Curtain comes down on a truly joyous Edinburgh Festival Fringe - Shona McCarthy

Every year, the last day of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is met with mixed emotions. It’s the culmination of months of hard work by a cast of thousands, and the very fact that it has taken place almost every August for the last 76 years is huge testament to this wondrous festival and its resilience throughout the years.

This summer has seen a return to a truly joyous Fringe. It has felt fresh, brave and energetic, with a sense of ambition for a post-Covid era that is defined by creativity and care.

Since 2019 the fragility of the Fringe has been discussed at length. Covid, combined with the UK’s departure from the EU and the current cost-of-living crisis, have put a renewed focus on the long-term sustainability of not just this festival, but the cultural sector more widely.

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With the arts often undervalued in both social and diplomatic terms, this year’s Fringe is a timely reminder of the importance of the arts as a space for conversation, connection and looking at old issues with a fresh lens. From a local audience to the 70 countries represented on Fringe stages, the cultural and international relevance of this festival for Scotland and the UK is undeniable. Along with our sister festivals, we are on the scale of a FIFA World Cup, but Edinburgh’s festivals deliver every single year. The Edinburgh Fringe is indeed a vital, integral part of the UK’s cultural economy and ecology.

In 2022 we launched a future vision – to give anyone a stage and everyone a seat. This vision was accompanied by six new development goals, which set out a range of objectives around areas such as ensuring artists can thrive, being good citizens, delivering on net zero targets and ensuring digital evolution. Our collective ambitions are significant and focused, and in working with a range of partners we are in a strong position to achieve these. However, there is much to do, and we need support now, more than ever, to ensure that this joyous festival, quite unlike anything else on this planet, remains relevant and sustainable for the future.

When aligning the Fringe to a World Cup, it isn’t to shout about the number of people who come to shows or the number of tickets issued; but to stress that the scale and support that is required to deliver the Fringe and August festivals every year should be commensurate to a mega-event. This summer Scotland hosted the World Cycling Championships and last year Birmingham hosted the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Mega-events by their very nature generate media coverage, tourism footfall and drive economic and social impacts; yet they appear to be more valued through significant financial investment than their cultural counterparts who deliver the same results, and do so every year.

This August there were over 3,500 registered shows from over 70 countries, across nearly 300 venues at the Fringe. We welcomed 14 international showcases with performers representing countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, France and Ireland; and in addition, we also met visiting governments and officials from home and abroad, showcasing what the Fringe is, and how it sits at the very heart of international dialogue and at its heart, cultural diplomacy. Over 830 accredited media explored the festival to review work, broadcast the event and share content across every social media channel possible. We welcomed over 1,300 promoters, agents and producers who sought work to take on tour, for broadcast development, or to commission for upcoming events and festivals around the world. This work is also a great platform for showcasing talent from home, as this festival there were nearly 1,000 shows from Scotland.

It’s important to remember that it’s the artists themselves who are at the heart of the Fringe. The writers, actors, creatives and risk-takers who bring work are those that are the beating heart of what takes place.

There has been an ongoing conversation about how the festival can support those who may not have the financial means to take a show to Edinburgh. In 2023 we launched the Keep It Fringe fund, which provided £2,000 bursaries to 50 artists who face a range of barriers in bringing their story to the Fringe. We received 677 applications, highlighting again the significant support needed to allow this festival to be inclusive to all. We are fundraising to extend this project and hope to support even more artists in 2024.

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For Fringe audiences, the majority of those experiencing the festival are local to Scotland and the UK. With the average 2023 ticket price less than £12, over 300 shows free and the popular Street Events programme; the festival continues to support those staycationing and allows families to experience both local and international talent, right on their doorstep. It’s true to say that Edinburgh’s residents are some of the most vocal supporters of the Fringe, understanding that what happens in our city every summer is truly unique. Our huge heartfelt thanks to them for their encouragement and reception every August and for filling their boots in 2023!

As we close the last day of the 2023 Fringe, we thank the thousands of artists, producers, venues and the workers at the festival, who have delivered an event of such joy and excitement that we almost can’t believe it’s over for another year. Thank you also to the people who made donations and to the organisations that provided essential funding. For those that are in a position to financially support this globally recognised event we set you a task. Talk to us. Be the supporters that this unique festival needs to be sustained, to allow its evolution and to exist. Listen to its artists, its place-makers and its audiences. Hear their stories and recognise and support the Fringe into another 76 years of celebration. The Fringe Society, a registered charity, is here year-round and we would welcome the opportunity to show you the impact your financial support could make. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe: there simply isn’t anything else like it on this planet.



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