Organisers of the 72-year-old event, which generated £3.8 million worth of ticket sales in 2018, have warned it faces slipping into decline after a decade of continual cuts from the Edinburgh City Council.
Director Fergus Linehan suggested the Festival could even end completely if the council continued with its “salami slicing” strategy.
The overhaul of how the council spends its £4.5 million culture budget, which has not been cut as part of the rethink, is set to have a major impact on some of Scotland’s leading arts organisations after they were either targeted for cuts or told to share resources in order to open up funding to other organisations and events.
Bosses running the Festival, King’s, Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres will have to collaborate for the first time on their programme to secure a share of a £1 million funding pot under plans, which will take effort in the spring of next year if they are approved by councillors next week.
The Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, the Scottish Book Trust, the Scottish Poetry Library and the Scottish Storytelling Forum have lost direct financial support and been ordered to work together under the banner of “Edinburgh’s Literary Quarter to get a share of £100,000.
A new £200,000 “flexible fund” is to be opened up to arts organisations across the city, including a new music industry task-force which will be created ahead of the redevelopment of the Ross Bandstand and Leith Theatre, and the creation of a new £45 million concert hall on St Andrew, the city’s first purpose-built venue for more than a century. The ring-fenced cash pot, which will go up to £300,000 in 2021, could also benefit events like Hidden Door and Leith Late.
Among those to lose out are the Collective Gallery, which has just moved to a new home on Calton Hill, the Glasgow-based Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Fiddle Festival, which is held in Edinburgh.
However the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which will be based in the new concert hall, is among those to secure extra funding. Others include the visual art, book and children’s festivals, and Edinburgh Printmakers, which recently unveiled a new home in Fountainbridge.
All those previously funded have had a 10 per cent cut imposed since 2016. But the EIF, which will have its grant cut by nnie per centto £1.9 million by 2021, said the longer trend meant it had lost half a million pounds worth of support - without accounting for inflation.
Mr Linehan said: “The big question for me is when is this going to stop? A decade ago the festival’s core funding from the council was £2.47 million, which is around £3 million in today’s terms.
“No one is saying it is ever going to stop. If anything this looks like an acceleration of what has happened over the last decade.
“We’re going back to levels of funding more than a decade ago when the festival nearly went bankrupt.”
He continued: “I just want to know what the plan is. Do you just keep cutting or is there a point at which the festival ends? In three years time will all roads just lead to a swamp? Is the only strategy to keep on salami slicing? If that is the case then the festival will end. “There has to be a proper discussion. What’s going to happen in three years’ time? Will there be another 10 per cent cut and another three years later?
“If we’d been bouncing along at the same level for the last decade and we had to take our medicine that would be different. But you can’t deteriorate a core funding base indefinitely. I’m not hearing anything to contrary to that.
“Is the brief of the council to wind down funding and manage the decline of the festival without actually saying that you’re doing it?”
Donald Wilson, the city council’s culture convener, said; “Things have moved on in the 70 years since the festivals were established. “This is about the council looking now at exactly what we want for the city in terms of festivals and culture and making sure it is broad enough to take in everybody’s views and really interests.
“The council has made a commitment to widen and deepen participation and opportunities afford by the festivals and arts in the city.
The creation of a flexible fund which opens things up to people who have been excluded in the past is a way forward.”
Other arts organisations were notably more supportive of the council’s shake-up than the EIF.
Duncan Hendry, Chief Executive of Capital Theatres, which runs the Festival and King’s theatres, said: “We are in discussions with the City Council and the cultural organisations with which we have been grouped, about working together more cooperatively, creatively and efficiently. We view this as a constructive proposal which has the potential to deliver exciting collaborations.”
Mike Griffiths, executive director of the Royal Lyceum, said: “We look forward to working with the council and the other companies in our grouping to explore how greater partnership working, allied with the sustained investment promised, can support the city’s year-round theatre organisations to deliver on the ambitions of the council’s cultural plan for the city.”
Ali Bowden, director of the Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust, said: We’ve always worked very closely with other organisations and collaboration on activity and programmes is what we do each day.
“The council’s focus on a Literary Quarter grouping is entirely logical and reflects work already under development.”
Alistair Mackie, chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), said: “We’re extremely grateful for the long term support that the RSNO has received from Edinburgh City Council over many years.
“Whilst any loss of funds is challenging, we appreciate that there are also challenges facing the council. As Scotland’s national orchestra, we remain committed to providing great music-making for the citizens of Edinburgh.”
Cllr Wilson added: “While we recognise realigning our existing resources in new ways means change for some, it also allows opportunities for others.
“The aim is to nurture more new work and emerging artists and enable greater access to our funding programmes for previously unfunded groups.”
HOW THE FIGURES BREAK DOWN
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Imaginate (Edinburgh International Children’s Festival)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Edinburgh Art Festival
Edinburgh International Festival
Festival Theatre and King’s Theatre
2020-21: Share of £1m
Royal Lyceum Theatre Company
2020-21: Share of £1m
2020-21: Share of £1 m
Scots Fiddle Festival
Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust
2020-21: Share of £100,000
TRACS (Scottish Storytelling Forum)
2020-21: Share of £100,000