chapter  10
13 Pages

Taste, ambiguity and the Cultural Olympiad: Shane Collins and Catherine Palmer


The 1948 London Olympics embodied Pierre de Coubertin’s ideal of bringing ‘sport’ and ‘culture’ together in the one event. Arts and cultural competitions were held alongside sporting events, with Great Britain winning gold in the oils and watercolour painting competition. This was the last time that cultural events were held as part of the Olympic Games. In 1952, a programme of cultural events was launched that was intended to complement the sporting action of the Games. For the first time, arts events were effectively competing with sporting events for funding and public and political support, whilst embedded within an overarching Olympic framework. This ‘Cultural Olympiad’ as it became known, comprises a four-year programme of arts, music, literature, dance and performance that variously showcases the cultural pursuits of the artistic community within host cities, regions and nations, as well as highlighting aesthetic aspects of sporting competition, regional attributes and perceptions of national character and culture. The events that comprise the Cultural Olympiad are funded and conceptualised as entirely separate from the sporting Olympiad, while nonetheless intended to resonate with much of the key imagery and iconography of the Games. This separation of the sporting Olympiad from the Cultural Olympiad – of sport from culture – poses a number of questions that dominate current policy debates. Shifting policy agendas and competing tensions around the funding of the Olympics raise a number of concerns about ‘taste’, culture, values and political priorities. It is these issues that this chapter takes as its point of departure.