Leaders: A campaign for Festival funding

IN 2006 the Scottish Arts Council published a report commissioned about securing the future of Edinburgh’s summer festivals in the face of growing competition from other cities elsewhere in the UK and further afield.

Directors have to compete  and pay the going rate  for the worlds best orchestras, opera companies and theatre ensembles. Picture: TSPL
Directors have to compete  and pay the going rate  for the worlds best orchestras, opera companies and theatre ensembles. Picture: TSPL

The report had an arresting title: Thundering Hooves.

This was intended to conjure up the image of a stampede of competitors attempting to emulate Edinburgh’s success – and to steal some of the city’s glory as home of the world’s biggest arts festival.

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Eight years on, the warnings in the report – that the festivals needed to be able to rely on a secure core of public funding or lose their pre-eminence to hungry rivals – are being reprised by the outgoing director of Edinburgh International Festival, Sir Jonathan Mills.

Discussing a budget which he said had “flatlined” in recent years, Sir Jonathan said city and national leaders would be making a “mistake” if they thought the festival could enjoy the same success with the same level of funding in the future.

Big city arts festivals are now undoubtedly a competitive field. Directors have to compete – and pay the going rate – for the world’s best orchestras, opera companies and theatre ensembles.

The nature of what festivals offer is also changing. While in the past they were largely a curated mixture of artistic offerings already available in other countries, there has been a move towards festivals increasingly commissioning their own material. The Manchester International Festival, under the guidance of former EIF director Sir Brian McMaster, has made particularly impressive inroads in this area. And new productions cost money.

The value of the Edinburgh festivals to the economy of both the capital and Scotland as a whole cannot be overstated. While some locals are sometimes guilty of taking the arts jamboree for granted, and there has always been a difficulty in persuading Glaswegian audiences to make the trip east in August, the Edinburgh International Festival is globally renowned for the quality and variety of its programme.

Sir Jonathan rightly talks about the value of the “public, social and economic benefits” the International Festival brings. In the best of all worlds few people would have any problem with ensuring the festival was sufficiently funded. But we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. We live in an age when the financial underpinning of our public sector – and, indeed, our private sector – has been utterly transformed by the financial crisis.

The new director, Fergus Linehan, will have to make his case in the full knowledge that he is asking for a slice of scarce resources that could be spent instead on frontline public services.

And he will have to have a very good answer indeed to the question: just how much, in an age of austerity, should the state subsidise the arts?

A fool and his money…

IT MAY seem counter-intuitive that men spend more on luxury goods then women – as we report in our news pages today – but this insight into the mindset of the modern man-about-town will come as no surprise to women who happen to have one as a boyfriend or husband.

The truth of the matter is that the average 21st-century fellow has not just caught up with his female partner in the grooming stakes, having no hesitation in paying large sums for sundry unctions and colognes to keep them moisturised and fragrant; he has also caught up with his female partner in the shopping stakes.

The average British man on a salary of under £30,000 now spends £1,390 a year on luxury goods, whereas the average woman spends just £862.

The report points to some differences in the high-end shopping habits of men and women.

While women may be influenced by the latest styles and fashions, men believe they are buying “investment pieces” or products that deserve their hefty price tag because they are of a high quality of manufacture.

Whether or not they are kidding themselves about their Persol sunglasses or Paul Smith wallet or “heirloom timepiece” is not for this newspaper to judge.

The men who spend these amounts and more – remember, the £1,390 figure is an average – will doubtless have little trouble justifying this expense to themselves.

To borrow from the L’Oréal advertising slogan originally aimed at women, they probably think the extravagance is permissible, “because I’m worth it” .

Whether or not their female partners agree is another matter entirely.