Edinburgh Fringe, like other festivals, is immensely fragile. When will politicians wake up? – Shona McCarthy

If the long-term sustainability of Edinburgh’s Festivals is to be protected, they need greater support from government

Fringe 2023 was joyous. For every brilliant show I saw, there was someone waiting in line to recommend another and another... In the dark of November, I look back in awe at the passion of performers, venues, crew, journalists, producers, promoters and audiences who make the Edinburgh Fringe extraordinary.

It’s easy to take this annual phenomenon for granted because of the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of those who make it happen. It speaks to values of inclusion, welcome, freedom of speech, cultural democracy, localism and internationalism. It feels now more than ever that we need to champion those values where different views and perspectives can be heard and hopefully understood a little better. Our mission continues: to give anyone a stage, and everyone a seat.

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Artists will continue to be the Fringe’s beating heart. They take the personal risk to tell their stories and share their talent year after year, finding new audiences and collaborations, with hopes of reviews, onward touring, and future work. The Fringe’s power is the recognition of the social, emotional, and cultural fracture that we are living through. That artists continue to return is testament to the lure of Scotland’s capital and this incredible festival. Without them, there simply wouldn’t be a Fringe.

In the winter months we reflect; however, in an ever-more strained operating context, all efforts are on securing the future of this cultural icon. Last year I issued a plea about the urgent need for financial investment after the ravages of Covid, but also for recognition of the importance of this internationally relevant festival. It lifts our spirits, and supports social inclusion and well-being, while critically being seen as a vital showcase and marketplace for artists from all over the world.

Many challenges from last year still exist. Those of rising costs, a shortage of affordable accommodation, and the cost-of-living crisis. Our public funders and supporters have had to make tough decisions in times of economic crisis, but we still seek a spirit of collaboration. We need a strategic relationship, and a formal partnership, with both the city council and the Scottish Government, which have a responsibility to work with mega events like Edinburgh’s Festivals, for both residents and visitors.

This year, timing aligned a major sporting event alongside Edinburgh’s summer festivals, with the world cycling championships. It was recognised, and funded, as a major event; yet there is an expectation that the Fringe and our sister festivals will continue to drive the same economic benefits and global reach that we do every year, without coming close to the investment attributed to one-off sporting events.

A gaping disparity grows, with an immense level of fragility in the long-term sustainability of Edinburgh’s Festivals, which are here every year. Choices have to be made if we are to take these cultural assets for Scotland into a new era, with renewed ambition and ability to serve the needs of the current and next generation.

My plea this year remains the same – we need support. In 2024, eyes will turn to Paris and its hosting of the Olympic Games, yet the Fringe is here every single year. Work with us, let’s find a way to ensure our own annual ‘cultural Olympics’ are here for the next generation.

Shona McCarthy is Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society’s chief executive



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