helen Thomas is Once in a Lifetime Project Officer for Voluntary Arts, the independent development agency and voice of the voluntary and amateur arts across the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and Making Music, an umbrella organisation that represents and supports more than 2,900 voluntary music groups.

e helen@voluntaryarts.org
t 020 7422 8289
w http://www.voluntaryarts.org/2012;

This week Helen enjoyed ‘Men Should Weep’ at the National, and was impressed by the emotional stamina of the actors in ‘Blasted’ at the Lyric Hammersmith. She caught a performance by singer/songwriter ‘elizaveta’, and volunteered as a steward at Farnham Maltings for the film ‘Four Lions’. She’s looking forward to helping at the ‘Children’s Monologues’ Dramatic Need fundraising event at the Old Vic, and to going to see the RSC’s ‘Matilda’ with her daughter