How successful is The ArcelorMittal Orbit as a legacy for the 2012 Olympics?

In 2012, London welcomed the Olympic machine with open arms, as it ploughed straight into the East End. However it wasn’t just a sixteen-day programme of sport. Along with it came a four-year programme of arts across Britain, also known as the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival was the climax of this. In total £55 million was invested into the festival with the Arts Council England as a primary funder to this, along with other sponsors such as BP, BT and lottery cash. The Arts Council (2012) claim that they are ‘championing, developing and investing in art and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives’. However, I want to look deeper into the public art created for the 2012 Olympics, and at how successful it is as a legacy to London in the aftermath of the games.


I want to first examine The ArcelorMittal Orbit, which was designed by Anish Kapoor and erected in 2012 as a backdrop to Olympic coverage and a symbol of the regeneration of Stratford. It’s now 2015 and, three years on, Lower Lea Valley is still being redeveloped. As Bob Stanley (2012) of The Guardian says, ‘The Olympics will be over in a matter of days – the transformation is for decades to come’. And there are certainly many debates over how successful the regeneration of Stratford will actually be. The aim of this long-term plan is for the area to be saturated with new job prospects, homes and environmental improvements. However beyond the looming presence of the new luxury apartment blocks, the huge Westfield and state of the art sport centres, in reality, little has changed for the local communities. Artist Laura Oldfield Ford (2012, pg 268) says that ‘the regeneration [is] basically a corporate land grab’ and therefore The Orbit, or The Olympic Park, has done little to create this successful area.


And I can see why this viewpoint is so often taken. The Orbit is situated in between the Olympic stadium and the aquatics centre, and from the viewing platform the bleak surroundings were even more noticeable. As I looked out across the London skyline all I wanted was to be back over there and not in the sad and desolate Stratford. Kapoor works on a grand scale and The Orbit is no exception. Measuring 114.5m tall, and with views of over 20 miles, soaring higher than the Statue of Liberty, it is Britain’s largest piece of public art. He intended to create an all-consuming experience for visitors, one where you can immerse yourself in the art as you ascend. It’s not just a mural or monument; it is supposedly something for you to go inside and feel. However looking back at my experience at The Orbit I really didn’t feel anything.


Whilst stood beneath the 84 tonne canopy, of The Orbit, I felt extremely small and insignificant amongst the echoes. The contrast between the darkness beneath and the light at the top of the viewing platform is quite stark. However I am sure I would feel incredibly small under anything that size. I feel the piece has let itself down. I had high expectations for the trip but instead I left feeling disappointed and annoyed that I wasted £6 and two hours of my life. I have heard there are plans to install a slide in 2016, designed by the renowned Carsten Höller, and maybe this will encourage more people to visit the attraction. Maybe I would pay another £6 for a go on the World’s longest tunnel slide.


In comparison to the Orbit, the 2011 SPACE commissioned project ‘The Cut’, involved a much higher level of participation with the local community. And not just the amount of money we poured into Kapoor’s piece. ‘The Cut’ draws attention to ordinary people’s heritage and the history of radical change in the area, in an attempt to preserve the already existing legacy of East London, before a new chapter of history begins. Local people volunteered to be trained as oral historians and contributed their piece to the three projects. Forty children from Gainsborough School also helped Daniel Lehan complete his work, a series of newspaper headlines. This direct input and collaboration means that the people of Stratford now treasure this project as a legacy, in comparison the forgotten Orbit.


Similiarly, looking at the work of Hackney-based artist Keith Wilson, and his project ‘Steles’, proves that not all Olympic orientated public art is an eyesore. Although I see little connection between 35 crayons positioned in the water and the Olympic Games; Wilson has used the five colours of the Olympic Rings in an attempt to make that link and to ‘provide a sense of place and occasion, anchoring memories of many a good day out’ (London 2012: Wilson’s Steles Crayons In Olympic River, 2012) I think they’re quite nice and more appealing than the sight of The Orbit


The Orbit was so essential in creating this permanent legacy to the Olympics, however the area was already so rich with industrial history, which has already been forgotten about. Stratford will now always be remembered for the Olympics and the largest urban shopping centre in Europe – lucky us. Sebastian Coe, (2006 pg, 272) ambassador of the board of the bid company for the 2012 Olympica, says that ‘Legacy is absolutely epicentral to the plans for 2012. Legacy is probably nine-tenths of what this process is about, not just 16 days of Olympic sport.’ However I didn’t even really know what The Orbit was before I went to visit it, so for me personally it has completely failed as a legacy. Its main financial contributor was ArcelorMittal but it also cost £3.1 million of public money, which we are losing at a rate of £10,000 every week. In a recent report by London Legacy Development Corporation, in 2014-2015 it lost £520,000 due to the lack of visitor interest to the attraction since The Olympics. It does not represent ‘beauty, strength and versatility’ (ArcelorMittal, 2012) it is purely an expensive vanity project which is leaving a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, three years on.


As a legacy, The ArcelorMittal Orbit is a constant reminder of how much money was spent on the redevelopment of East London in preparation for The Olympics. It has been abandoned in Stratford along with the hope of a better future for the people of the East End. If we really wanted to support local art then maybe British art would’ve done better without being connected to the Olympiad at all.


ArcelorMittal (2012) How the ArcelorMittal Orbit evolved from a chance conversation into an iconic London landmark Available at: (Accessed: 03/12/15)

Arts Council (2012) Our mission and strategic framework. Available at: (Accessed: 29/11/15).

Halkon, R (2015) Olympic Park’s Orbit Tower slammed as ‘pointless vanity project’ after revalations it costs Londoners £10,000 a week Available at: (Accessed: 03/12/15)

Harding, A. (2012) The Art Of Dissent. Adventures In London’s Olympic State. 1st edn. Edited by Hilary Powell and Isaac Marrero-Guillamon. London, Marshgate Press.


London 2012: Wilson’s Steles Crayons In Olympic River (2012) Available at: (Accessed: 3/12/15)

Morton, T. (2012) On Your Marks. Available at: (Accessed: 30/11/15).

Stanley, B. (2012) Olympics 2012 have changed the Lower Lea Valley beyond recognition. Available at: (Accessed: 30/11/15)



Masters, T (2012) London 2012 Festival: Were the arts as inspiring as the athletics? Available at: (Accessed: 2/12/15)

Perryman, M (2012) Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be, OR Books

The Olympic Museum (2012) The Modern Olympic Games Available at: (Accessed: 30/12/15)

Wroe, N (2014) Anish Kapoor: One Piece Of Spaghetti Props Up Another Available at: (Accessed: 30/11/15)




Looking at ‘The Fun Art Bus’ against the criticism of community arts in the 1980s.

Inter-Action was formed in 1968 by Ed Berman in order to bring arts closer to the community and explore new, participatory programmes. And the Fun Art Bus did exactly so. It was recently re-launched in 2012, after 40 years, as a converted route-master to tour selected London boroughs. Throughout the bus there were especially commissioned cartoons, poetry and film to truly immerse the “passengers” in a direct manner. The whole bus became a performance. It included a theatre on the top deck and a cinema on the bottom. Within community arts the process involved is often more important and valuable than the finished product.

Community is often defined by geographic boundaries, or by ethnicity or class. For example, the “local community” is often a synonym for the working class population. Community arts can be perceived as a very aspirational thing, with the aim of building a collective identity. And although it can be seen as positive, community arts are a complex and contested concept with many negative connotations.

Two publications that reflect common criticism of community arts are from the early 1980s. Firstly, Owen Kelly who compared community arts to ‘welfare arts’ says that the arts became addicted to funding and were losing their radical edge. The Greater London Council Reports (GLC) also suggested that these art projects were often off putting to London’s diverse population, and that they didn’t represent London’s diversity. This combined with disappointing outcomes of the projects, meant that by the end of the 1980s, the community art spirit started to fade.

It is such a joy to see that Inter-Action re-launched the Fun Art Bus, three years ago, as in my opinion; community arts are a beneficial thing, giving the general public a chance to be creative. Regardless of your ethnicity or class, everyone should be able to experience these wonderful things.




A follow up to The ArcelorMittal Orbit trip 10/11/15

Designed by Anish Kapoor, and erected in 2012, the orbit was a backdrop for Olympic coverage and a symbol of the regeneration of Stratford. Supposedly, the orbit should be attracting visitors to the area as the site is being redeveloped, in the years to come, following the 2012 Olympics. This long-term plan means that the area will hopefully gain in popularity, houses and living conditions besides the fact that it is a long lasting legacy to the 2012 Olympics.

Kapoor works on a grand scale and this is no exception. Measuring 114.5m tall, soaring higher than the Statue of Liberty, is it Britain’s largest piece of public art. Kapoor uses the colour red in lots of his work, which symbolises happiness and good luck-for example, ‘My Red Homeland’ 2003. He intended to create an entire experience for visitors, one where you can immerse yourself in the art as you travel higher and higher. It’s not just a mural or monument; it is something for you to go inside and feel.

Thinking about phenomenology, myself and Lauren recorded our thoughts as we ascended. Whilst stood beneath the 84 tonne canopy, I felt extremely small and insignificant amongst the echoes. The contrast between the darkness beneath and the light at the top of the viewing platform is quite stark. I’m not scared of heights at all, so the elevator journey was not a problem but I noticed other people were struggling with the height. From the viewing platform the bleak surroundings were even more noticeable. As I looked out across the London skyline all I wanted was to be back over there and not in the sad and desolate Stratford.

I feel the piece has let itself down. I had high expectations for the trip but instead I left feeling disappointed and annoyed that I paid £6. I have heard there are plans to install a slide in 2016, designed by the renowned Carsten Höller, and maybe this will encourage more people to visit the attraction. Maybe I would pay another £6 for a go on the World’s longest tunnel slide.



Public Art vs. Participatory Art: The Peckham Peace Wall

After the 2011 London riots, the people of Peckham used sticky notes to show their love and respect for their community after it was destroyed, in an effort to counteract the negative attention the area was attracting. Thousands of notes were stuck on the frontage of a Poundland shop as a symbol of hope. A year on, Garudio Studiage digitally hand traced the 4000 original notes to create the Peckham Peace Wall which can now be found at Peckham Space. It opened on 8th August 2012, to commemorate the first anniversary of the riots.

I would consider this piece to be a memorial to the strength the community showed after the devastating riots. In the literal sense, I feel the piece is “public art” as it was made by the public, for the public. Although the sticky notes were relocated and rearranged, I feel Garudio Studiage have just permanently concreted the message and the hope.

Rebecca Cahill, chair of the board of Peckham Shed, ‘This spontaneous, powerful reflection of a moment in time when our community came together to make their voice heard has become a treasured piece of Peckham history’ and it is definitely a positive outlook to have when casting our memories back to the 2011 riots.


I could also consider the Peace Wall as a form of participatory art. Spurred on by Peckham Shed, the community willingly took part in creating the piece. Young people from the surrounding area helped Studio Garudio preserve the sticky notes, so the piece truly encapsulated the spirit of the community. Looking at Amstein’s 1969 level of participation “ladder”, I cannot say that the Peace Wall has complete ‘citizen control’ however I believe there was definitely a level of participation. I agree that ‘in the real world of people and programs, there might be 150 rungs with less sharp and “pure” distinctions among them’ (pg 216-224) but I would place this project under the heading ‘partnership’.

Regardless, without Garudio Studiage’s intervention, it might not be there today.


Arnstein, S. (1969) A Ladder of Citizen Participation Journal of the American Planning Association.

Southwark Council (2012) The Peckham Peace Wall displayed for the first time in its entirety Available at: (Accessed: 7/12/15)




How successful is Nowhereisland as a piece of public art?

Nowhereisland is a piece by Alex Hartley and produced by Bristol-based arts organisation Situations, as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. As a result of melting glaciers in the Svalbard peninsula, Alex Hartley discovered a piece of land in Norway and towed along the British coast by the team prior to the 2012 Olympics. The journey started in Weymouth in line with the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and finished in Bristol, for the finale of the Cultural Olympiad on 9th September 2012. 23,000 people from 90 countries signed up to be citizens on this make believe island, and each received chunks of it after it was broken up at the end of it’s journey in September 2012.

I was quite shocked to find out that the Arts Council willingly handed over £500,000 to the Situations team to fund the Nowhereisland project and tow six tonnes of rock over to the UK (And although £500,000 isn’t a great deal in comparison to the overall cost of The Olympics, I don’t feel it was necessary to physically move this land from it’s original home) Situations wanted to raise awareness to issues such as climate change and land ownership however the fuel and energy involved in this project must have been quite hefty. So it’s quite ironic that by raising awareness for climate change, they are contributing quite drastically to it.

Although there was quite a lot of criticism around Nowhereisland, as a piece of public art it did extremely well to engage the public-especially those on the South West coast who congregated to welcome and celebrate its arrival. Pauline Barker , a wild swimmer who occupied the travelling island said “It’s designed to be an arts project to get art closer to the people, and we are the people so we decided to get as close as we possibly could” (2012) which I think is quite a nice take on it. Looking at videos of the island approaching, the excitement in the community is contagious, albeit, a little bizarre.


Olympic Nowhereisland ‘invaded’ in Devon by swimmers (2012) Available at: (Accessed: 7/12/15)




To what extent is The Baghdad Car public art?

In 2007 an anonymous group set off a suicide bomb, which destroyed the Mutanabbi street book market, in Baghdad. Subsequently 38 people were killed and over 100 injured. An Iraqi civilian car was taken from the wreckage and toured over the USA by British artist Jeremy Deller, accompanied by an Iraqi civilian and an American soldier, in order to encourage discussion. Today it can be found in the Imperial War Museum in London.

According to Miwon Kwon (2004) to qualify as a piece of public art, it must be situated outside of a museum or gallery and it must match with one of three criteria:

  1. It must be in a place accessible to the public
  2. It must be concerned with or affecting the public
  3. It must be paid for by the public


I believe the ‘Baghdad Car’ would have once been classed as a public art piece whilst it was on tour, however now that it’s situated in the central foyer of the Imperial War Museum, it has lost all impact and significance for me. Today, guests of the museum come here to see war paraphernalia, so the “shock” has been lost. I understand that according to the museum, it is a reminder of ‘the impact of modern war on civilians’ (2010) and I think it portrays a strong message however I would’ve maybe walked past the piece if I were to be just visiting the museum ordinarily.

On first impressions I felt quite cold to the piece, and quite detached but I often experience this feeling whilst in a museum. I would have been intrigued to see the piece in a public space, as it would have been completely out of context and shocking. Situated in the public realm people of all ages, professions and classes would come across the car where it would be completely unexpected, but also in context. Cars are most often found on the street, not in museums. However it is soberingly clever to juxtapose the wreckage amongst missiles and tanks- to expose the obvious but often forgotten reality of war.


Imperial War Museum (2010) The art of war: Jeremy Deller’s Baghdad car bomb installation Available at: (Accessed 9/10/15)

Kwon, M (2004) One Place After Another MIT Press