However, while everyone would agree that helping people to feed themselves, stay warm and healthy this winter is more important than ensuring they still have people to entertain them, Scotland’s cultural sector is still precious and needs to be nursed through these hard times.
For, as we have said before, our current troubles are temporary and will pass. But if we allow events like the Edinburgh International Film Festival to die out, then the damage could last far into the future. It is much more difficult to create a major festival from scratch, than maintain an existing one.
Even before the 2008 financial crash, there was concern Edinburgh might lose its reputation as the host of the world’s greatest arts event. The first ‘Thundering Hooves’ report warned rival festival cities like Montreal, Austin, Venice and Manchester were catching up. Years of government austerity, Covid and now the energy price crisis have all added further uncertainty to the mix. Cities that plot the best course through the storm are those likely to emerge into a brighter future, while others lose their way.
So when the chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, Shona McCarthy, warns the city faces social, cultural and economic disaster and could lose its status as a “cultural capital”, she needs to be taken seriously by those in power. “Culture budgets have been seriously depleted in Scotland over the last ten years. The festivals have effectively had a 30 per cent cut over a period when England’s cultural budget has actually increased by just under ten cent... We are in danger here,” she said.
The arts should have a special status because they are not just about the money they generate or the status they provide. As was made clear by their absence during the pandemic, they are also important to our happiness, well-being and, indeed, mental health.
Given all these factors, it seems clear that the Scottish Government needs to work with McCarthy and other arts sector leaders to make sure that whatever help can be provided is targeted in the best possible way.