One hundred years of cultural programming within the Olympic Games (1912–2012): origins, evolution and projections

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The Olympic Games is recognised worldwide as the largest sports mega-event - certainly, the event attracting the largest amount of media coverage globally. As well as a sports event, the Olympics are a cultural phenomenon, with a history spanning more than 100 years and supported by a global network of organisations with an educational and intercultural remit that defines itself as a Movement and aspires to promote Olympism as a 'philosophy of life', headed by the International Olympic Committee. What is less known is that the Games also incorporate 100 years of Olympic cultural and arts programming and that such experience is playing a growing role defining or contributing to respective host cities' cultural policies. This paper offers an overview of the cultural dimension of the Olympic Games and the development of Games-specific cultural programming. After an introductory section providing a discussion and framework to the notion of cultural policy-making within the Olympic Games, the paper presents an historical account of 'official' Olympic cultural programming, in the summer editions of the Games, from the initial conception by Pierre de Coubertin in 1906 up to the last implementations on occasion of the Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Games. The paper ends with a brief revision of the current challenges and prospects that the programme, now denominated by the Cultural Olympiad and spanning over four years, holds within the Olympic Movement and for future host cities such as London in the lead to 2012.

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Beatriz Garcia
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