Comment: Edinburgh buzz is perennial attraction

Leafleters and spectators on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Picture: Alex Hewitt
Leafleters and spectators on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Picture: Alex Hewitt
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FESTIVALS are just a taster of what the city has to offer, says Steve Cardownie

The Capital’s Royal Mile is awash with street performers and colourful costumes. Buildings you didn’t know existed have thrown open their doors and turned into theatres and galleries. This is August and that unique festival buzz you only feel in Edinburgh is in the air.

With Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games fresh in everyone’s minds and the Ryder Cup due to start in Perthshire in little over one month’s time, Scotland continues to be well and truly in the international spotlight and, as home to Scotland’s busiest airport, Edinburgh will continue to act as the gateway to the nation for international visitors.

While tourists travel from all parts of the globe to sample the unique atmosphere, August in Edinburgh is also loved by visitors from closer to home. Scots, and in particular local residents, increasingly make up a large proportion of the overall festival audience.

The festivals’ offering is so diverse. The Jazz & Blues Festival, which last month presented an ambitious programme and enjoyed record ticket sales this year, also showcased the Mardi Gras and Festival Carnival, including the wildly colourful parade down the Mound and along Princes Street.

In Charlotte Square Gardens, the International Book Festival will welcome more than 900 participants from 47 countries who will join together for talks and workshops to celebrate literary talent from around the world. Some of the big names appearing this year include George RR Martin, Martin Amis, Will Self and the UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Just a stone’s throw away, the newly refurbished Assembly Rooms will again be at the centre of the Fringe – as will the new pedestrian-friendly George Street, which proved to be such a hit with al fresco diners and businesses alike last summer. St Andrew Square too will play more of a part this year, hosting the “World Famous Spiegeltent”.

Across all of the festivals, two themes stand out and they are very apt for the 2014: the Commonwealth and the centenary anniversary of the First World War.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which will remember the fallen in the war, while the International Art Festival brings together performers and artists from across Commonwealth countries. From Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Commonwealth Strings, a group of young string players from around the Commonwealth, the International Festival will feature an astonishing mix of dance, opera, theatre and performance with artists coming from 43 nations.

Of course, it all began 67 years ago with the International Festival, which grew out of the desolation of the Second World War; its aim to provide “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit” by inviting the world’s best artists and companies to perform, whatever their nationality. It’s fair to say that this mission still lies at the heart of Edinburgh’s August festivals.

And then there is the Fringe. From the bizarre to the brilliant, nowhere in the world welcomes so many performers and shows. This year the Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be the biggest yet with almost 50,000 performances of over 3,000 performances in 300 venues.

To me, Edinburgh’s festivals are about bringing people and spaces together. The capital’s leading galleries, museums and buildings unite and open their doors; artists and performers gather in the city from all areas of the arts, and Scotland gets to see the capital under the world spotlight. We shouldn’t forget the importance of these festivals to Edinburgh and to Scotland. The social and cultural impact are huge and economic impact studies show the nation benefits to the tune of £265m.

When the city skyline lights up for the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert at the close of the 68th International Festival, this is not the end of the fun and there is still so much for all to experience.

From the Mela Festival, a celebration of music, dance and food opening on 29 August, to the Festival of Sport in September, to the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in October, and of course Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay in December, there are still plenty of opportunities to take advantage of everything we have to offer here in Scotland’s capital.

• Cllr Steve Cardownie is festivals and events champion at the City of Edinburgh Council

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