Edinburgh Festival to get extra funding for 70th birthday

Julia Amour, the new head of Edinburgh's festivals, wants local businesses to help fund events. Picture: Rob McDougall

Julia Amour, the new head of Edinburgh's festivals, wants local businesses to help fund events. Picture: Rob McDougall

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An extra half a million pounds of public funding has been found to mark the forthcoming 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival - a year after experts warned the city faced slipping out the “premier division” for staging major events.

Julia Amour, the new figurehead of Edinburgh’s festivals, said she hoped significantly more backing for the city’s flagship events could be secured by the time the official birthday is marked in August 2017.

The new festivals supremo revealed some of the world’s leading artists and thinkers were expected to be invited to visit the city that summer to help celebrate the origins of the world-famous event - instigated after the Second World War to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit.”

Major new public events are also intended to be held in the summer of 2017 in a bid to broaden the appeal of the festivals, which are already worth more than £260 million to the economy and attract around five million people each year.

The creation of a vast new digital archive for the festivals, which would be partly crowd-sourced, is planned to help attract new audiences. Hundreds of Commonwealth Games-style volunteers could be recruited to help welcome visitors to the city in 2017 under a new strategy to get more young people involved in the festivals.

Ms Amour said further funding for the festivals could help them spread out of the city centre and develop new collaborations across the country.

However the former British Council executive said Festivals Edinburgh was committed to the introduction of a controversial new funding mechanism which would see businesses which benefit from the city’s major events pay a contribution for the first time.

She insisted such a scheme is necessary to ensure Edinburgh retained its world-leading reputation - weeks after tourism leaders launched a campaign against the introduction of any form of tourist or bed tax, warning it could “damage” and “hinder” the industry.

The “Thundering Hooves” study, commissioned by Festivals Edinburgh and key public funders, warned of the dangers of complacency over the status of the city’s 12 major events.

Ms Amour, the director of Festivals Edinburgh, said: “Across partners in the Thundering Hooves steering group, around £500,000 in additional funding is on the table or going through internal approval processes. That’s a good amount to have secured at the start of the year before the anniversary.

“We’re in a good place at the moment. We’re optimistic that there is a considerable amount more to come. 2017 is an important moment for the festivals to make sure the eyes of the world are on Edinburgh in a really big way and is the start of a new phase of their development.”

Last summer saw the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe share the same dates for the first time in 18 years, with almost 20,000 people gathering in Lothian Road for the spectacular “Harmonium Project” which lit up the Usher Hall.

Ms Amour added: “It would be great if we could animate new bits of the city in 2017, get people to reconnect with their love of the festivals and attract new people to experience that magic for themselves.

“We want to give people new ways of experiencing the festival city. We’re working with Edinburgh University, tourism organisations and other partners to provide an amazing visitor experience in 2017.

“The festivals are an amazing platform for skills development for both the culture and tourism sectors. We want to think about how we can really use that to the city and the country’s advantage.

“One of the things we’re going to be looking at is connecting up the volunteering opportunities across the festivals with the city’s efforts to become a more welcoming destination.

“The scale of the audience which attends Edinburgh’s festivals throughout the year is a bit like having an event a Commonwealth Games in the city every year.

“There is huge potential to provide more opportunities for people. The experience of 2014 in Glasgow shows that there is room for a volunteering scheme in Edinburgh and we’d like to work with the city to explore it.”

The Thundering Hooves report, published last May, recommended the 70th anniversary be used by the festivals to “renew their international ambition and purpose in response to 21st cetury global challenges.”

Ms Amour cited teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who visited the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2014, as an example of the calibre of guest hoping to be attracted to the city in 2017.

She added: “I know many of the festival directors really want to reflect the founding vision of the festival in their programming for 2017 and also provide a response to contemporary international issues like idealogical conflicts, migration, environmental degradation and inequalities.

“The festivals have always connected with contemporary issues, but these festival directors have an ambitions to do so with leading global artists and thinkers in 2017.”

The extra funding for 2017 includes a pledge of £200,000 from Edinburgh City Council, which already puts £4.1 million into the major festivals.

However it has warned festival organisers to brace themselves for a 10 per cent across-the-board cut over the next four years under wider plans to make £147 million worth of savings.

The council has led calls for the introduction of some form of visitor levy or tourist tax but has been unable to persuade the Scottish Government, which has just reduced its support for a dedicated Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund, to back the idea.

The Thundering Hooves report said “new thinking and innovative solutions” were needed to end the “long-term stalemate” over alternative funding mechanisms for the festivals.

The study stated: “If current investment into the world-class programming of Edinburgh’s festivals is not maintained, their premier division status is at risk of relegation.”

Ms Amour told The Scotsman: “I think it would be fair to say that the public funders are doing their best to keep levels of core funding stable.

“We’re in discussions with lots of different stakeholders about alternative sources of revenue raising.

“Festivals Edinburgh is supportive of finding a mechanism for the people who benefit from the economic impact of the festivals and the 5000 jobs they create to make sure that there is a contribution from them.

“We recognise there are a number of ways you may do that. We think it’s really important to have a well-informed, realistic public debate about the best way to tackle those issues.

“We’re conscious that certain people are concerned about possible negative effects on tourism growth, but we want to work in collaboration with the industry to find a solution.

“Edinburgh is known around the world as the festival city. The whole premise of the Thundering Hooves report is that we’ve got to keep that premier division status.

“If the pressures on public budgets are such that they’re not going to be able to continue to maintain or increase levels of funding we have to find others ways of ensuring the festivals are invested in and keep at the top of their game.”

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