Let the shows begin. This week the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe begin and the Scottish capital hosts the biggest arts festival in the world.
If last year is anything to go by it is going to be another blockbuster, with more than 50,000 performances of 3000 different shows, in 300 venues with nearly three million tickets sold. Only the Olympics and the World Cup exceed the number of tickets sold for Edinburgh’s festival events.
World leading performers are arriving this week from all corners of the globe. They are very welcome. The Edinburgh experience is unmatched. No matter what your cultural interests are, there is something for you – theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events and much more besides. In addition to the Edinburgh International Festival and Festival Fringe, there is also the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh International Science Festival, Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and Edinburgh Food Festival.
As a European and international capital city, it’s great to see so many people come here to enjoy what it has to offer and to make a huge cultural and financial contribution. More than 30,000 artists come to Edinburgh from more than 50 countries. Meanwhile, 963 of the shows performing this year are from Scotland, of which 744 are from Edinburgh. Quite remarkable really to consider that a quarter of all the shows presenting at the world’s largest arts festival are Scottish.
While the audiences are international, the biggest single place of audience origins is Edinburgh, followed by the rest of Scotland. The Edinburgh People Survey shows that more than 66 per cent of the Edinburgh public has attended festival events in the last two years, with a majority from all parts of the city, including more socially deprived areas.
Widening festival participation has been a big focus for organisers in recent years. As an example, the Edinburgh International Festival works with a diverse range of community groups from across the city, offering people who might not otherwise have the opportunity the chance to attend a wide range of performances.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs the Fringe Days Out scheme, which provides ticket vouchers and bus tickets.
There is also an active year-round outreach program, which has already included more than 90 per cent of Edinburgh’s schools, with the programme most strongly focused in the city’s most deprived areas, delivering immersive performances and creative learning. This year the Edinburgh Book Festival will showcase projects from North Edinburgh and Liberton as part of the Citizen programme. The EIF is now working with Leith Academy on a three year residency after a similar program with Castlebrae High School, which included work experience projects, mentoring sessions, and workshops – providing new skills and professional experience over a significant time period.
As the festivals grow from year to year, it is important that everyone from all backgrounds is able to enjoy what is on offer. There is a trade off for people in Edinburgh, with the city’s popularity bringing challenges as well as opportunities.
Nearly three quarter of people in Edinburgh believe that the festivals make the city a better place to live, and only seven per cent think it makes it worse. Let’s do everything we can to keep it that way. In the meantime, regardless of where you are from, I wish you a fantastic time in the Festival City.