The first-ever Olympic Agora was inaugurated in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district today, opening a series of art installations, exhibitions and digital programmes celebrating Olympism to fans of sport and culture. Spearheaded by the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage (OFCH), the Olympic Agora will be on view from 1 July to 15 August 2021.
The major cultural project, set in the historic Nihonbashi district of Japan’s capital, has been inspired by the public meeting places, or “agoras”, of Ancient Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics, where people gathered to eat, drink, sing, trade and exchange ideas.
As part of the cultural programme, there will be outdoor installations by world renowned artists; an exhibition of artworks by Olympian and Paralympian athletes; a medal display and other iconic artefacts from the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland; and a photographic exhibition by leading Japanese art photographer Rinko Kawauchi. Fellow Japanese artist Makoto Tojiki has also created a large-scale light sculpture, entitled Solidarity and Collaboration, which takes inspiration from the relay race in track and field.
The audience is invited to enjoy virtual tours, artists talks and multimedia installations on the Olympic Agora website and The Olympic Museum’s social media channels. Each programme component will explore, promote and celebrate the Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship, as well as the far-reaching cultural and social impact of the Games.
In Nihonbashi, the exhibitions will be held in compliance with local and national COVID-19 restrictions. A sculpture by French artist Xavier Veilhan, called The Audience, was also unveiled today, as a reminder of the current times as well as the spirit of the Games and Tokyo 2020. Velihan said the work will serve as an “ambassador” for the international spectators who were unable to attend the Games due to the pandemic. It includes five life-sized human figures of various ages, genders and nationalities who are united together, like an audience, to symbolise universality, which is a core value of the Olympic Games. To emphasise this relationship, the artist plays with the colours of the Olympic rings.
“The sculpture is intentionally a tribute to the audience of the Olympic Games, going beyond the sporting feats that are usually celebrated and bringing the focus to non-heroic figures, to highlight the importance of the public,” said the artist, who spoke via video link at the event. “This year in particular the public – the audience – is somewhat the missing star of the Olympic Games. It is for me a reason to give existence to the international public, who may be absent physically but all the more watching throughout the world. The sculpture will be its ambassador.”
The sculpture is the first-ever permanent legacy commission by the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage (OFCH) as part of the Olympic Art Visions programme and will remain in Nihonbashi on permanent display after the Games.
It is also the first time in the history of the Olympic Games such a cultural hub has been organised. “The Olympic Agora will serve as a hub for the cultivation, exploration and promotion of the Olympic values,” said Angelita Teo, OFCH Director. “In this unprecedented moment, the Olympic Agora is a symbol of determination, overcoming challenges and international cooperation; of the power of sport and art to carry us in times of crisis."
The cultural hub was created as a result of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s Olympic Agenda 2020 and will fulfil the recommendation of “blending sports with culture further”.
Japanese real estate company Mitsui Fudosan is the official partner of the project. The company has its origins in Nihonbashi – the district’s name means “Japan Bridge” – and is the business centre of Tokyo. President and CEO Masanobu Komoda, who is pictured above, said: “We are very pleased that Nihonbashi will host the world’s first Olympic Agora. “Through the Olympic Agora’s digital programmes, I hope that audiences around the globe can experience both the beating heart of Nihonbashi and the Olympic spirit."