Fringe chief warns Edinburgh festival could become ‘unaffordable’

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy warned that organisers of rival festivals were now descending on the event each year to try to emulate its success. Picture: Alex Hewitt
Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy warned that organisers of rival festivals were now descending on the event each year to try to emulate its success. Picture: Alex Hewitt
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Organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have admitted it risks becoming unaffordable for artists and audiences unless action is taken to curb rising costs.

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe Society, said a “city-wide commitment” was needed to tackle the issue and provide a more “supportive landscape”.

At the launch of the Fringe’s annual review, Ms McCarthy issued a personal “plea” for help to rein in the growing costs of accommodation, hiring venues, securing licences and getting to and from Edinburgh for the festival.

Warning of the risks of inaction, she said: “There will come a point when this festival is no longer affordable for the very people who give it reason, content, credibility and existence – without whom none of the economic or other impacts would be possible. We should be very careful to provide a supportive landscape for the Fringe – the world’s leading festival city would look very different without it.”

Ms McCarthy said greater care was needed to help balance the “delicate ecosystem” of the Fringe, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2017.

But she suggested the Fringe, which attracted a record 2,696,884 audience last year, was being “taken for granted” and warned that organisers of rival festivals were now descending on the event each year to try to emulate its success. She was speaking weeks after the Fringe Society published the results of a survey which found that nearly one in three people working in venues are not paid.

Ms McCarthy, who was appointed two years ago, said: “The Fringe is unlike any other festival in that it is largely self-financed by those who take the risk to make and show work.

“It is made up of hundreds of parts, all important, a wonderful balance of ticketed venues, street performance, free shows and pay-what-you-want shows, from the new discoveries to established world-class artists. It is the sum of these parts that makes this festival distinctive, inclusive, extraordinary and with something to say in the world. But I also want to say this: the Fringe cannot be taken for granted.

“The well documented economic, cultural and social value it brings to Edinburgh and Scotland is balanced on a delicate ecosystem. We need to take considerable care that this festival continues to be affordable for artists, for the arts industry, for promoters and for audiences. I’m making a plea to those who have influence over these things.

“We need a city-wide effort and commitment to ensuring this festival remains affordable and accessible to all. We cannot do it alone.”

Donald Wilson, culture leader at the city council, said: “Let’s not forget that this is the world’s largest arts festival and provides an exceptional gateway to Edinburgh’s other festivals and year-round offering – for locals and visitors alike.

“That’s why it is imperative the whole city works in partnership to secure its future success and sustainable growth.”

Marketing Edinburgh chief executive John Donnelly said: ‘The Fringe, and all of the 
festivals in Edinburgh, are 
an intrinsic part of the city’s DNA.

“As custodians of these cultural celebrations, we have a duty to ensure they continue to flourish and are equally vibrant in 70 years’ time.”