Brian Ferguson: Summit on Edinburgh’s arts scene

The refurbishment of the Usher Hall was well worth the effort when the work was completed. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The refurbishment of the Usher Hall was well worth the effort when the work was completed. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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THERE is an air of anticipation about the summit being staged in Edinburgh tonight. The great, the good and the grassroots are expected to pack into Summerhall to grapple with what its “culture capital” status actually means, where the city is going wrong and what can be done to nurture and develop the existing arts scene.

Those involved in the instigation of the rather oddly-titled “Desire Lines” project, which is intended to result in a series of recommendations for the city council, have been at pains to point out that the process is being carried out independently.

If anyone in a senior position from the council does show up there is likely to be no hiding place over a perceived failure to address long-standing gaps in the city’s cultural infrastructure, the handling of noise complaints about live music events and a lack of protection for historic venues from property developers.

It is also worth recognising what can be achieved when minds are concentrated and people in the arts work with the council, rather than adopt deeply entrenched positions.

The complex refurbishment of the Usher Hall was a time-consuming, painful and costly experience for the council, but was well worth the effort when the work was completed. The extension to the Festival Theatre, where Fringe promoters Gilded Balloon have just announced a new monthly club, the relocation of the Collective Gallery to Calton Hill, and a deal to create a new home for Edinburgh Printmakers on the site of the former Scottish & Newcastle brewery in Fountainbridge all relied on the council’s backing.

The restoration of the Assembly Rooms has certainly breathed new life into the building outwith the Edinburgh Festival. Its revamp triggered a mini-revolution on George Street, firstly during August and then for a year-long pilot giving more space to pedestrians and allowing restaurants to spill out into the street. A welcome spin-off is that St Andrew Square Garden has become a cultural hub throughout August and during the festive season.

What needs to emerge in the next 12 months is a list of priority projects, projected timescales and where financial support could potentially come from. Plugging those infrastructure gaps, working with grassroots organisations to create new events outwith the hectic summer peak, ensuring cultural elements are guaranteed in major city centre developments and launching a dedicated campaign to support the music scene would be a start.

It would also send out all the right messages if a significant new pot of money could be set aside to turn into reality the hopes and dreams that emerge from the project.