Boris and Ken: Culture Vultures?

By TimW Last edited 106 months ago
Boris and Ken: Culture Vultures?

This week Londonist is looking into the issue of arts and culture around the mayoral election. Here is our introduction to the topic from Monday.

The cultural preferences of the two men vying to get into City Hall this spring are pretty self-evident. The blond bombshell of Islington is a frequent sight at Wimbledon in June and on the slopes in the winter. Red Ken, meanwhile, is more readily associated with his local boozer (the Queensbury, since you ask) and, er, newts.

But politically, the two men are pretty close when it comes to policies on arts and culture. During their respective times in office, both have supported public art projects, most notably the Fourth Plinth project. Both have backed parades and Trafalgar Square-based parties themed around different cultures and traditions.

While the themes are similar, there are differences in tone and substance: Ken's populism versus Boris's more business-minded and educational approach. One of Ken's major cultural projects was to financially support Rise, the popular summer anti-racism music festival that attracted tens of thousands of punters to the London park of choice. The current mayor scrapped the union-funded festival in 2009 while he has championed events aiming to bring tourists and cash into the capital.

Soon after coming to office in 2008, Boris published a cultural strategy, 'The Cultural Metropolis', that was described by Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian as "rather a common-sensical laying-out of cultural priorities."

Updated in 2010, the document lays out Boris's ideas for culture and can today be seen in context of success and failure. In the former column is Anish Kapoor's Olympic Park sculpture, which, no matter what you think of it, is set to be an icon of the Games. Also praised has been Boris's focus on music education and that policy's attendant 'Rhythm of London' festival. Chalked up in the negative column must go August's The Story of London festival, which achieved little visibility as an idea, and diminished in ambition over its three years.

And so to the future. Whoever wins the election, the next big cultural event is, of course, the Olympics and the culture jamboree that goes along with it. Separate to the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, a City Hall-generated programme of outdoor events, 'Mayor of London Presents', wraps together all the facets of the GLA's cultural activities.

Post-Olympics, if Ken retakes the throne, expect more multicultural and mass-appeal events. Maybe even Rise Festival will, er, rise again. If Boris is re-elected, odds on he'll continue to throw in his lot with national day parades and educational-leaning festivals.

Image by richwat2011 via the Londonist Flickr pool.

Last Updated 21 March 2012