Edinburgh facing festival risk over funding fears

EDINBURGH faces being toppled from its position as the global festival capital unless it can attract substantial new funding, create new venues, catch up on the digital revolution and make it easier to stay in the city, new research has found.

Research has found that Edinburgh needs to attract new funding to maintain its global festival capital status. Picture: Toby Williams
Research has found that Edinburgh needs to attract new funding to maintain its global festival capital status. Picture: Toby Williams

Its festivals are being urged to save money by working together on projects, embrace new technology to allow audiences to experience events in their own homes, help develop new air routes to key festival markets, and target wealthy diaspora and arts philanthropists to shore up projected funding gaps.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are also being urged to work together to promote their “complementary” high-profile festivals and agree a “memorandum of understanding” for future joint working in the wake of a Commonwealth Games pilot project.

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A 10-year blueprint to protect the status of events like the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, the Tattoo and the Hogmanay celebrations warns they risk relegation from the “premier division” if current levels of backing are not maintained.

The majority of the £9 million in public sector support comes from Edinburgh City Council and Creative Scotland, with the Scottish Government providing £2.25 million a year through its “Edinburgh festivals expo fund.” Consultants brought in by a body overseeing the 12 main festivals say “radical” solutions must be found to cope with a looming “fiscal cliff”.

Their report states: “The combination of ticket sales, private finance and public funding is at the heart of the festivals’ success. The erosion of public investment is likely to have a disproportionate effect on earned income, with investment in innovative product and investor confidence affected.”

Previous research in 2006, which looked at the growing competition from events across the UK and overseas, had warned that the city’s pre-eminent position was “vulnerable.” Entitled Thundering Hooves 2.0, the new study found “Edinburgh’s place as the foremost festival city is, for the moment, secure.”

But the report - which benchmarked the city against Austin, in Texas, Montreal, Venice and Manchester - make 38 different recommendations and is intended as a “spur to action to make sure Scotland, the city and its festivals do not rest on their laurels and become complacent.”

The £50,000 study found infrastructure improvements and investment in some of Edinburgh’s competitor cities were exposing significant “weaknesses” in the Scottish capital, which has lost a number of cultural venues in recent years.

A new concert hall and the creation of a digital arts centre at Edinburgh University are recommended for exploration to address gaps in provision, while the study also reports accommodation shortages at both the “low cost” and “luxury” ends of the market. The festivals were also said to be “behind the curve” in their use of new technology and have been urged to become “leaders in the digital sphere.”

Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer said the report showed the festivals’ “huge potential,” but was also honest about its looming challenges.

She added: “It’s important we recognise and are realistic about the continued pressures on public funding, and that we all work together, be imaginative and think hard to protect the important vitality of the festivals.”

Sandy Howat, deputy council leader, said the authority was fully aware the festivals were “very much dependent” on their public funding.

He added: “The cuts that are coming are going to be a considerable challenge, but the council also has to recognise that our cultural budget at the moment is reasonably small considering the benefit that culture as a whole gives the city.”

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “In the past 10 years the environment has evolved beyond anything that could have been imagined and Edinburgh’s festivals face new challenges and challengers.

“Our festivals need to be dynamic and brave to embrace future opportunities and to protect Edinburgh’s position as the world’s leading festival city.”

CONSULTANTS BOP and Festivals and Events International have recommended the biggest ever global marketing campaign for the festivals is created to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the city’s first major events being held in 1947.

They have urged the festivals to use the model of programmes developed to coincide with the London Olympics and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games to inspire a five-year celebration.

The festivals are also being urged to develop Olympics and Commonwealth Games-style volunteering programmes, and explore how to offer more apprenticeships and internships.

The report recommends the creation of new initiatives to bridge the gap between residents who feel “great pride” in the city hosting major events and those who buy tickets.

It says leadership is needed to overcome “siloed thinking” in the city, while new accommodation is recommended to match audience demographics and the “world-class quality” of competing cities.