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Brisbane take note as Paris shows off its Cultural Olympiad

The Brisbane arts community will be closely watching how Paris is embracing its Cultural Olympiad as we start planning for 2032, writes Helen Barlow

The stunning Hôtel de Ville, the city hall of Paris, is currently playing host to the Cultural Olympiad.

The stunning Hôtel de Ville, the city hall of Paris, is currently playing host to the Cultural Olympiad.

Helen Barlow

The Olympics is not all about sport. Arts events are an integral part of the proceedings.

Ruth Mackenzie, who was in charge of a wildly successful Cultural Olympiad in London 2012, is now artistic director of the Adelaide Festival. She was in Brisbane recently to talk to the local arts industry about preparing its own Cultural Olympiad ahead of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Organisers of the cultural component of Los Angeles 2028 are already working on their program and are surely keeping a close eye on Paris 2024. The Brisbane arts community can take note of what’s happening here in Paris.

Hotel de Ville, the city hall of Paris, is the epicentre of cultural events and is hosting a myriad of performances and events in its forecourt, Place de l’Hotel de Ville, leading up to the Olympics. Brisbane City Council take note.

A huge orchestral concert took place there on June 21, the summer solstice, which is traditionally the date of Fete de la Musique, where musicians hit the streets. Paris’s Chambre Orchestra conducted by Italy’s Giacomo Sagripanti performed Rossini’s William Tell Overture, followed by an array of international opera stars singing well-known pieces.

American tenor Michael Spyres and French baritone Ludovic Tezier featured, as well as France-based sopranos Cassandre Berthon, Zuzana Markova and mezzo soprano Marina Viotti. The concert ended with a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

The Australian Embassy is joining the Olympics fray and on July 20 will host a day of festivities, Australie Fête Les Jeux, which is free to the public. In the morning there will be a film about the history of breakdancing in Australia as an official sport.

“Just across the road is Sport24, the hub for urban sports such as breakdancing, skateboarding, BMX bike-riding and surfing,” explains  the embassy’s cultural attache Harriet O’Malley. “They have an  exhibition on urban sports so we are working with them to do that.”

The embassy will organise demonstrations of certain sports for kids and will also host a big Aussie barbecue with meat pies, sausage rolls, lamingtons, pavlovas and other tasty Australian fare. There will also be screenings of Australian films including Freeman, which is about Mackay-born Cathy Freeman and, as O’Malley puts it …”the race that changed Australia”. The film will be presented by the Australian Indigenous Film Festival in Paris and its Australian director Greta Morton Elangue.

The open plan embassy, designed by Harry Seidler and situated near the Eiffel Tower at 4 Rue Jean Rey, is always a good place to view events and it has an expansive foyer. An exhibition focusing on the history of Australia’s involvement in the Olympics from Sydney 2000 until Brisbane 2032 is up now.

An elaborate artificial limb emblazoned with Aboriginal colours and used in a past Paralympics had just arrived when I was there and there will be further equipment and uniforms added. The precious medals will be housed in custom-made cabinets.

Many of the major Paris museums have Olympics exhibitions running until well after the world’s biggest sporting event wraps up on August 11.

The Louvre calls their exhibition Olympism – Modern Invention, Ancient Legacy – and as one might expect it delves back into the early history to examine the iconographic sources on which the modern Olympics were based. It runs until September 16.

The Petit Palais has Le Corps en movement (The Body in Movement) running until November 17.  A selection of paintings, sculptures, art objects, drawings and prints were selected for highlighting the body, anatomy and sport over the past 100 years since Paris last hosted the Games in 1924.

My favourite is Olympism at the Palais de la Porte Doree, the National Museum of the History of Immigration and that exhibition runs until September 8. The building is considered a landmark of art deco architecture and was constructed for the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition. Naturally the exhibition examines the history of the Olympics in a more political context.

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On its press book cover there is a photograph of American track and field athlete Jesse Owens who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The exhibition notes how he combatted racist theories during the Nazi regime.

The Sydney 2000 section is headed “the varnish of unity” and notes how the Olympics enabled the Australian government to make a visible reconciliation with the indigenous population in the eyes of the world.

Cathy Freeman, who lit the Olympic flame and won gold in the 400m sprint, is there, of course. When it came to the star-studded closing concert, the exhibition has a video of the full performance of Midnight Oil’s Beds Are Burning, where the band wore black t-shirts emblazoned with the word “Sorry”. The song resounds through the entire exhibition.

As for Brisbane 2032, one imagines that Freeman and Midnight Oil might well be there too. The Australian Embassy exhibition notes that “It will be a place where all can unite and belong. A Games where people can reach their full potential on and off the sporting field, surrounded by the awe-inspiring beauty of Brisbane, Queensland and Australia”.

On July 14, Bastille Day, the Olympic torch will take quite a trip, weaving its way around France for 12 days before the Opening Ceremony. After travelling down The Champs-Elysees it will pass through the Jardin du Luxembourg, venture to Place Vendome, on to The Louvre and then to The Pompidou Centre, before heading to the celebration site of Place de l’Hotel de Ville.

If you are heading to Paris for the sport, though, just remember there’s plenty else to see while you’re there.

Helen Barlow is a Paris-based Australian freelance journalist and critic. In 2019, she received the La Plume d’Or for her services to French cinema.

olympics.com/en/paris-2024/the-games/celebrating/cultural-olympiad

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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