She sprung a major surprise by announcing she will be taking over as executive director of the Melbourne Festival next February – less than 18 months after she was made a CBE.
She will be leaving her post exactly seven years after she was appointed to lead the Fringe following the disastrous introduction of a new box office system that took the event to the brink of financial ruin.
She has overseen the rapid expansion of the world’s biggest arts festival, breaking the two million barrier for ticket sales last year.
The number of shows and performances in the official Fringe programme has soared by around 60 per cent in the past seven years.
The infrastructure available for Fringe shows has hugely expanded in that time, with the number of venues rising by 25 per cent, to 313 this summer.
Her departure will be seen as a major blow for the Fringe, which will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2017. A statement announcing her move said a recruitment process to find a replacement would begin “imminently”.
Born in Orkney, Ms Mainland has been working in Edinburgh’s arts scene for almost 25 years and is one of the country’s most highly respected cultural leaders.
She joined the Fringe from the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where she had been working as administrative director for several years.
Ms Mainland announced her departure just months after long-time counterpart Faith Liddell revealed she would be standing down as director of umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh. Her replacement, Julia Amour, a former regional director of the British Council, is due to start work next month.
The run-up to this year’s event was marred by revelations that the Festival Fringe Society, the event’s governing body, had been the victim of a £220,000 fraud. Ms Mainland revealed that an employee had been found to have stolen £220,000 over the course of eight years.
This year’s Fringe was the most successful yet, with 2,298,090 tickets sold for 3,314 shows , a
5 per cent increase on 2014 – despite a dates shift by the Edinburgh International Festival, which brought the dates of the two events together for the first time in almost 20 years.
Ms Mainland said: “I love the Fringe and I have lived in Edinburgh for over 20 years because of it.
“I’m immensely proud of the Festival Fringe Society staff and their achievements. I have had the opportunity to work with an amazingly hard-working, imaginative and talented group of people.
“I’d especially like to take this opportunity to thank all the creative souls who take part in the Fringe and make it what it is – the world’s largest, most renowned open-access arts festival.
“Every year artists from all over the world travel to this great festival city to bring audiences their extraordinary work, and it’s because of them that the Fringe is so successful, and Scotland has such a unique cultural event to be proud of.
“I will take away many, many very special memories of the Fringe and Edinburgh’s other festivals. I’m looking forward to coming back as an audience member to create many more.”
Sir Timothy O’Shea, chair of the Fringe society’s board, said: “Kath’s passion for the arts, their place in society and our unique festival city of Edinburgh has led her to achieve great success as chief executive.
“Her enthusiasm is contagious, her spirit is generous, and her vision and hard work has been truly remarkable. We are extremely sad to see her go.”