Olympics challenge to artistic integrity

Women Making the London Olympics
Museum of London Docklands
5 March – 2 May

In March 2009 Jennette Arnold OBE, a member of the London Assembly was invited to the Olympic Park to meet some of the first women on site as part of the Women into Construction project. The sight of Jacqueline Shinkwin operating a digger convinced Jennette that it was an iconic project, encapsulating the legacy that the Games will deliver to London’s women.

Artist Janie Airey was commissioned to produce a series of photographs of women working on the Olympic site in a range of roles. The resulting portraits cover a range of activities across the Lea Valley site – from ecology to plumbing – and encapsulate the legacy that the Olympic Games will deliver to London’s women. Opened on International Women’s Day at the Museum of London Docklands by Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, ‘Women Making the London Olympics’ is a glaring example of the politicisation of the visual arts at its worst.

Much has been said of the negative affect the games has had on short and long-term arts funding. A large proportion (more than £200m) of the ridiculous £10b cost of the Olympics is being redistributed from the arts sector nationally. Smaller arts organisations and individual artists have undoubtedly born the brunt of the cuts, yet the approach larger organisations have taken to curating and contextualising exhibitions is equally troubling.

Artists and art organisations are compromising their integrity, desperately trying to incorporate irrelevant Olympic themes in to their work in the hope of receiving financial support. “This exhibition encapsulates the legacy of the Olympics,” said Jowell of the photographs. It is a legacy of the folly of cultural middle-managers and policy makers – not one of artistic integrity and high principles.

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