Call for wealthy to save Scots arts festivals

Events like the Book Festival would benefit from a year-round presence. Picture: JP

Events like the Book Festival would benefit from a year-round presence. Picture: JP

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SCOTLAND’S cash-strapped arts festivals need the charitable equivalent of venture capitalists to survive austerity.

This is one of the arguments to be put forward at the first Festival of Ideas hosted by the Royal Society for Arts (RSA) in Edinburgh.

International experts will explore innovative ways of funding in the face of a lack of public money and greater competition. Venture philanthropy is advocated by Professor Joe Goldblatt of Queen Margaret University’s International Centre for the Study of Planned Events.

“One option I would suggest involves venture philanthropy in which the funder, rather than expecting financial reward, receives a social reward such as seeing more children attend and take part in events.

“The problem for many festivals is that they do not have a year-round presence. Venture philanthropy could help by offering funds to enable this to happen. For example the Edinburgh International Festival could expand its art in schools and hospitals programme to run all year,” said Goldblatt, who is to chair the debate.

He will be joined by Leonard Harper Gow from the Rowchester Music Festival in the Borders and RSA fellows Nick Barley, of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Professor Gayle McPherson, who is chair in events and cultural policy at the University of the West of Scotland.

Goldblatt, who also believes audience contributions should be looked at in order to help under-pressure budgets, said: “The current context shows an increasing number of festivals seeking funding from the same pot of money so other options must be explored.”

Earlier this year, The Scotsman revealed that Scotland’s flagship cultural events and festival venues had bids for more than £10 million worth of funding rejected by Scotland’s national arts agency, Creative Scotland. Creative Scotland awarded £100 million worth of grants in October – but only funded 119 organisations out of 264 applicants for the next three years.

Explaining his second funding option, Goldblatt said: “This involves an ‘audience contribution transfer’, in the form of an additional £1 voluntary contribution on every ticket sold. Broadway have run such a scheme for the past number of years, they haven’t labelled it a tax but a ‘league fee’.

“In Edinburgh surveys have shown that 85 per cent of people support the festivals, so it’s about tapping into this and making people realise they must help fund the festivals.”

The festival funding debate is part of the two-day event from 20 March at St Stephen’s Church which was recently purchased for community rental and use by philanthropist, Leslie Benzies of Rockstar North, the maker of Grand Theft Auto video games

Other topics include Unesco heritage status, privacy, surveillance and secrecy and fashion’s effect on body image.

Speakers include former Unesco World Heritage Centre director, Francesco Bandarin, from Venice, a key figure in urban planning and conservation, who will speak on Cities as Heritage.

Professor Pier Luigi Sacco from IULM, Milan and a member of the Warwick Commission on the future of cultural value will discuss the creative industries.

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