RICHARD Demarco, the veteran arts impresario who has attended every Edinburgh Festival since its inception in 1947, has warned that the city’s August arts extravaganza has become bloated, over-commercialised and too dominated by the pursuit of awards.
During a lecture at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, he bemoaned the loss of the founding spirit of the Festival, which was initially launched to bring nations together in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Demarco, one of the founders of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, said he had been left “disgusted” by the pursuit of money at the arts festival in modern times, and he spoke of his “distaste” at the domination of stand-up comedy at the Fringe.
Demarco was named European Citizen of the Year last August and received the Edinburgh Award, a major civic honour, from the city council in December.
The Scottish Government has pledged to try to find a permanent home for his archive, believed to be worth up to £20 million, which has been moved around Edinburgh several times since the closure of his permanent gallery in the city’s west end in 1974.
Demarco was speaking during a Fringe event at the arts centre Summerhall, where much of his archive is currently in storage.
Demarco said: “For 40 years of the Edinburgh Festival, nobody got five-star accolades, nobody got any prizes.
“It wasn’t about aspiring through the arts to become a celebrity or to become rich.
“The world has gone bonkers. The rules of the game are now the same as the ones that apply in Hollywood.
“It is about everything being turned into a competition and we are asked to make heroes of those who win and to take our attention away from those who lose.
“If you want to do something really distasteful turn the world of art into the world of entertainment.
“There are 1000 poor devils in Edinburgh who are known as stand-up comics. They are not really here, they are just using this place to be somewhere else.
“At the end of this year’s Festival, it will be considered a great success because it will have been the biggest ever and more money will have gone into the coffers of the Edinburgh citizens. It is disgusting.”
Demarco has been a key cultural figure in Scotland for more than half a century and has amassed a huge collection of art treasures. He has best known for the number of avant-garde artists and companies he has brought from around Europe to Edinburgh, going back as far back as the 1960s.