Grunts for the Arts

Culture, the 2012 Whitewash
September 19, 2010, 11:13 am
Filed under: The Olympics!
Workers forcibly displaced from Carpenters Road in Stratford to make way for the Olympic Park pose in one of the luxury apartments of the Olympic Village. Photomontage, from the series Olympian Visions by Alessandra Chilá

Workers forcibly displaced from Carpenters Road in Stratford to make way for the Olympic Park pose in one of the luxury apartments of the Olympic Village. Photomontage, from the series Olympian Visions by Alessandra Chilá

An essay from Critical Network

The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, described as ‘four years of cultural celebration, excellence and participation’, emerged amongst widespread contention in Spring 2007, when contrary to the promises of Tony Blair’s government in June 2005 – that not a penny would come from the public purse to help fund the Olympics and only £1.5 million would be raised from the National Lottery – it started to become clear that national arts funding would bear the brunt of cuts, with £2.2 billion of Lottery Good Cause money being diverted from national initiatives[1] and an estimated £137.6 million from the Arts Council England.[2] More worryingly, Peter Hewitt, Chief Executive of the Arts Council England (ACE) expressed his concern that the cuts were ‘likely to be felt disproportionately by smaller arts organisations, local projects and individual artists… precisely the sorts of people who may be asked to contribute to the Cultural Olympiad.’[3]

We are currently witnessing an insidious shift in gallery programmes, public projects and new commissions around the country as artists and organisations compete to win back a slice of their slashed budgets and the agendas of the Cultural Olympiad are imposed through the conditions of its funding, which range from the mildly nauseating ‘celebrating London and the whole of the UK welcoming the world’ to the vaguely sinister ‘honouring and sharing the values of the Olympic Games’.[4] There is nothing new about funding bodies specifying engagement with certain publics, locations or media, but the shift towards dictating the content and ideologies of art projects on such a widespread level has worrying implications for UK art activity; no funding criteria should stipulate conformity to particular values or propagate emotions such as celebration, this is cultural tyranny.

Cleaning up after BP
The prescriptive nature of this funding criteria clearly erodes the autonomy needed to voice counter opinions and present alternatives, in other words it is a form of imposed censorship. This censorship extends to the Olympic sponsors which would appear to be exempt from the critique of anyone who wishes to be eligible for Olympiad funding, a fact that is particularly alarming when considering the contentious list of corporate partners which includes global players such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola, known for their well documented environmental and human rights abuses. Petroleum giant BP is set to contribute £50 million of fuel towards the Olympics’ inevitably astronomical consumption in return for “top-tier” sponsorship status, furthering the company’s push to green-wash its crimes in the Gulf of Mexico and sitting somewhat uncomfortably with the core theme of “environmentalism and sustainability” to which Olympiad projects must aspire.[5] This of course ties in with the wider role of the Cultural Olympiad, essentially to white-wash the crimes of the Olympics by creating an illusion of national grass-roots inclusion in the London 2012 charade.

Boycott the Inspire mark
Another highly questionable element of the Cultural Olympiad rhetoric is the emphasis on mass participation; ‘the Cultural Olympiad is for everyone’, we are assured. Those who don’t make it in to the main strand of events are invited to apply for the privilege of stamping their project with the Inspire mark branding, providing it meets all three ‘core values’ of the Cultural Olympiad and at least three of its seven themes. On closer inspection, however, this scheme appears to function primarily as free advertising for the Cultural Olympiad, with recipients receiving no actual funding yet consenting to promote the scheme across all of their associated marketing material. More worryingly, the Inspire mark recipient also becomes contracted to submit all related artwork for approval, facilitating a system of recuperation and control that stretches far beyond the major Olympiad projects.

2012: Helping the rich get richer and the poor get poorer
The exploitation of free labour also extends across the whole of the Games, with 70,000 volunteers currently being recruited to fulfil roles from event stewards to trained medics. In sickening contrast to this are the eye-watering wages received by members of the eighteen-strong LOCOG (London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) Board, which includes several multimillionaires and HRH Princess Anne, who enjoys a £500 hourly wage for her attendance at planning meetings. The salaries of LOCOG Chair Lord Coe and Chief Executive Paul Deighton were revealed in 2008 as £357,000 and £638,000 respectively, with former Goldman Sachs banker Deighton, who holds an estimated personal fortune of over £100 million, reportedly set to receive around £1 million in bonuses if the Games are deemed to have been a success.[6]

In March 2010 the designs of Anish Kapoor’s £19 million structure for the Olympic Park were unveiled by Boris Johnson. This came just two months after Kapoor was included in the Sunday Times Rich List, revealing that he is now in the top 1,000 richest people in the country.[7] Analysis of this list reveals that the collective wealth of Britain’s 1,000 richest people has increased by almost a third when compared with the previous year despite the uncertain economy. Put in to context, this £19 million commission is equivalent to more than a third of the annual budget for the Arts Council England’s national Grants for the Arts which in 2008/09 was just £53 million, shared between 2,500 of the country’s smaller arts organisations, local projects and individual artists.[8] This epitomises the inequalities that exist in the UK which is still one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.[9]

The London Olympics is manifestly about benefiting the rich, it is a way of strengthening and exporting the British Empire’s ‘soft’ power, a showcase of global posturing; it is about creating a new London borough of prime real estate. The worst thing is that we, the artists of the UK, are undeniably implicit. The Cultural Olympiad is the folly, the decoy; it is the all-too-familiar instrumentalisation of culture aimed at generating a decentralised image of acceptability for London’s Olympic plunder, it is a cheap distraction. By taking our funding away from us and then redistributing it to us under the umbrella of the Cultural Olympiad, it prays on our financial precarity as artists and the employees of art organisations already faced with significant funding deficits and imposes a whole new set of Olympic hoops through which they can be assured the artists will obligingly jump.

As criticalnetwork we have remained in opposition to the London 2012 Olympics and have aimed to channel our energy in to supporting projects that do not form part of the Cultural Olympiad programme; this position has been intended not to reprimand artists but to bring the Olympiad in to an arena for critical discussion, something that it is conspicuously lacking. So far, however, this seemingly radical position has been of little real significance in terms of affecting the outcomes of our collective decision making; we are yet to receive information on a Cultural Olympiad project fit for publication in any self-respecting arts listing.

2 Like many others researching the London Olympics we have encountered many conflicting accounts of the distribution of money, this has been felt by many to be underhand and has lead to repeated requests from campaigners for increased transparency.



5 Whilst the consumption of £50 million of fuel is vast, it is dwarfed by the amount spilled in to the Gulf of Mexico by BP, this is currently estimated at £450 million worth (90 million gallons ); still just a fraction of their £253 billion annual turnover (


7 According to Companies House, the main activity of Kapoor’s company, White Dark, is “the creation and sale of fine art”. Its 2008 accounts show an operating profit of £17.2m, up from £8.4m the previous year. Kapoor’s assets include a £2.7m newly built home in Chelsea, a £4m townhouse in central London and a £2m property in the Bahamas. He is also understood to be in the market for Ashdown House, a 17th-century National Trust property in the Berkshire downs which is available as a 41-year lease for £4.5m. (

8 Grants for the Arts was cut by almost a third in April 2007 from £83 to £54 million to help fund the Cultural Olympiad (

9 According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, cited in

A version of this text first appeared in Arts Professional magazine, September 2009.

Open Letter to Jacques Rogge
June 30, 2008, 8:15 pm
Filed under: The Olympics!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Dear Count Rogge,

We, members of the artists’ collective known as Grunts for the Arts, are contacting you now, at your time of need, to offer our services to you and your colleagues at the International Olympics Committee.

We appreciate that these are dark times for you, that this is an era of hardship for the IOC. The Olympic Dream is lying in tatters, and the Olympics have become a source of much controversy.

We at GFA have taken it upon ourselves to reinvent the Olympic Dream; we feel it is need of a re-brand. Should you be interested in our work, we would be very happy to take on such a role in a more official capacity.

For now however, our guidance can be summed up through two key points.

1.    If a country, as a part of its bid to hold the Olympics states that hosting the event will ‘benefit the further development of our human rights cause’¹  then make sure that it does. Continued use of detention without trial, an intensification of abuse against human rights activists and a crackdown on domestic journalism²  does not, in the rest of the world’s eyes, constitute such development.
2.    Similarly, when a country makes a bid to host the Olympics, encourage them to propose a realistic budget. As a case study, the fact that the 2012 Olympics were originally projected to cost £2.4 billion but now, when we’re still four years away from completion, has projected costs of £9.6 billion, causes a great deal of ill will amongst the populous of such countries. We appreciate that the IOC is not responsible for a country’s finance, but to undertake more rigorous analysis when bids are made, as well as to perhaps comment on the farcical situation arising as ‘money is spent like water’³  could only assist in developing a positive public image.

As stated though, such advice can be explored in depth at a later date should you wish to enter into more prolonged dialogue.

Of more urgent interest to you perhaps is our forthcoming event, London 2008, which we promise to you, and to all others who witness this letter (for we are sending a copy to all the major newspapers in England), will remain well within our budget of £100.

Grunts for the Arts also has an admirable human rights record – we have never executed any one nor imprisoned any one without charge. I’m proud to say I even offered my seat to a lady on the London Underground the other day (though she didn’t take it).

With events such as Three-Legged Hopscotch, Handbag Hurling, Footboule, Olympic Ring Discus and Grunting Relays, we are confident that we will be able to provide an afternoon of sporting endeavour and Herculean achievement.

It is of course, rather short notice, but should you, or a member of your staff, be able to make it to Butterfield Green in North London on the afternoon of Saturday 5th July, it would be a pleasure to meet with you and begin discussions as to how we can best work together in the future.

We await your response with a great deal of anticipation, and look forward to meeting you at London 2008.

Yours Sincerely,

Tim Jeeves
On behalf of Grunts for the Arts

¹  Liu Jingmin, Vice President of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee, April 2001
²  Amnesty International report: ‘The Olympics countdown — one year left to fulfil human rights promises’
³  Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report, ‘London 2012 games, the next lap”

June 2, 2008, 5:10 pm
Filed under: The Olympics!

There’s a whole heap of stuff that is tainting the once noble idea of the 2012 Olympics – police heavy-handedness, environmental concerns, political fibbing, financial jiggery-pokery and compulsory purchase orders that tear communities apart being a small taster of what’s going on.

But instead of expanding on such a whistle-whetting list of worries, we’re going to hope that such summarising will have stimulated your moral compass enough for you to turn towards the Gamesmonitor website.

We promise that on such a domain there are no large disembodied heads of Patrick Moore, just the work of a fantastically dedicated and very thorough bunch of folk who serve the world marvellously through providing a mine of Olympic-related information on their website.

We’re firm believers that as the intricate wonders of the world function in ways far beyond any single individual’s comprehension, it is important to not overstep the roles that fate and the history of evolution have decided for each of us.

So we’ll stick with events of athletic aestheticism – and they can provide the inspirational research.

That Geography Teacher
June 2, 2008, 2:55 pm
Filed under: The Olympics!

You remember that grumpy sod who used to teach you geography? The one who had never recovered from the day that capital punishment was banned in school?
And you remember how ridiculously he would overreact to bad news, wrongdoing or comments against his good name?
Well, take his crotchety ill-temper, magnify it manifold and transform him by the wonder of your imagination into a nation state.

You’ve now got something like the political climate within China.

Fiddling tax returns, writing subversive slogans on walls, and stealing bikes are all punishable by death in China.

And you remember how this miserable teacher would be absolutely incapable of admitting that he was wrong; taking his arrogance and self-belief to such levels of absurdity that it would have been funny if tragedy and fear hadn’t dominated his classes so much?

Well guess what? China does this too.

In the late 1980s a man by the name of Teng Xinshan was found guilty of murdering his wife two years previously. He confessed to the crime, but afterwards insisted that this was only because he had been severely beaten during interrogation.

Nevertheless, he was executed in 1989.

Jump forward 16 years to June 2005 and something rather unexpected took place.

Teng’s wife reappeared on the scene. Alive and unharmed.

There had never been a murder.

China won its bid to host the Olympics in part because it promised to improve on its human rights’ record.
Very little has been done in the seven years since.

Visit Amnesty’s website to support their work towards ensuring China lives up to its word.