in: Gold, J.R. & Gold, M.M. (Eds) Olympic Cities: Urban planning, city agendas and the World’s Games, 1896 to the present, London: Routledge, pp. 237-264 (2007)
This chapter studies Sydney’s experience as an Olympic city from the perspective of cultural policy and planning. In previous work I have argued that culture and the arts play a critical role in defining the Games symbolic dimensions and are a determining factor in the sustainability of event legacies (see García 2002, 2003, 2004; Moragas 1992). In this context, interpreting Sydney’s cultural discourse is fundamental to understand how the city was experienced during the Olympic fortnight and the kinds of images it projected to the rest of the world in its lead-up and aftermath.
Sydney’s cultural discourse offers a good example of the internal contradictions that underpin many examples of city-based events that try to be everything for everyone: locally meaningful, nationally engaging and globally impacting. The problem of such a multi-layered approach is that it tends to lead to overly simplistic and tokenistic cultural representations, an issue best reflected in the often confused narratives of Olympic opening and closing ceremonies (see Tomlinson 1996). Despite claims to the contrary (Cashman 2005), Sydney was no exception as its ceremonies failed to depart from established narratives about Australia dominated by a white and Western sense of aesthetics where indigenous and multicultural cultures are an exotic addition rather than a core component (García and Miah 2000). However, Sydney promised a comprehensive programme of cultural activity over four-years and presented an unprecedented street programme of activity during the Olympic fortnight, which provided additional opportunities to explore and demonstrate the worth of its cultural discourse. This chapter offers a detailed analysis of how Sydney’s cultural discourse came about and the effect on its profile as an Olympic city.
I build on the current debate about event-led cultural regeneration in urban environments (Burbank et al. 2002, Chalkey and Essex 2005, Gold and Gold 2005, Monclus 2004, Richards and Wilson 2004) to critique existing definitions and guidelines for cultural engagement within the Olympic Movement. My main argument is that the positioning of the Olympic Games as a city-based, nationally-framed and globally embracing cultural event presents important challenges for cultural-policy makers and has rarely resulted in sustainable cultural legacies. Sydney had an opportunity to question established practices and overcome the trend towards using cultural activity as a platform for global media-spectacle at the expense of meaningful local representation. However, existing Olympic structures, particularly media and sponsorship agreements, prevented this ambition from fully coming to fruition.