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Sandra Smith
Head of Conservation

At the recent Museums Association Conference I listened to a very inspiring speech by Jude Kelly from the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), who talked of the original concepts of the founder of the 'modern' Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin. Through this event he encompassed his beliefs and values; believing that education and striving for perfection would ultimately create a better society. For him, the Olympic Games would be far from a simple sports competition; they were to be egalitarian and chivalrous; evoking compassion and understanding across  humanity.

In line with these ideals, LOCOG wants the London Olympics to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of the people of Britain by leaving behind a 'cultural legacy'.

The global London culture, with over 300 different languages spoken in the Greater London area, contributed to the success of the bid, but the expectations of such a cosmopolitan population for the cultural legacy will be correspondingly diverse. In a multicultural society there is the need for different ethnic groups to have a sense of belonging without loosing site of their own individualism. Kelly and the Deputy Mayor of London, Nicky Gavron, eloquently highlighted the significant role that museums can make to realising the vision of an on-going cultural legacy and made a plea that we actively engage in this process. Museums can provide a tangible link to and between different cultures, challenge current perceptions and show how cross-cultural interchange inspires and creates. Through museums (and other cultural activities) individuals can find a sense of belonging and pride in who they are.

Reflecting on the Olympic goals it is easy to see how such a beautiful, global and tangible collection as  the V&A can rise to this challenge, and in reading through the contributions in this edition of the Journal I was struck by how Conservation continuously, but perhaps unconsciously, already contributes to these concepts. Allen, Tovar, and Patel & Costaras highlight links between cultures and how the collection preserves identity which leads to a sense of belonging, of pride, of reference. Marques shows how cultures draw on each other for inspiration. 

For many museums the Olympic success is a mixed blessing; whilst we all look forward to additional visitor numbers and the associated revenue, we are downhearted by the realisation that most funding will be directed to sport-related activities over the next seven years. But maybe we should rise to the challenge that the London 2012 Committee has set us, and look at this as an opportunity to make a real difference to the multicultural society in which we now live and realise that this is something in which we can all actively become involved.