NCA General Election Countdown: 10 Most Transformative Moments in the Arts – Michael Smith

In the countdown to the UK General Election, the arts are being drowned out by the B word. We want to push it up the agenda. So we'll be publishing lists of ground-breaking arts events to remind everyone about the power of culture to transform lives and maintain a healthy, balanced nation.

We’ll be publishing lists from our trustees. And we’d love to hear from you about the arts that have influenced your life, comment on Twitter or email us via hello@forthearts.org.uk.

Next up is trustee, Michael Smith. Like Sam’s, his list is all post-World War II and, in the moment we find ourselves in, he has focussed on a ten that had political impact, and changed the way that we think about certain political issues.


Michael Smith’s Top Ten:



Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games 2012: The scale, originality and ambition of this performance confounded all expectations – a world-beating happening that showcased all that is exceptional about our Isles without shying away from controversial topics and and brutal history.



Edinburgh Fringe: The world’s largest arts festival since 1947 – it completely transforms the city and is the hinge point from which most live performers measure their year. A global export and reputation builder, annually issuing close to three million tickets across 300+ venues.


Live Aid 1985: In less connected times, this felt like an unbelievably naive undertaking. Yet somehow it worked and transformed perceptions of the power of pop, raised a lot of money and kick-started Sport Aid, Comic Relief etc.


The Sultan’s Elephant 2006: It’s impossible to describe the wonder of seeing an enormous mechanical elephant and a giant puppet girl, watched by a million awe-struck faces. The four day event set the standard for public investment in large-scale free public performance.

You’ll Never Walk Alone: Gerry and the Pacemakers released a version of this song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, in 1963. It was adopted by the crowd at Anfield (Liverpool’s stadium) and is now an anthem on terraces across the globe.


Star Wars release 1977: A decade after ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ had defined the way we all perceive space, ‘Star Wars’ used that visual template to redefine the UK and transatlantic film industry, special effects, post-production and merchandising.


Grayson Perry wins the Turner Prize: in 2003, a foul-mouthed, transvestite potter from Essex made an ideal target of outrage when he won this most controversial art prize. But very quickly, this articulate, down-to-earth man has become a National treasure with universal appeal.


Angel of the North 1998: Beloved as the symbol of the North East, this work has transcended art; it is an icon, a point of pride and pilgrimage. It changed the way we all think about outdoor art and publicly funded commissions.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Lots of books are hyped by publishers but this release in 1998 felt special. Two decades later the Potter phenomenon has shaped a generation and spawned countless copies and spin-offs; its influence has spread far, far beyond publishing.


David Bowie on Top of the Pops: In 1972, an androgynous Bowie draped an arm over the shoulder of guitarist Mick Ronson and sent a shiver through the nation. It’s now impossible to imagine a moment where such a slight act of rebellion could galvanise and disgust with such power.

We’ll be publishing more lists, here and on Twitter. Do let us know what you think and send us your own suggestions.