Brian Ferguson: Foolish to cut festival funding

Edinburgh Council plans to cut funding for this year's festival.  Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Edinburgh Council plans to cut funding for this year's festival. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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IT SEEMS bizarre to be contemplating the fate of the Edinburgh Festival at a time of year when daylight is in short supply, ferries and flights are cancelled and thousands of homes are left without power, but as anyone involved with one of the events that unfolds in the city will attest, the organisation of them is a year-round business.

It seems bizarre to be contemplating the fate of the Edinburgh Festival at a time of year when daylight is in short supply, ferries and flights are cancelled and thousands of homes are left without power, but as anyone involved with one of the events that unfolds in the city will attest, the organisation of them is a year-round business.

Programmes, artists, venues and shows are booked way before tickets go on sale and in some cases well over a year in advance.

To get an idea of what is involved in the running of a Fringe venue, you have to look at the websites of some long-established promoters. A single promoter can have more than 100 shows on in their own programme. There were almost 300 venues at the Fringe last year and more than 3,000 shows.

Yet the Fringe, itself the world’s biggest arts festival, is merely one dish on the menu that is served up each summer, with the Edinburgh International Festival and the city’s book, film, jazz and visual art festivals boasting their own large followings and increased ticket sales.

By any measure, they are a remarkable success story. Why, then, are there growing rumblings of discontent from those involved in some of these money-spinning events?

For some time, it has felt like Edinburgh takes these events and all that they bring to the city for granted. Some locals seem to regard the month of August as a horrendous experience to be grimly endured rather than embraced.

Now there is growing concern that the city council – which puts more than £4 million a year into the festivals – is beginning to take their success for granted, by suggesting that that subsidy be reduced as part of a wide-ranging budget-cutting exercise.

On the face of it, it is a major surprise that anyone is taking the idea seriously, bearing in mind they generate more than £260m for the economy. Yet some senior officials apparently believe they should take their share of the pain.

One suggestion – on which public opinion has been sought – involves a 20 per cent cut in the £12m arts and culture budget, which would lead to the closure of the Usher Hall, the closure of museums and galleries and significant cuts to those money-spinning festivals. That this idea has been put forward when the biggest-ever consultation of the cultural sector is under way and the council is funding a ten-year study into the safeguarding of the festivals almost beggars belief.

Perhaps last week’s revelations that some festivals have been left on standstill funding by Creative Scotland for the next few years, or cut adrift completely from regular funding, will help focus minds among those holding the purse-strings at the City Chambers.

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