Prime Minister Harold Macmillan declared in 1957: “Indeed, let us be frank about it. Most of our people have never had it so good.” He was describing the economic success of Britain due to the growth in manufacturing in what has been called the fabulous fifties.
The Edinburgh festivals may experience a similar time during the summer of 2012, due to their receipt of record funding from the public purse that will hopefully enable them to once again, as envisioned by their founders, build a platform for the flowering of the human spirit.
Traditionally, when enterprises such as the Edinburgh festivals mature, they also risk falling into decline, unless they continually innovate. The arts are, by their creative core, masters of innovation. However, despite this ability to constantly create, innovate and re-invent themselves, some of Edinburgh’s festivals may be described as both facile as well as fragile.
For example, in 2011, the Edinburgh International Book Festival had fewer ticket sales and is launching a major development campaign to help fund the organisation, as 80 per cent of the budget must come through earned income (ticket sales, books sales, and sponsorship). One of the smaller festivals, the Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival, passed buckets in the Grassmarket while asking passers-by to “Help save the Mardi Gras”.
One must wonder if the Edinburgh festivals are sufficiently insulated and protected from future competitive threats and economic downturns?
Following on from the summer of 2012, it would be wise to convene a historic, first ever, Scottish Festivals Economic Summit to explore various new ways in which to both secure current funding and avoid the complacency that often occurs with mature organisations by seeking new and innovative funding models.
Perhaps our festivals would benefit from organising a major event to address their long-term funding issues to help ensure they stay the course and grow from strength to strength.
l Professor Joe Goldblatt is head of the International Centre for the Study of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.