THE new director of the Edinburgh International Festival is calling on the city to renew its “vows” to back the event to ensure it retains its world-leading status.
Fergus Linehan, who took charge of Scotland’s flagship cultural showpiece last September, has pledged to act as its “custodian” during his tenure.
The Irishman has warned city leaders of the need to work hard to retain an international reputation for delivering high-quality events.
Mr Linehan has taken charge at a time of uncertainty over budgets, with a bid for an extra £1.73 million for the next three years rejected by Creative Scotland and the possibility of cuts to its grant from Edinburgh City Council.
The EIF’s funding has been largely static for the past eight years, which, arguably means a series of cuts, considering inflation and rising costs.
Speaking at a tourism summit in the capital, Mr Linehan said there was a “crucial” need to consolidate the event in his first year in the job.
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He also called for the “broad alliance” of its backers to “recommit” well ahead of the 70th anniversary in 2017 to ensure it had a long-term future as “the greatest festival in the world.”
Addressing the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group conference, Mr Linehan said: “I’ve always believed that the job of a festival director is to leave it in a better condition than you found it. With an event that delivers on so many levels, you have to accept your role is partly that of custodian and say, ‘That which is not broken should not be fixed.’
“For me, what that means is sustaining the institutional strength which allows the festival to operate at the highest level internationally.
“It means sustaining a strong and meaningful connection with our audience, sustaining a reputation among the world’s leading artists as the essential platform for their most ambitious works and sustaining a reputation among the governments and media of the world as the leading international arts festival.
“Crucially, it means sustaining a sense of pride amongst people in Edinburgh and Scotland. We must never forget that the festival enjoys the financial support that comes from taxpayers. It’s something I’m always very conscious of.”
Responsibility for funding the EIF, which has a public subsidy of around £5m a year, is largely shared between the city council and Creative Scotland, with the Scottish Government also backing one large-scale production each year under its Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund.
Earlier this month, The Scotsman revealed the EIF’s funding from Creative Scotland had not been improved despite the submission of “ambitious and creative” plans for the next three years.
Mr Linehan pointed out that overseas governments were sending delegations to Scotland each summer to “unlock the secret of August in Edinburgh.”
He added: “Within my first year, the role of consolidation is crucial. A festival like this is not just our office at the top of the Royal Mile. It’s a very broad alliance between artists, audiences, governments, businesses and donors.
“It is important with something that has run as long and successfully as this event that we stop and restate our vows. While the changeover of the festival director is certainly a moment to look forward to change, it’s also a moment for all of us to recommit ourselves.
“In the middle of my tenure in 2017 the festival celebrates its 70th anniversary and it’ll be a crucial moment to take stock of where we are and where we are going.”