The Cultural Legacy of the Olympic Games

If there has been any disappointment associated with the Olympics, it is that there has been very little said about the Cultural Olympiad during the month of celebrations. With so much emphasis on the sporting achievements this is probably to be expected. However, we sincerely hope that once the activities have taken place, this vital part of the Olympics will not be forgotten. It has to be an integral part of the legacy.

In fact, we have our own ideas as to how we and others could contribute to a cultural legacy but for now we would like to concentrate on the person who has already been involved in the brilliance of the Olympics in a very significant way.

Thomas Heatherwick is his name, and whilst he played an enormous role in the Olympics, it is possible that the majority have already forgotten who he is. As Danny Boyle is rightly lauded and remembered for his “Isles of Wonder” spectacle, it is this relative unknown, Thomas Heatherwick, who set national and international hearts and souls alight.

As the athletes marched into the stadium with those strange copper objects in their arms, it was beginning to intrigue a watching world as to how these sculptures were going to come together. Soon it became clear, and as the seven young athletes approached the growing mass of metal in the middle of the stadium with the Olympic flame, the extraordinary sight of an unfurling cauldron began to emerge.

Rising gently and with perfect timing, this creative masterpiece by Thomas Heatherwick took on a life and indeed a meaning of its own.

Many looked on in perfect silence as the metal branches slowly rose to unite into the most symbolic of Olympic cauldrons. It was, and is, a thing of mystifying beauty – not just for its practical purpose but for its symbolism and its pure aestheticism.

The team that was led by Thomas Heatherwick have clearly done a wonderful job, and the memory of that emerging flame, separated and together simultaneously, will long live in our minds.

What could be a more perfect metaphor for the Olympics – individual determination and passion combined with the togetherness of representing a nation in their chosen specialism?

Thomas Heatherwick could be described as a genius, yet his idea is a simple one, and how often we see uniqueness in the most simple of ideas.

Yet it takes someone with creativity, inspiration and a little spark to progress from thought to deed. A good idea needs thought, time, collaboration, creativity, skill and perseverance – amongst other things. It needs solitude and time together with like-minded folk to explore the realities and possibilities of a work of art or a music composition or a piece of writing, for example.

Reading more about Thomas Heatherwick is interesting for 3Di because there is a pattern within his life.

His grandfather was a writer and a musician. His grandmother was an exiled German Jew who set up a textile studio. His mother was a painter and a jeweller and his father was a pianist who acted as mentor to many young people as they trod their path to creative innovation through the Heatherwick Studio

Is all of this creative genealogy just a coincidence? Is his interest in the creative arts derived from nurture, nature or a healthy balance of both?

There are as many examples of one-off creative genius as there are examples of those with this sort of ancestry, and of course the ability to be creative is open to all. However, opportunity is not afforded to all.

Thomas Heatherwick has been blessed with both natural ability and the support and interest of those around him. He was encouraged to be creative and to follow his passion – to find his element. Yet so many of our children’s creative abilities remain dormant and undiscovered; all for the lack of opportunity.

This should be the cultural legacy of the Olympic Games – finding the undiscovered Thomas Heatherwicks who haven’t had the same chances as he has. There are hundreds and thousands of children in nations across the world whose creativity has been thwarted by lack of resources, lack of interest, and lack of opportunity both in school and out of school.

Not everyone will become a Thomas Heatherwick of the future but we ought to enable them to have the choice.

We should commit ourselves to ensuring that the cultural legacy doesn’t die a death as the Olympics leaves our shores. We’ll continue to strive for creativity to be at the centre of education, for libraries to be open to all, for opportunities to learn to play musical instruments and to visit museums to be given to all those who wish to do such things – so that those who show artistic promise in whatever field are given as much recognition and opportunity as those who are blessed with an ability to do well in academic tests and examinations.

(It’s interesting to note that Thomas Heatherwick attended Manchester Polytechnic. Perhaps a campaign for the re-introduction of ‘polytechnics’ without any second-rate connotations should also be part of our campaign).

For now though, we shall spend the last part of this blog celebrating the fact that Thomas Heatherwick has left us with a thing of beauty that we sincerely hope will be displayed for others to see.

The opportunity to see the cauldron at such close quarters didn’t disappoint. It was mesmerising, and even the wonderment of watching paralympic athletes could not take these eyes away from this burning flame at the far end of the Olympic Stadium.



See the link below for Thomas Heathewick’s Ted Talk


“This incredible event has 204 nations coming together, so we had a child from each country bringing these copper polished objects in. At the end of the Games this cauldron will dismantle itself and radiate back down to the ground and each of those copper pieces will be taken away by each nation.”

Thomas Heatherwick

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”
– The Buddha

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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