Whatever happened to the classical ideal of the well-rounded athlete? When the ancient Greeks were in charge of the Olympics, many athletes were steeped in both sports and arts. In creating the modern Olympics in 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin envisioned competition in both areas, but only at the 1924 Paris Olympics were prizes awarded in such areas as poetry, sculpture and music. Particularly noteworthy for their lack of artistic activities were the four Olympics held in the U.S., especially Squaw Valley's 1960 Winter Wonderland, at which "cultural" events were put in the hands of entertainers Walt Disney and Art Linkletter.
The upcoming Winter Games in Lake Placid, however, should at last earn the U.S. a symbolic gold medal in the arts. That triumph won't have come easily, because Arts Director Carolyn Hopkins has had to contend with a meager budget of only $1.5 million and considerable local hostility. When she first mentioned the arts to members of the local Olympic Organizing Committee, they made jokes; the committee, which has sold its soul to corporate sponsors, preferred, it seems, to spend its time at such uplifting endeavors as designating an official Olympic chewing tobacco. Town residents have complained about the half-dozen murals and outdoor sculptures with which the National Fine Arts Committee has graced their community. Rounding out the Philistine Brigade is ABC-TV, which has not allocated one minute of air time to serious coverage of the arts program.
Despite these handicaps, Hopkins and her assistants have put together what could become one of the most heavily attended arts festivals in American history. And deservedly so. The 51,000 daily visitors to the Winter Olympics will be able to hop tour buses, which will take them to 17 major exhibitions. Among the highlights will be displays of ice sculpture; Indian and sports art; crafts; video art; photography; Olympic posters and stamps; and children's art. Even those who don't seek out the arts may get them. A company called Innovation Arts will perform spontaneously wherever there are audiences, its magicians, storytellers and mimes following crowds to the slopes.
And that's not all. Five outstanding groups will give world premiere performances of works especially created for the Olympics—the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, the Cantilena Chamber Players, Jazzmobile and Pilobolus Dance Theatre. The six Pilobolus dancers, whose work combines athletics, dance, body sculpture and gymnastics, could turn out to be the best act in town.
"We hope to restore the balance of art and sport," says Hopkins, a harpist who is president of the Lake Placid Center for Music, Drama and Art. "The message people should get is, 'I'm a whole person and I've got creative as well as sporting interests. I'm seeing the best of both at the Olympics, and it's an example and an inspiration for me.' "
If you're planning to attend the Olympics and have a fondness for the arts as well as athletics, call the Olympic ticket office for details on exhibits and performances. If you're staying home, consult your TV listings. A PBS special on Feb. 10 will preview what ABC has chosen to ignore.