Edinburgh Festival Fringe promoters Underbelly and Pleasance secure major public funding bailouts

Two of the biggest players in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - Underbelly and the Pleasance - have been handed public funding bailouts worth nearly £850,000 between them.

The Splash Test Dummies were among the acts to perform at Underbelly's Circus Hub during last year's Fringe.

Underbelly, who have been staging Fringe shows for the last 20 years and also organise Edinburgh's Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations, were awarded £584,751 from the UK Government's Cultural Recovery Fund.

The Pleasance - which first staged shows at the festival in 1985 - has received £249,352. Both grants were part of a £257 million package, unveiled by Arts Council England to help major arts companies, withstand the impact of the pandemic.

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A lifeline funding package for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society was announced by the Scottish Government in June, made up of a £1 million interest-free loan, a £149,000 grant and an additional £100,000 from the city council.

Creative Scotland has previously announced funding for a number of other major operators on the Fringe, including £500,000 for the Traverse Theatre, £213,000 for the Scottish Storytelling Centre and £175,000 for the Queen’s Hall. Other funding decisions are due to be announced in November.

The Pleasance and Underbelly are both part of a consortium of Fringe venues which have been lobbying for them to be awarded a share of public funding ringfenced for arts organisations to help them recover from the impact of this year’s event being called off in April in the face of the growth of Covid-19.

The dossier stated: “When the Fringe returns in 2021, it will need venue producers to be there, to curate their programmes and accommodate the visiting performing companies and artists. However, without financial support for venue producers now, key organisations will go out of business.”

A spokeswoman for the Fringe Society said today: “The past few months have been devastating for the culture and events sectors including Fringe venues and artists. We’ve been calling for the UK and Scottish Government to do everything they can to support the Fringe and the wider arts sector, which is a vital part of the country’s creative economy.”

“We're pleased to see this call recognised in this announcement. However, we are acutely aware that a large number of Fringe artists and venues are still in danger of falling through the cracks and we will continue to call for targeted support to allow them to make a much-needed return to business in the future.”

Pleasance director Anthony Alderson, who is based in Edinburgh, said: “We’re extremely grateful for the support we have received.

"Whilst the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the Pleasance’s spiritual home, this support is for our theatre and development spaces in London, where so many artists create new work, some of which eventually reaches the Fringe each year. These spaces have been closed since March.

“The challenge of remounting the Fringe is still a huge economic mountain to climb, far larger than the £1 million loan given to the Fringe Society.

Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam founded Underbelly at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 20 years ago.

"If Edinburgh is to once again enjoy the financial rewards the festival brings each summer, the financial support required is estimated at £10 million.”

A spokeswoman for Underbelly said: “We are very grateful to Arts Council England for our Cultural Recovery Fund grant.

"This has been specifically awarded to help support our operational running costs in London and the south.”

A message from the Editor:

The Pleasance Courtyard is one of the most popular venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe each year. Picture: Neil Hanna

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