The director of the Edinburgh International Festival says he is having to rethink plans to mark the 70th anniversary of the event in the wake of the Brexit vote – to underline that its links with Europe are “as strong as ever.”
Fergus Linehan admitted the prospect of the UK leaving the EU had triggered a review of the 2017 programme and the festival’s relationships with overseas venues, companies and events.
The Irishman said there was no intention of the EIF shedding its role as a European institution or narrowing its focus in the wake of the referendum result.
He pledged that the landmark event in 2017 would remain true to the origins of the festival in the aftermath of the Second World War, when it was “part of the whole reconstruction of Europe.”
Mr Linehan’s predecessor, Sir Jonathan Mills, attracted controversy when he insisted that the event steer clear of any events tackling the debate over Scottish independence.
But Mr Linehan said next year’s anniversary programme would reflect the international status of Edinburgh and the “overwhelming” support for remaining in the EU in the city, insisting it would be impossible for the EIF to take a non-political stance.
He told The Scotsman that the Brexit result had come careering towards the festival at a time when it was reflecting on the event’s 1947 origins.
Mr Linehan said: “We’re currently establishing whole a range of meetings our key European partners to just restate the fact that our links are as strong as ever and that, Brexit or no Brexit, the idea of Europe is incredibly strong and incredibly important, particularly in Scotland.
“The festival is a European institution. We were actually nominated for a Nobel Prize at one point, on the grounds that it was part of the whole reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War.
“The whole idea of a multi-genre arts festival, which was international, was completely new in 1947 and was based on the idea of Europe at that point. It wasn’t about celebrating a certain culture or art form. At the core of it was the idea that if we create this moment in time as a sort of neutral space and celebrate what we share it will form the basis of recognising what we have in common rather than what we have apart.
“The one thing you have to say about Edinburgh is that it has always been an international city. It thrives on interntional finance and academia. I don’t think it was surprising that the city voted even more overwhelmingly in terms of staying in Europe than anywhere else in Scotland.
“The questions around the vote are so close to the purpose and the genesis of this festival. We can’t just take a non-political view on this one. It is completely at the core of what the festival is about.
“The festival has never presented itself as things looking through a Scottish prism completely. It is an international organisation.
“All those ideas about Edinburgh as the Athens of the North and the festival providing a platform for the ‘flowering of the human spirit,’ which to me have always sounded very florid and old-fashioned, suddenly sound incredibly relevant.”
Around 2,440 artists from 36 nations will take part in this year’s EIF.