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Michael Coveney: Maria Miller basks in Ruth's Olympic glory

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Culture secretary Maria Miller met with high-flyers in the arts for the second day running yesterday, following her British Museum cry for highlighting the economic benefits of subsidy with a steady appreciation of last year's London 2012 Festival, and warmly remembering "a year of a lifetime" as she highlighted the challenge to government to capitalise on that success.

There was a lot more to come, she said, on the legacy projects of the Cultural Oympiad, at what was, in effect, a "wrap" meeting in the Barbican of many of those who had led and contributed to the bonanza.

Let's hope so, was the incredulous response of Jenny Sealey, artistic director of Graeae, who staged the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Jenny talked of being hit with silence after the ballyhoo of the closing ceremony on 29 August. For a brief while, it had been the best time ever to be deaf or disabled - "We were like gods" - but before long Channel Four had asked her company to supply candidates for The Undateables, a deeply insulting (in her eyes) reality show about beating the odds on romance for those "with challenging conditions".

Sealey pointed out that the UK leads in disability arts all over the world, but that cuts to the arts budget, and to benefits, were severely damaging to performance and morale. But she caught the mood of the meeting by suggesting that you simply had to believe that London 2012 was just a warm up for 2013, and every year beyond that.

Alan Davey, chief executive of the Arts Council, responded positively by emphasising ACE's commitment to a continuation of last year's Unlimited programme of deaf and disabled artists that was a major project at the Southbank Centre.

Davey also said that it was his job - and everyone else's, for that matter - to help Maria Miller make the arguments at the Treasury, and a report due in two weeks' time would be full of figures for her delectation. But he reserved his biggest plaudits for Ruth Mackenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad, who had galvanised London 2012 from an almost standing start with her reasonable demands - and threats.

Tony Hall, the new director general of the BBC and last year's Cultural Olympiad board chairman, said that life with Ruth was "never dull" and that she pushed the board into new areas which they might have questioned but which always turned out to be right.

This was a great acknowledgement of her talents, and a nice change after all the brickbats she endured at Scottish Opera and the Chichester Festival Theatre (where an adventurous pre-Jonathan Church programme didn't click with either the board or the audiences). As Barbican head honcho Nick Kenyon said at the reception afterwards, the important thing now is to find something new for Ruth to do; I'd say this might even be adopted as a cause of national concern.

London 2012 involved no less than 43 million people, as participants, artists and audiences, in a programme of 177,717 activities, all told. Eighty per cent of audiences who went to Shakespeare's Globe for the international programme of 37 plays in 37 languages, were doing so for the first time.    

But speaker after speaker - including Seb Coe himself, chair of LOCOG, Munira Mirza, the deputy mayor for culture and education, and a panel of producers - confirmed that the greatest legacy of all was the sense that, as Munira put it, "together we can do so much more than we can ever do alone." New partnerships, new links, new contacts... this was the way forward. Tony Hall even said that he'd appreciated as never before the value of apprenticeships, and he'd take that (and them) with him to the BBC.

The Arts Council published yesterday a research evaluation of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 by the University of Liverpool, an extraordinary document that is already making an impact in preparation for the next Olympic Games in Rio - a city in a country, Brazil, which simply doesn't have, as Monica Sinclair of the Arts Council pointed out, a network, or a spider's web (with a Ruth at its centre) in the arts. It was this idealistic, committed cohesion that made it all work so well for us last year.

Other legacy literature includes two pretty sensational picture books on London 2012 and the Unlimited programme, and a pair of lengthy essays by Marc Sands of the Tate, and myself, which attempt to conjure the spirit and marketing story of the Cultural Olympiad as well as (in my case) a critical account of some of the extraordinary events and performances.

You saw the show, now read the book. No news yet of a film, or even a musical. Hang on, perhaps Nick Allott, who was on Tony Hall's board and in the meeting yesterday, might have a word to Ruth about that...


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