London 2012 Festival Retrospective

Watch video highlights of the major cultural events that took place across Northern Ireland, and read Creative Programmer Cian Smyth's end of year thoughts

2012 has been a year where words and phrases such as ‘unique,’ ‘once in a lifetime,’ and ‘never seen before’ have been so overused as to almost be meaningless.

I remember standing with other London 2012 Festival UK Creative Programmer colleagues in the middle of Piccadilly Circus in London while aerialist angels dumped 2.5 tonnes of feathers on our heads. We looked at each other and could only joke, ‘How many once-in-a-lifetimes does that make for you?’

Without London 2012 Festival I wouldn’t have had the unusual pleasure of being on Whitepark Bay at 3am one July morning as backpackers from a nearby hostel wandered through glowing tents that made up the Peace Camp installation – emitting audio recordings of poetry readings – pulled out a guitar and joined in.

Without the Cultural Olympiad, I wouldn’t have been atop Scrabo Tower in March at midnight as thousands of people with torches trailed up the hill to see Yvette Mattern's Global Rainbow laser show stretch out towards Scotland.

I wouldn’t have been involved in a Draw Down the Walls project that used art to open interface gates off the Crumlin Road in north Belfast that hadn’t been open in over 30 years, or been able to support Northern Ireland’s first ever disability and deaf arts festival, BOUNCE.

NI Opera wouldn’t have gone to Beijing with their brilliant production of Noye’s Fludde, which was also staged in Belfast Zoo last summer, and I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of competing with Robert Wilson, Joseph Kosuth and David Soul for a late night taxi in Enniskillen during the inaugural Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival.

I saw thousands of people outside the South Bank Centre in London pass by and watch an outdoor projection of Joel Simon’s animated film MACROPOLIS, sent artist Sinead O’Donnell around the world more than a few times to work with other artists from Japan to Peru, and avoided ringing a swastika emblazoned bell from the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games I discovered at a stall in St George’s Market for All the Bells on the first morning of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Being with the Phil Kids choir on the Giant’s Causeway as a camera crew in a helicopter overhead filmed them for the opening ceremony contrasted with being there at dawn, without a soul in sight, as we got to appreciate the true beauty of Hans Peter Kuhn's FLAGS, flags that offered a communication with the environment around us rather than claiming any sense of ownership of the landscape.

All of this was the product of hard work by a lot of people but blissful in its result, producing some incredibly ambitious artworks and occasionally the biggest ever, like Land of Giants at the Titanic Slipways in Belfast, the largest outdoor arts event the city have seen.

The success or failure of any of these pieces is entirely up to you, the audience member, but at the core of these London 2012 Festival projects in Northern Ireland was a challenge: to rise to the occasion that the Olympic Games offered as the world watched.

We know that over 850,000 people attended our programme of work since its inception in 2008. I can only believe that many of them had unique experiences of their own. These artworks, this festival, that Games were once-in-a-lifetime for me. Still, now we know it’s possible, might as well get ambitious again. Twice-in-a-lifetime doesn’t seem so impossible.