Visitors enjoying the exhibits at Discovery Museum, Newcastle Courtesy of Tyne and Wear Museums
Once upon a time before sponsorship deals, television broadcasts, drug scandals and downloadable podcasts of sport commentaries, the Olympics was about something else.
Sport in fact was only one facet of the modern Olympic Games, as conceived by its founder, Pierre de Coubertin.
With this in mind, London 2012 launches the Cultural Olympiad with a nationwide open weekend of cultural events across the country from September 26 to 28 2008.
Over the last century while the Olympic movement’s aim for world peace and unity between sports, culture and education has remained strong and the focus of the general public has been mainly on the athletes as they run, swim and somersault through four non-stop weeks of physical activity.
However, when London held the Olympic Games in 1948, medals for sculpture, music and art, were awarded for the last time. It is apt then that in the year the Games return to London, so too the focus shifts back to culture.
Museums, galleries and libraries are getting involved by hosting special events as part of the launch.
Olympians, including Sebastian Coe, Jonathan Edwards and 2012 young hopefuls have already kicked off proceedings by running at Tate Britain,when they took part in Martin Creed's Work No.850
Over 500 events are being held in venues all over the country from small town museums to the national galleries. Some of the institutions will focus on linking sport with art, while others will use the weekend to bring a local cultural or heritage event to national prominence.
Many smaller museums are actively participating in the Cultural Olympiad by inviting local people to come and add their own story to museums archive.
Cambridge County Museum Courtesy Cambridge County Museum
Cambridge County Museum is holding such an event on Sunday, September 28 2008. Visitors are invited to see an exhibition about the area’s sporting heroes and hear stories of great sporting legends.
In addition the museum wants people to bring along their own medals and trophies and share their own sporting triumphs. These will be recorded in the museum’s archive.
Jack Hobbs, an England cricketer who practised cricket on Parker's Piece in Cambridge. Courtesy of Cambridge County Museum
Ironbridge Gorge’s Coalbrooke Dale Gallery nextdoor to the Museum of Iron is also getting into the Olympic spirit with an exhibition of Olympic posters from the last century.
The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the Wenlock Olympian Society, Much Wenlock, Shropshire who claim that their own William Brookes reinvented the Olympics before Coubertin. The unique collections of posters come from the V&A, London where the exhibition was first held.
Other venues such as the National Conservation Centre in Liverpool are using the launch of the Cultural Olympiad to open areas up to the public.
NCC is hosting a behind the scenes tour of the centre inviting people to see how artefacts are sourced and restored for museums.
National Conservation Centre Liverpool © National Museums Liverpool
Embracing the Olympic emphasis on unity, Tyne and Wear Museums have got together to run a vast and varied array of events.
Their Creative Spirits Project will begins on Friday September 26 2008. Events include kite making at theLaing Art Gallery while the Discovery Museum will hold a behind the scenes tour of the museum’s textiles and costume store with the keeper of contemporary collections, Kylea Little, in the lead.
The museum will also hold a tour of the maritime and model store with Ian Whitehead, keeper of maritime history, at the helm.
South Shields Museum and Art Gallery is honouring the Greek inventors of the ancient games by asking visitors to help create a giant wall painting showing historic Olympic sports next to modern events.
This frieze will be displayed at the museum as part of the British Museum touring exhibition Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes.
Inside the cornershop Courtesy of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Down, Northern Ireland will also be giving visitors a peak behind the scenes at the museum by opening up its collection stores so the public can see the hundreds of objects which are not normally on display.
The outside of the Royal Naval Museum Courtesy of Royal Naval Museum
The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard is putting their collection of model ships on display and giving access to buildings not usually open to the public.
“Ship models take up a lot of space, so it is never possible to display all of our collection in our galleries," said Richard Noyce, Curator of Artefacts at the museum.
"We have only done this once before, so it really is a rare opportunity. Ships are such a part of British culture and history that this is a very fitting contribution to the first Cultural Olympiad event.”
This event coincides with the annual Model Boat weekend at the Royal Naval Museum. This year, to commemorate Nelson’s 250th Birthday, it will include a live re-enactment in miniature of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Model Boats Courtesy of Royal Naval Museum
Coventry Transport Museum launching Extraordinary Cycles during the Cultural Olympiad weekend as the first phase of a project focusing on cycling in Coventry.
By putting cycling at the centre of performance art, the main goal of the project is to help young people unleash their creativity through the mediums of art and sport.
On September 27 2008, the Extraordinary Cycles and the Cultural Olympiad will be launched with a public performance at Coventry Transport Museum using dance, drama, music, digital art, and acrobatics.
Coventry Transport Museum Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum
Taking advantage of their Yorkshire Forward grant to extend the Grand Tour art project in York until November 2 2008, York Museum’s trust will be staging a re-launch on Friday September 26 2008 as part of a the Cultural Olympiad Weekend.
When The Grand Tour was unveiled in London by the National Gallery last year, it consisted of 44 full size reproductions of National Gallery paintings hung on walls all over the city.
This year, The Grand Tour in York has full-size reproductions from and the National Gallery with works by artists such as Van Gogh and Turner hung on walls around the city.
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs with a guide from York Art Gallery on Exhibition Square. Courtesy of York Museum Trust
Art is of course a huge part of the Cultural Olympiad. In Edinburgh, the National Gallery of Scotland, which houses works by Leonardo, Raphael, Rembrandt and Turner, will be holding a backstage tour.
Specialists will show visitors examples of artists’ work that for conservation reasons can only be shown under controlled conditions.
Charles Rowell was the Long Distance Champion of the World in 'Professional Pedestrianism' and a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic. Courtesy Cambridge County Museum
The festival atmosphere London aims to produce for the games is set to begin in the east midlands with Derby hosting a three day event - Derby Feste.
Focused on the opening of the city’s new multimedia art centre QUAD, the centre will host a number of exhibitions including one by renowned artists Jane and Louise Wilson who have created an installation inspired by Derby's industrial and cultural history, drawing on the depth and variety of the city's past along with journey stories from international migrants living in Derby.
The Wales Millennium Centre will also be joining in festivities by lighting up the building’s façade in Olympic orange while a number of performance art and theatrical events take place all over the region.
All this is just a taste of what the Cultural Olympiad hopes to present as part of its Open Weekend and indeed over the next four years.
For more information visit:www.london2012.com/culture