Winning a Gold Medal in the Arts

Strange as it seems now, it used to be possible to win a medal for arts at the Olympics. In the Ancient Greek Games, the arts were nearly as important as the athletic events, bringing together people from across the nation to celebrate culture. When the International Olympic Committee was formed in 1894, founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin expressed a desire to combine art and sport. Arts competitions finally incorporated into the games in 1912.

Amateur artists could compete in five categories: Architecture, Literature, Music, Painting, and Sculpture. The pieces had to be inspired by sports, a broad requirement that left plenty of room for imagination. Ultimately, however, the “amateur” requirement became too hard to enforce; professionals flooded the contestant pool and the competitions were abandoned in 1948. The inclusion of the arts in the Games, however, was not abandoned.

Each Olympics now includes a program of cultural events, known as the Cultural Olympiad. Although they receive significantly less attention than the sporting events, each Olympics hosts an outpouring of arts events. Vancouver’s Cultural Olympiad kicked off on January 18, 60 days of theatre, music, film, visual art, multimedia creations, circus and street performers, and more.

Millions of people across the world will be tuned in to see bobsledding, skiing, and figure skating, uniting in competition and camaraderie. A far smaller number will be able to experience the Cultural Olympiad. Maybe it’s time to return to Olympics’ roots and give culture the same amount of attention as its athletic cousin. That may be even better than winning the gold.


Darcy Zacharias, CC ’10

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