Research beyond borders

The Olympic Games varied layers of Cultural Programming

Leave a comment

 As we all continue to be enthralled by the latest events at the Olympic games, our latest Guest Blog by Dr Beatriz Garcia from University of Liverpool, talks about the Olympic Games’ varied layers of cultural programming. “. This Blog is part of a on-going series, where researchers and academics have kindly agreed to submit posts that relate their analysis to the Olympics.

Dr Beatriz Garcia

Dr Beatriz Garcia. Picture credit Dr Beatriz Garcia

Dr Beatriz Garcia is in Rio throughout the 2016 Olympic Games, as she has done since 2000 across nine Olympic cities.

The focus for Beatriz is one of the Games shiftier components: the often confusing and hard to pin-down ‘official’ Olympic cultural programme or Cultural Olympiad.

Rio is the first summer Games host city that has decided to break with the tradition started by the Barcelona 1992 organisers in 1988, when they decided to launch their cultural programme just at the end of the Seoul Games and develop it over four years (an Olympiad) so as to explore different themes in the lead up to their Games. In Rio there has been no four-year Cultural Olympiad, and there was not a clear cultural and arts hand-over from London 2012. Instead, we find a collection of separate short programmes, mostly happening during Games time in 2016, and led by two main entities:

  • the Municipality of Rio, through the Secretary of Tourism, which have commissioned the Olympic Boulevard programme
  • the International Olympic Committee (IOC), through its Foundation for Culture and Olympic Heritage which, for the first time at an Olympic Games, is taking the lead on a series of high profile artistic initiatives.

The culture team at the Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee were also aspiring to present the programme ‘Celebra‘ to highlight cultural and arts expression across Rio. However, budget constraints and branding tensions have prevented the programme from reaching its full potential. Despite some early attempts at presenting an eclectic collection of mini-festivals and art ‘pop-ups’ (an increasingly popular concept worldwide, fuelled by social-media), during Games time, this programme is noticed by its absence. Instead, the main legacy of the Celebra team will be two Olympic staples, coordinated by the IOC and used mainly as a Games heritage referent for the future: the official ‘Olympic Film’ and a series of ‘Olympic Posters’.

Given the lack of an official Cultural Olympiad with a dedicated website and brochure, visitors and residents remain largely unaware of the points of connection between a range of cultural expressions inspired by the Olympic Games. However, interesting cultural interventions are shaping the Olympic city and merit a mention.


Olympic Art in Rio 2016: Highlights

Olympic Boulevard:

Olympic Boulevard - Credit Beatriz Garcia

Olympic Boulevard – Credit Beatriz Garcia

Following a tradition started in Atlanta in 1996 and presented most successfully in Sydney 2000 and London 2012, Rio is hosting a series of LiveSites to enable people without tickets to the sporting competitions to celebrate collectively. The site in Porto Maravilhas is the largest LiveSite in Olympic history and has acted as a catalyst to regenerate a previously derelict area in the city. The area is now host to the Museum of Tomorrow, designed by ‘starchitect’ Santiago Calatrava, and a series of large graffiti artworks, most notably, this piece by Brazilian artist Kobra, which has gone into the Guinness Book of Records as the largest piece of graffiti by a single artist.

  • Museum of Tomorrow - Credit - Dr Beatriz Garcia

    Museum of Tomorrow – Credit – Dr Beatriz Garcia

    Large Graffiti by Artist Kobra - Credit Beatriz Garcia

    Largest Graffitti by single artist Kobra – Credit – Beatriz Garcia

Artists in Residence programme

  • The IOC has funded the first Artist in Residence programme at an Olympic Games, featuring French graffiti artist JR as well as German writer Tilman Spengler and American vine artist Gerald Andal. The work of JR
    Picture Credit - Andy Miah

    By French Graffiti Artist JR -Picture Credit – Andy Miah

    has been particularly successful given its high visibility in key city locations and its capacity to engage the general public. Read the Olympic Artist in Residence by Beatriz Garcia.

National Hospitality Houses

  • This is one of the most popular offerings in the Olympic city for those who have no tickets to sport. These Houses do not consistentlyoffer cultural or artistic expressions but are viewed as a way for local residents to ‘travel the world’, while in their city and attract large queues.


    National House – Credit – Beatriz Garcia

Other cultural activity taking place but with low visibility includes:

  • Olympic inspired programming throughout Rio cultural museums, galleries, theatres and concert halls. This work was originally framed under a new scheme, Passaporte Cultural, offering opportunities to follow city-wide art circuits. However, the scheme had to beinterrupted. Exhibitions such as Utopian Design, documenting a century of Olympic graphic design are, in place, for those keen and able to find the information.
  • Linkages with artists from the next summer host, Tokyo 2020, through the work of sculptor Mariko Mori and her ‘sixth Olympic ring’
  • Continuation of the artist-led Olympic Poster tradition, resulting in 13 posters by 13 Brazilian contemporary artists

Overall, despite the achievements, a series of important challenges remain for cultural programming in the Olympic city. The most important one is the lack of unified branding and denominations for Olympic related cultural programming, which makes much of this activity invisible to Olympic fans. The hashtag #olympicArt has been suggested as a means to tag activity but, so far, the take up is slow and of mixed relevance.


National House – Credit – Beatriz Garcia

Rather than be exposed to unique, provocative and meaningful cultural interventions, a majority of Olympic fans and local residents will be exposed instead to generic entertainment and corporate promotions from the Olympic sponsors. These kinds of activities are highly visible in all key city spaces and in the areas surrounding the Olympic venues, such as Olympic Park. This is a lost opportunity at a time when people from all over the world come together and the host city – as well as Olympic Movement heritage stakeholders – have a chance at taking a global platform to tell their story. Dr Beatriz Garcia is observing how this varied (fragmented) cultural programme evolves and how its narrative progresses, both through official and unofficial (online, user-led) channels.

This work informs her long-term research on the cultural dimensions of the Olympic Games and the role art and artists can play in shaping Olympic narratives and broadening up Games-time voices from a local, national and international identity point of view. Follow up stories can be found at:





Oly Design - Credit - Beatriz Garcia

Oly Design – Credit – Beatriz Garcia


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s