Brian Ferguson: Edinburgh’s festivals need more

Rachael Clerke performs her 'Freedom speech', in front of Edinburgh Castle. Picture: Jane Barlow
Rachael Clerke performs her 'Freedom speech', in front of Edinburgh Castle. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THERE was something quite fitting about taking stock on the state of Edinburgh’s festivals in the grand circle of the Usher Hall.

A few hours earlier an announcement had slipped out that a study was under way into the long-term future of the city’s festivals. It came the day after Edinburgh International Festival director Sir Jonathan Mills told The Scotsman of the EIF’s need to significantly boost its funding over the next decade if it is to retain its quality.

Two major consultancies have been charged with plotting a course for the next ten years with one clear aim: ensuring Edinburgh “retains its place as the world’s leading festival city”. Fortunately, a significant chunk of work has already been done in a previous study, published in 2006. It is to be reviewed as part of the new report for Festivals Edinburgh.

But a lot has happened in eight years, not least changes in senior personnel running events, the digital technology revolution, the huge growth of the Fringe and the controversial relocation of the Film Festival out of August.

But what of the future? Not much was given away in Friday’s announcement amid the predictable talk of risks, challenges and opportunities. But a few helpful ideas certainly came into my mind on Friday night.

Although the BBC’s coverage of Edinburgh’s festivals has improved in recent years, it does seem to lag behind the likes of the Proms and Glastonbury when it comes to TV coverage. T in the Park enjoys a higher broadcasting profile in Scotland and STV all but ignores the festivals.

The development of several new venues and cultural hubs in the next decade would go a long way to improving infrastructure for the festivals and bringing more parts of the city into the action. A major new concert hall, theatre and film premiere complex seem key priorities.

The Book Festival has embarked on its first collaboration with the Fringe this year, working with award-winning theatre-makers Grid Iron. It is surprising that more of these partnerships have not been developed by now.

And although Sir Jonathan was keen to stress that he does not buy into the mantra that bigger necessarily means better, I think the festivals need to up their use of some of the city’s iconic locations – for example, considering the huge public sector investment in the Tattoo’s new spectator stands, it is surprising they are not used for either the Fringe or the EIF.

Also, the two Princes Street Gardens may be (relatively) peaceful oases during August, but they seem woefully under-used for the festivals. The revival of Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Bandstand has also highlighted the decline of pop and rock music on the Fringe.