Olympics: athletics and aesthetics

The Olympic Arts Festivals were supposed to be a full partner in the ''marriage of the muscle and the mind'' envisioned by Olympic founder Pierre de Coubertin. But since the first modern Olympics in 1896, it has been a lopsided marriage.

While the eyes of the world have been riveted to the high-jump bar or the balance beam, orchestras and actors at the festivals have played to audiences that could fit in an elevator.

Robert Fitzpatrick is the first to admit that the arts have been wallflowers at the Olympics, brushed aside in the boisterous hurly-burly of sport. Yet the director of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, like all the organizers behind this first privately funded Olympics, is looking to set precedents.

''This will be, whether we like it or not,'' Mr. Fitzpatrick says, ''the largest and most important festival the US has ever had.''

Festival plans are beginning to take shape. What Fitzpatrick and his staff of two are aiming for is a celebration to match the fun, vitality, and sheer quality of the games themselves. The 10-week arts spree will begin June 1, 1984, and end with the end of the games in mid-August.

Some events will ''border on the esoteric'' and some will be ''outrageously fun and popular,'' Fitzpatrick says. The avant-garde and experimental will be juxtaposed with the classical and traditional.

Music, for example, will stretch from Mozart to avant-garde composer Steve Reich to jazz to rock 'n' roll to country and western. There will even be a ''MOR'' (middle of the road) concert.

''I would hope that the festival, for the public, is a . . . lot of fun,'' Fitzpatrick says.

Some events will be aimed at audiences of 18,000 in the Hollywood Bowl with worldwide television coverage, and some will be held in small Los Angeles theaters.

The committee will soon start auditioning street performers to entertain around Olympic sites. ''We want to create an atmosphere around Olympic-related events that this is not business as usual.''

In past Olympics, Fitzpatrick states flatly, the arts aspect was ''incorrectly conceived.'' Previous cultural directors, he explains, failed to recognize that sports itself is a cultural event, and that cultural events like arts and sports shouldn't compete with each other.

This time, most events will be held before the games start. Fitzpatrick, who is president of California Institute of the Arts, sees the festival as a kind of ''preface.'' During the games, arts events will be geared to the sporting spirit.

''After a day of sports,'' Fitzpatrick surmises, ''people are exuberant, gregarious.'' It's not the time for chamber music or Kabuki dance, but major performances of jazz, tap dance, and folk music - ''things that are not only native American, but fun.''

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the arts festival was spread over an entire year. ''Too long,'' Fitzpatrick says. ''Interest waned.'' At Montreal in 1976: ''Too short, too much going on during the games, and too many simultaneous events.''

The L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) is putting about $6 million into the festival. Fitzpatrick's approach is to use this as seed money to attract other sponsors.

The Royal Opera of Covent Garden has agreed to perform three operas, including a world premiere, at the festival. The cost is $3 million, of which the LAOOC is paying a ''very small part.''

''We're using the Olympics as a lever to do things we've always wanted to do in Los Angeles but never had the means, either financially or diplomatically,'' Fitzpatrick says.

The first public event of the festival was the exhibition of the 15 festival posters last month. The next will be the unveiling of Robert Graham's monumental sculpture at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1984.

The only event to include every nation in the Games will be a three-day, multi-arts festival of masks. Since the mask is central to most cultures, the exhibit will highlight national diversity through a common theme.

There will be dance and theater festivals with the best companies of the major traditions around the world. The dozen or so theater companies selected will perform in their native languages - a move Fitzpatrick says has never been tried on this scale in the US.

The visual arts will contrast a ''blockbuster classical museum show'' on Impressionism with an exhibit on the Automobile and Culture which should fetch ''both car buffs and intellectuals who appreciate the irony of holding this show in LA.''

''It is not an elitist festival,'' Fitzpatrick stresses. ''It is a festival of all the arts for all the people.''

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