Edinburgh festivals: Better venues are needed to boost capital’s events

The reconfigured Assembly Rooms and the nearby Spiegeltent have come in for criticism from festival-goers this year
The reconfigured Assembly Rooms and the nearby Spiegeltent have come in for criticism from festival-goers this year
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A STRING of new “world-class” cultural buildings are needed to take Edinburgh’s festivals to new heights and help fend off competition from rival events at home and abroad, according to the head of the national arts agency.

Creative Scotland’s chief Andrew Dixon told a gathering of industry leaders in the capital yesterday that new venues for theatre, visual arts, music and dance were all required in the capital.

Dixon, who was appointed to head up the Scottish Government’s arts body two years ago, said the quality of the festivals and events staged in the city in August was not matched by the city’s current infrastructure.

Some year-round venues were already “bursting at the seams” while others were “inadequate” for the demands of the industry.

He revived calls for a permanent home for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and revealed it could also return to its traditional slot in August.

Dixon spoke out at the annual “festivals debate” just days after the last-minute cancellation of an Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) concert due to a power cut.

The refurbished Assembly Rooms on George Street has also come in for criticism from some festival-goers this year, while the city council has only been able to afford a limited refurbishment of the 100-year-old King’s Theatre, one of the other flagship venues for the EIF.

Work on a long-awaited extension to the Festival Theatre has only just got under way.

Creative Scotland has set aside £20 million of its budget over the next four years for major infrastructure project.

Dixon – who was chief executive of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative before taking up his current post – said talks were already under way with senior cultural figures in Edinburgh over what projects should be a priority over the next decade.

The recent refurbishments of the National Museum of Scotland and Scottish National Portrait Gallery in the city had “set a new standard” for other sectors of the arts to follow, he insisted.

“We have world-class festivals and events here in Edinburgh, but what we don’t have are world-class venues in certain areas to do justice to them,” Dixon said.

“We have got some fantastic new facilities in the refurbished gallery and museum, but I don’t think we have the theatre, music and dance venues that the city deserves.

“You only have to look at the area I was working in previously to see the kind of venues that are being built in other parts of the country, with the Baltic Exchange, Sage Gateshead and Tyneside Cinema all opening over the last decade or so.

“There is definitely a requirement for medium-sized music and dance venues. Theatres like the Traverse are putting on fantastic programmes but are bursting at the seams and I know the film festival is still aspiring to have a brand new Filmhouse.

“The building that the Fruitmarket Gallery is in is totally inadequate for what they want to do.”

Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Fringe, said: “The Thundering Hooves report that was commissioned several years ago by the council identified new infrastructure for the festivals as one of the things the city needed to look at and that is still very much the case.

“We have seen some improvements with the new Assembly Rooms but any world-class festival needs world-class facilities and it’s something we’re very much aware of.”