Edinburgh Festival chiefs to take part in public debates on future of cultural events

Edinburgh Festival organisers are to take part in a series of public debates on the shape of post-lockdown events and culture.

Edinburgh's festivals are estimated to have attracted an audience of more than four million in recent years. Picture: Gaelle Beri
Edinburgh's festivals are estimated to have attracted an audience of more than four million in recent years. Picture: Gaelle Beri

Fergus Linehan, director of the Edinburgh International Festival, and Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe Society, will be among the first participants in a series of online events.

The Edinburgh Culture Conversations, which will be staged every Monday evening for the next ten weeks, are being instigated by Edinburgh University, which normally hosts more than 1.2 million festival-goers in August.

All of the city’s major summer festivals were officially called off at the start of April in the face of the pandemic and social distancing restrictions. A ban on large gatherings is still expected to be in place in the city next month.

They are aimed tackling the challenges over staging public events with social distancing still in place, how much public appetite there is for live events after months in lockdown, and what changes will need to be made in public places to accommodate them.

Other issues to be explored include the impact on audiences of experiencing culture online, ensuring festivals remain international and multi-cultural when they resume, and how artists are creating work at home.

The debates will be chaired by former Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer, who is now director of festivals at the university.

Speakers in the debates will also include visual artist Hanna Tuulikki, film director Stewart Kyasimire, Scots Makar Jackie Kay and singer-songwriter Karine Polwart.

Other participants include Jessica Brough, founder of the Fringe of Colour campaign, Cliff Hague of the Cockburn Association heritage watchdog, journalist and author Chitra Ramaswamy, and Professor Juan Cruz, principal of Edinburgh College of Art.

Ms Archer said: “The impact of the pandemic is being felt by people around the world. The forced closure of cultural gathering spaces has had a devastating impact on artists, our economies and cultural existence.

“The Edinburgh Culture Conversations will provide a platform for the important debate on how the arts can be part of civic, emotional and economic recovery for the future.”

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