‘Don’t parachute in major events,’ Fringe Society chief urges politicians

The figurehead of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has spoken out against politicians “parachuting” in major events due to their profile and economic impact.

David Hasselhoff at the MTV EMA's 2014 at The Hydro in Glasgow. Picture: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for MTV.

Shona McCarthy, Fringe Society chief executive, said supporting home-grown culture should be far more important for towns and cities.

A year after the society lost its £210,000 grant from Creative Scotland, she cited the example of the MTV Europe Music Awards, which have been staged in Edinburgh and Glasgow but with around £1 million in support from the public purse.

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In a speech to European marketing experts, she insisted the Fringe would not have survived if it had not been “inextricably” woven into the city’s fabric and become as much a part of its story as its historic architecture. But Ms McCarthy admitted it was facing “major challenges,” including dealing with the “massive influx” of audiences into the city and the soaring cost of accommodation. She said it was reliant on the “enormous collective permission” of the city and stressed the importance of “robustly assessing the mood of the citizens to their festivals”.

Ms McCarthy was in charge of the reign of Londonderry as UK City of Culture before being appointed by the Fringe Society in 2016. She previously led Belfast’s bid to be crowned European Capital of Culure.

She said: “One of the things I’ve learned is that there is such a temptation to bring in events from the outside and parachute them in. It always seems to be what the politicians want.

“But in my experience the things that stick, the things that stay, the things that really engage civic pride and provide a platform for cultural practitioners are the things that are home-grown and speak to the DNA of a place. I genuinely think it’s why the Edinburgh festivals, 72 years on, have not just thrived, but deliver on all of those things that people want from a city of culture.

“I’d go as far as to say if the Fringe were not so rooted in the intrinsic values and fabric of the city of its birth it couldn’t have survived and grown to become the world’s biggest performing arts festival.

“Edinburgh has continued to embrace the Fringe and allowed it to give voice to performing artists from around the world. The Fringe has been instrumental in turning the city into a global stage.

“The Fringe is huge, it does completely transform this city, along with the other festivals, every August. It also has major challenges. How does a small city like Edinburgh deal with the massive influx of people every year?”