Galleries told to pay £250 fee for place at capital art festival

Galleries are being asked to pay for their places in Edinburgh's summer art festival for the first time in a bid to "utterly guarantee" its finances against any cut in public subsidies.

The Edinburgh Art Festival claims nearly half-a-million people saw its exhibitions and commissions last year, but it now wants leading galleries to help cover core costs.

The festival's new chairman, businessman and Jupiter Artland founder Robert Wilson, says the festival's ambitious goal is to become a major date on the European art calendar. Smaller galleries and one-off exhibitions will pay only 250 submission fees, comparable to the nearly 400 paid by Fringe shows.

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"There was a sense building up that we had to try and change the business model of the festival," said Mr Wilson.

The art festival programme launches this month, promising a strong emphasis on sculpture this summer. Showcases include the Scotsman Steps, remodelled with multi-coloured marble by Turner Prize-winning Scottish artist Martin Creed.

The line-up also includes exhibitions by sculptors Tony Cragg at the National Galleries of Scotland, and David Mach at the City Art Centre, along with private-selling shows devoted to major Scottish painters, Dame Elizabeth Blackadder and the playwright and artist John Byrne.

The Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh's leading private contemporary gallery and a festival partner, is to feature a "confetti canon" firing 3,261 different coloured pieces of paper, representing the colours of gamma ray bursts from the sun, in an artistic response to Edinburgh's One o'clock Gun.

Nearly 20 galleries have already signed up as "partners" paying fees from 1,000-5,000. Richard Ingleby, of the Ingleby Gallery, said: "We signed up. Our effort and investment in it is not just financial, it is essential. Times are tough, and that's true for public sector as well as private sector, so being told it might be a good idea to pay money takes a bit of adjustment in one's brain. The point is we shouldn't take things for granted."

Mr Wilson said he aimed to put the EAF "on a par with any of the major art festivals in the world", like the Venice Biennale: "As beautiful as Edinburgh is, it's not quite Venice, and they have got a hundred year start, but it's an ambition."

But Derek Gray, the director of the arts complex at St Margaret's House, a small Edinburgh gallery showing new and community artists, said he would not join the festival this year, before adding: "I was quite disgusted by them charging a fee for entry into the guide. I think it makes it a more exclusive festival, rather than being accessible for younger, more up-and-coming artists."

The art festival, which launched in 2004, is funded by Creative Scotland, whose grant is frozen this year at 50,000, and Edinburgh City Council, to the tune of 10,000. It is also getting funding from the Scottish Government's Expo Fund of 160,000.

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Launched seven years ago, it was initially little more than a gallery guide. But last year it unveiled its first ever commissions, including work by the Turner Prize-winner Richard Wright, and claimed more than 240,000 visitors to Edinburgh galleries and another 200,000 at publicly-sited works.