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Evaluation of the Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme

We led the evaluation of the year-long, £13.2m Cultural Programme, establishing its reach and impact.

Cultural Programme

Many of us still look back at the London 2012 Olympics with a sense of pride and fondness, with the nation having experienced a very un-British outburst of enthusiasm and togetherness that is increasingly rare in our globalised world. But our memories were not just shaped by two weeks of sport. 


The Torch Relay, the opening and closing ceremonies, and the many events of the London 2012 Festival and the wider Cultural Olympiad brought communities together, built up anticipation in advance of the Games, and told a story about modern Britain on the world stage.


And while sports events fit the same template the world over, only an accompanying cultural programme allows the host city and nation to tell a distinctive story about themselves through a global mega event. This is certainly a trend endorsed by BOP’s recently completed evaluation of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme.

As the second largest multi-sports event in the world, the Commonwealth Games is a big deal and Glasgow were aiming for nothing less than to host ‘the best ever Games’. Correspondingly, the Cultural Programme was equally ambitious and benefitted from investment of £13m of public money. Our evaluation looks at how successful the programme was, what its impact was, how well the governance and management processes worked, and identifies some lessons learned and looks forward to its legacy.


Over the last 18 months we first worked with the 200+ projects that made-up the Cultural Programme to establish the key facts of the Programme – the who, what, where and when. Our report demonstrates that the Cultural Programme was an undoubted popular success, with almost 2.2m visits and participation of over 650,000, across the length and breadth of Scotland. At the launch, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said: “The Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme was the most ambitious nationwide cultural celebration that has ever taken place in Scotland, bringing a national programme of new work by world-leading and emerging Scottish and International artists to communities across the country, as today’s findings show.”


We also spoke to all the key figures responsible for commissioning, funding and running the Cultural Programme, as well as major partners and stakeholders in other sectors and organisations. Our analysis highlights how the Cultural Programme constitutes a number of ‘firsts’ in terms of how it was conceived and put together. It was the first ever Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme to start a year out from the Games, the first to have a dual city and host nation focus, and therefore also the first time that a national cultural agency (Creative Scotland) and a local authority (Glasgow City Council via Glasgow Life) have worked together so closely to deliver a joint programme for such a mega event. Glasgow 2014 also pioneered a model in which the Organising Committee brings all the non-sports elements of the Games together (Culture, Ceremonies and Queen’s Baton Relay) into one division, while delegating the responsibility for the cultural activity to local partners.


To truly succeed, a Cultural Programme for a major sports event should not merely illustrate and celebrate sport and sporting achievements. That is, it should not simply consist of exhibitions of paintings about sport or sports people, film festivals about sport or plays about sport (and so on). This was very clear for the Glasgow Cultural Programme which, as with London 2012, had its own separate curatorial principles and artistic vision. It did, however, reflect on Scotland’s relationship to the Commonwealth and spoke to the values of the Commonwealth Games Federation. This explicit connection to the Commonwealth had led to some pre-Games concerns that the Commonwealth’s connections to a colonial past – and the intolerant policies of some contemporary Commonwealth states towards minorities – would not make for positive programming. Our evaluation demonstrates quite the opposite: that several projects tackled these issues head-on and that they were among the most contemporary, fresh and relevant events in the Programme, which was greatly enriched through their inclusion.


Stakeholders also felt that the Cultural Programme allowed for a much truer and richer portrayal of Scotland’s own contemporary, diverse and vibrant culture, overturning stereotypical images of the country. This was experienced directly by the half a million visits to the Programme that were made by people from outside Scotland. The media coverage and the Cultural Programme’s web and social media audience multiplied the opportunities to see Glasgow and Scotland in a positive light many times over. Media coverage across all platforms was also almost wholly positive, as was social media sentiment. In Glasgow, the Programme brought a ‘24 hour’ carnival atmosphere which animated the city and made the visitor experience more memorable than for those who just visited the sports.


That so much was achieved on a relatively modest budget is testimony to the value that was levered from being able to draw on existing cultural infrastructure, networks and resources. In this sense, as Bridget McConnell, CEO of Glasgow Life articulated, the Cultural Programme was not the one-off major event that it may have seemed to the outside world. It was instead part of a much longer journey for the city – and one that has always been about a broader process of social and economic regeneration.


For Janet Archer, Creative Scotland’s CEO, the nationwide programme resulted in an “inclusive, multi-faceted programme pulsing with artistic excellence, innovation and quality that set in motion new ideas, new partnerships and renewed confidence for Scotland’s bright, brilliant artistic future.” It also had a similarly huge reach and impact in terms of opportunities for artists and cultural organisations, having been delivered by 10,000 arts and culture professionals and almost 4,000 volunteers. Our report establishes that the Programme constituted a major creative and professional development initiative for these practitioners and that the innovation continued through the collaboration and partnerships required to deliver the Programme: 1,600 new partnerships were developed and the majority of these were with organisations outside of the arts and culture sector.


In terms of legacy – the philosopher’s stone of the major events industry – it is largely too early to say. However, there are many promising early signs – from the more than a quarter of projects that cited their new partnerships as one of the main benefits of participating in the Programme, to the number of shows and exhibitions that have been extended or secured new touring deals. More strategically, the status of the Cultural Programme within the Commonwealth Games has been significantly enhanced. The national and city-level partnership between Creative Scotland and Glasgow Life has also been unique and effective.


Our evaluation concludes that the 2014 Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme constitutes a step-change in how major cultural programmes tied to non-cultural mega events are conceived and implemented in the UK and in how strategic culture partners in Scotland work together and engage with wider strategic stakeholders.


The Overarching Report and the full suite of Cultural Programme evaluation reports, can be downloaded from the Creative Scotland website here. If you would like to know more about how BOP can help you plan, understand and demonstrate the value and impact of a major cultural programme, get in touch below.

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By BOP Consulting

Richard Naylor

Director, Research

Richard is a world leading expert in research methodologies for the culture and the creative industries, having been an early innovator in the development of frameworks for measuring the economic and social impacts of cultural activities.

Richard Naylor - Director, Research | BOP Consulting

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Richard Naylor

Richard Naylor

Director, Research