Communicating Diversity through Major Events

Garcia, B. (2004) “Communicating Diversity through Major Events. The case of Cultureshock, North West Cultural Programme of the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games“, presented in: Dialeg sobre Comunicacio i Diversitat Cultural, Universal Forum of Cultures, Barcelona 2004 (24-27 May 2004) [powerpoint slides]

Major events can act as powerful catalysts to embrace and communicate cultural diversity. This realisation has been critical to the development of a cultural and socially relevant discourse for the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games. In both cases, the celebration of human sporting achievement is combined with an emphasis on the value of the event as a meeting point for nations and cultures. The latter is most clearly manifested in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, which, in the case of the Olympics, are the single event gathering the largest simultaneous global media coverage in the world. Because of their phenomenal worldwide impact, these Ceremonies are considered key in the presentation of the culture or cultures of the event host community. However, time and spatial limitations – accentuated by the growing complexity of broadcasting requirements – tend to result in overly simplistic cultural messages which, in their search for the spectacular, give priority to standard and often tokenistic displays over more meaningful and representative discourses.

Without denying the value of the Ceremonies in promoting particular cultural agendas, this paper argues that some of the most relevant and effective mechanisms to communicate diversity lie within smaller scale cultural and educational programmes of major events. In providing evidence for this argument, the paper explores the case of Cultureshock, the cultural programme for the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games. One of the key challenges of Cultureshock was to renegotiate and enhance perceptions of the Commonwealth in contemporary society and young people in particular. In so doing, one difficulty was to overcome the traditional identification of the Commonwealth with Britain’s colonial and imperial past. A further difficulty was to balance the interest to celebrate the diversity of Commonwealth cultures with the need to embrace other diverse communities based in Manchester whose countries of origin are outside the formal boundaries of the Commonwealth.

The paper reviews the approach taken to communicate cultural diversity within the general marketing and public relations strategy for the Manchester Games. This is compared with the strategy to promote Cultureshock both at a national level and among local communities. The paper discusses the approach taken to define ‘cultural diversity’ in the context of the cultural programme and contrasts it with the way this notion is used within other Games materials and presented in the Opening Ceremony. The paper also studies the relationships between Cultureshock programmers and Manchester’s ethnically diverse cultural organisations, and assesses the main outcomes and limitations of the experience.

The paper ends with a reflection about the role of cultural programmes in negotiating, defining and communicating cultural diversity and outlines some of their main strengths and challenges by comparison to other popular elements of major events. References are made to the case of the Cultural Olympiad – cultural programme of the Olympic Games – and the Forum Barcelona 2004, the latter of which has the potential to redefine the way a major event can communicate diversity.