AFTER THE GAMES
17.02.2012 / AI Profile / 0 Comments
Sarah Weir, chief executive, Legacy List
Legacy List sounds like another one of the seeming forest of signposts being thrust up by the Olympics supposed to make the whole gigantic operation clearer to the public, but actually confusing us even more.
In fact, even though the Legacy List is all about what will be seen in the 500 hectare Olympic park - the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as it is now officially known - the Games themselves are incidental. The List will bring culture and education to this space in the heart of one of the most deprived localities in the country, adding more long after the Olympics have been consigned to video.
It is the newest tree in the forest, but a distinctive one. Launched barely five months ago, it is not connected to the national Legacy Trust (which will be wound up within a couple of years of the closing ceremony) or the Cultural Olympiad, and has had no money from LOCOG. The Olympics is transitory, the legacy is for ever.
That is the hope and intention of the Legacy List's chief executive, Sarah Weir. "What we're doing is about integrating art, design and engineering. A lot of what we do with the artists is about bringing alive and honouring the past in imaginative ways".
The Legacy is the park initially created for the Olympics, in which five of the buildings created for this year (the stadium, the velodrome, the aquatic centre, the handball arena and the broadcast centre) will remain, with the rest of the space to be developed maybe over the next 20 to 30 years, while Weir's medium and long term installations and decorations give the space its character. The List is the charity that is funded by a growing panel of business philanthropists and sponsors, and Weir's background makes her fluent in both the languages of the arts and business.
She started out as a stockbroker, the first woman managing director at Lloyd's, and in 1993 took a 90% cut to work for an art gallery, Purdey Hicks. Then she went to the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, now A&B, then ran sponsorship for the Royal Academy. Her first day there saw the opening of the controversial Sensation exhibition when she was suddenly aware of something whistling past her ear, an egg bound for Marcus Harvey's Myra Hindley. "What occurred to me as most bizarre was when I turned to look at the person throwing the eggs, and I saw he was taking them out of a Fortnum & Mason's box". She then went to be executive director of the Almeida, and in 2003 became head of Arts Council London. Then she was head of arts and cultural strategy for the Olympic Delivery Authority, a job she had effectively designed for herself with- out realising it.
In 2004 at the London Arts Council she had first suggested that culture should be a major part of the London Olympic bid, and got a member of staff, Hilary Carty, seconded to the bid committee. Working with Jude Kelly, they convinced the then culture secretary Tessa Jowell that arts and education could be the element that wins over Paris. It was, and when she left the Arts Council in 2007, therefore, Weir was the obvious person to manage LOCOG's opening weekend in 2008, and then to run the ODA which started as two days a week and quickly became full time. She was awarded an OBE in the last New Year Honours List.
The ODA has already put in place works of arts and design around the park area as part of its job to attract businesses and residents to the regenerating area and make it a visitor destination, as well as hosting the Games for the summer weeks. It was Weir who masterminded the com- missioning of Anish Kapoor's 115 metre high Orbit, now rising between the stadium and the aquatic centre; flower beds have been creat- ed in the footprint of factories that once provided employment there; round the periphery ten trees have Olympic rings lodged in their boughs, and each tree is on a site that has a story you will be able to down- load via an app.
History is an ever present quotient, and the ODA reveals for visitors that the aquatic centre is where there was once a soap factory, then artists; studios, and before that had been the headquarters of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters. "We want to bring these stories out and keep them fresh, and that's what artists can do" she says. "For three years I could see only in my head what it would be like, but now we're beginning to the see fruits of the artists' labours.
Then there is the View Tube, two sea containers one on top of the other, providing "a view, a brew and a loo", where you can watch the site developing, and hire a bike to travel around it.
Electricity sub-stations have been covered with timber and are being arrayed in poems specially commissioned, about the match girls' strike that took place nearby at Bryant & May, the bikes the Suffragettes used, and the Fun Palace Joan Littlewood, of the nearby Stratford East Theatre Royal, planned but never realised. Twelve of the 36 bridges have been painted in the Olympic colours, and mooring poles have been given bright so colours to make them distinctive. On the wall of a large head- house power station, Clare Woods is installing a landscape on tiles where the Bow tile factory once stood there.
But the ODA has delivered and now passes. To take over, the Legacy List was registered as a charity last summer and came into existence in September. Already it has raised £591,000 through the patrons Weir and her trustees have attracted, seven so far, perhaps 50 by 2015, and individuals as well as companies.
As the List came into its own, there were already some 40 projects under way. There had been an ODA plan to create a children's play area on the periphery but the site was found to have asbestos in it and the budget was spent removing it. The List held an auction in which cycling helmets decorated by artists ranging from Marc Quinn and Peter Blake to Boris Johnson were auctioned, and the £100,000 has been raised so that the play area will be open in time for the opening of the Games.
After the Games are over is when the List can really get to work, with, Weir hopes, an income from business donors of £1m a year, perpetually.
The Olympic values, Weir says, were always culture, education and sport. "The Greeks didn't make differentiation - for them it was the wholeness of human being" she says, and her job is to help people achieve their potential in any of those areas.
"I started work on this in 2004 now things are coming to coming to fruition in 2012, but in 2004 I was w thinking about 2020, and that's to do with really thinking about how culture, education and sport are brought together" Sarah Weir says. "There's a big buzz this summer, and when it's over it's over, so this is not really to do with the Olympics. We're already into what can we do to raise aspirations for the next generation.
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