Figurehead of Edinburgh festivals to stand down

THE figurehead of Edinburgh’s festivals for most of the last decade is stepping down from her post, just months after being awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours.

Faith Liddell does not have a job lined up and is taking a well-earned break. Picture: Kenny Smith

Faith Liddell has told colleagues and stakeholders she will be leaving her post as director of Festivals Edinburgh in the autumn, ahead of the landmark 70th summer of events in 2016.

It is understood Ms Liddell, one of the key figures in the Scottish arts scene over the last two decades, does not have another job lined up and will be taking a six-month sabbatical.

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She was the first director of Festivals Edinburgh, an organisation formed out of an alliance of the capital’s major events which commissioned a landmark report into how to deal with growing competition around the world.

Her organisation is charged with leading efforts to maintain Edinburgh’s mantle as the world’s leading festival city, through joint initiatives and projects, and pressing the case for funding levels to be protected and enhanced.

Ms Liddell is leaving at a crucial time for the festivals after a report published last month warned that Edinburgh faces being toppled from its position unless it can attract new funding, create new venues, and catch up on the digital revolution.

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

Festivals Edinburgh chair Ken Hay said: “The strength of Festivals Edinburgh is and will continue to be the individual and collective will and ambition of its constituent festivals. Like many organisations, succession planning is included within our wider business plan and a process of recruitment will shortly commence.”

Ms Liddell, a former marketing manager of the Fringe and a previous director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, has been instrumental in the development of the festivals in the face of the economic downturn, with audiences booming since her appointment in December 2006.

Ms Liddell, who is also a former director of Dundee Contemporary Arts, began working for Edinburgh two days a week from home when the organisation was officially formed in 2007, the year after the landmark Thundering Hooves report was published. It now has a nine-strong staff.

Festivals Edinburgh has led efforts to secure extra funding to coincide with the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games, and also played a key role in the establishment and development of a dedicated Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund, which is supported by the Scottish Government.

An additional £3.25 million was secured last year, over and above core funding, with several special projects developed for a cultural programme inspired by the Glasgow games.

Joanna Baker, managing director of the Edinburgh International Festival, said: “The collaborative work through Festival Edinburgh led by Faith, as well as special project funding, which has ensured continued investment in high-quality programming, have delivered a very stable and successful period where the city’s festivals have defied the recession and assisted in keeping the city’s economy buoyant in a very tough economic climate.”

Book festival director Nick Barley said: “Edinburgh’s festivals enjoy something enviable and rare: worldwide recognition. That recognition hasn’t happened by accident – it is thanks in no small part to Faith’s dedicated, inspirational, unbelievably smart work.

“I confidently predict she’ll make a high-profile return to public life in a new guise, once she’s had a well-earned break.”