The Edinburgh International Festival is set to hold its 70th anniversary opening event in the historic city square from which Fringe shows have been banned this summer.
It is hoped more than 20,000 festival-goers will be able to gather in St Andrew Square for a curtain-raiser, titled Bloom, celebrating the event’s 1947 origins.
The ambitions of the event’s founders, to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit” in the wake of the Second World War, will be honoured with a free late-night birthday party on 4 August.
But the “epic public art event” – which will feature sound and light installations, large-scale illuminations and 3D projections – has been lined up for the site after owners of properties around the square demanded an end to Fringe shows being staged in its garden.
The decision not to allow Fringe events in the grassy square, which was first opened to the public in 2008, almost 240 years after it was built during the creation of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town, was understood to be down to its importance as a pedestrian route, its role as a place for quiet relaxation all year round and the potential damage that could be caused during the three-week festival.
The decision, endorsed by the city council, which leases the square from its owners, forced Australian impresario David Bates to ditch plans to come to this year’s Fringe and also affected the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival’s plans to use the arena.
The owners of the square include Standard Life, the finance company which will be sponsoring the opening EIF event. It is understood the EIF’s plans would not affect the condition of the grass in the garden, which has also been used for Christmas events in recent years.
The festival is joining forces with 59 Productions for the third year in a row to create the show, following previous events which have transformed the facade of the Usher Hall and Edinburgh Castle rock. The company’s track record includes the V&A’s David Bowie exhibition, the stage production of War Horse and the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
Although full details of Bloom have yet to be confirmed, festival organisers say it will “celebrate the joyful transformation of the city over the past 70 years, from the darkness and division of the post-war years to today’s explosions of colour and spectacle”.
Talks with the city council and the other authorities over the event arena are still ongoing ahead of the official launch of Bloom at the end of June.
EIF director Fergus Linehan said: “The event will be in the New Town. We have a preferred site and a fall-back site. We’re still working through the various permissions we need for the event and we’re hoping to be able to do that in the next month or so.
“We wanted to do it in the New Town as I think we all have a responsibility towards making sure that it is a vibrant part of the Edinburgh Festival.
“It feels that there are some magnificent parts of the city which we have to find a way to ensure they are as engaged in the festival as possible.”
A spokesman for the city council said: “The council and the city have championed the event since its inception in 1947.
“We look forward to supporting the Edinburgh International Festival’s plans.”
When the Fringe ban was confirmed earlier this year, business group Essential Edinburgh, which is responsible for maintaining the square on behalf of the council, said the move had been agreed to ensure the garden was a “superb green space in the heart of the city to be enjoyed by local people, visitors and those who work in the city centre all year round”.