Giant elephants and Hull naked: we can’t let Covid kill off mass cultural gatherings

Giant elephants and Hull naked: we can’t let Covid kill off mass cultural gatherings

August 17, 2020

From the Olympics opening to a three-storey elephant and Hull unclothed, mass events have blown standard notions of art away. The UK government admits the health risks are low – so why won’t it back them?

Let me take you back to another life. It’s 3 May 2006, the night before the now legendary performance of The Sultan’s Elephant by French company Royal de Luxe. Nicky Webb, the co-founder of Artichoke, and I are standing in the Mall in London, watching the unending parade of taxis, bikers and joggers grind their way homeward. “Do you think anyone will come?” we mutter anxiously.

For us, it had been a seven-year journey of negotiating with public authorities, who initially described the prospect of the show as an “infringement of the dignity of the ceremonial route”. In the end, this gigantic, groundbreaking piece of street theatre – in which a mechanical elephant three-storeys tall trundled and trumpeted its way through the capital and a time-travelling plot – took London by storm and changed the official view of what constitutes great art.

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