Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Public funding help for leading venues revealed

More than £1.2 million worth of public funding lifelines for the biggest venues, producers and promoters at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have been revealed.

Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance, Underbelly and Summerhall are all getting financial help this year to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

The funding, which has been awarded via the Fringe Society, will be used to help bring in more paid staff, reduce working hours and increase minimum rates of pay.

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Other initiatives include under-writing the costs of putting on shows, introducing electronic ticketing, and helping to pay for accommodation for staff during the Fringe.

Other venue operators and promoters receiving a share of a new “Fringe Resilience Fund” include BlundaBus, Greenside, Just The Tonic, Laughing Horse, Monkey Barrel, the Scottish Comedy Festival, theSpaceUK and ZOO.

The Fringe Society has been lobbying for more financial help for the recovery of the event since the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 festival and last year’s comeback had to be scaled back due to the late lifting of Covid restrictions.

It emerged earlier this month that the Fringe had been allocated £1.58 million out of £54 million in Scottish Government Covid recovery funding for venues, events and festivals, which Creative Scotland was tasked with distributing.

As well as the £1.275 million allocated to 13 venues, promoters and producers, the Fringe Society has ring-fenced the remaining £305,000 for its own operations, including its box office, website, a temporary performers’ centre, and running street events in August.

Underbelly's purple cow venue is one of the most popular venues at the Fringe. Picture: David Scott

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “It’s fair to say that the last few years have been the most challenging in our festival’s history.

"Now, as we prepare to enter our 75th anniversary year, creatives across the Fringe landscape are working hard to ensure that this incredible festival not only survives, but continues to work hard to be the best version of itself.

“This support from the Scottish Government is absolutely vital in helping us to achieve that goal: allowing producers and creatives across the landscape to not only recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, but to offer enhanced support to artists, workers and volunteers; to continue to programme creative and innovative work; to improve accessibility; to tackle affordability and to ensure that this festival remains true to its founding principles of openness and inclusivity.”

Scottish culture minister Neil Gray said: “As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer, I’m pleased that £305,000 from our Platforms for Creative Excellence Fund will support the activities of the Fringe Society and their street events this year.

Assembly runs shows in George Square Garden during the Fringe.

“In particular I want to congratulate the 13 producers who will share the Fringe Resilience Fund. The last few years have been difficult for the venues putting on events so this support will help to ensure the continued success of this flagship festival.”

Assembly’s £125,000 award will help artists meet the costs of putting on shows, accomodation and marketing, as well as supporting emerging acts.

Gilded Balloon, which has secured £148,000, will be taking on extra staff and reducing working hours, as well as investing in more digital marketing and e-ticketing while reducing flyering.

The Pleasance grant of £159,000, the biggest awarded by the Fringe Society, will be targeting its funding to help reduce the financial risks for new and emerging acts, and have also pledged to increase the number of paid staff while reducing working hours at its venues.

Summerhall is one of the biggest venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Underbelly has secured £138,000 to help improve the minimum wages of workers at its venues, bring in extra staff to help reduce working hours, and help reduce the cost of staff accommodation.

Summerhall will be using its £82,510 funding to support under-represented artists at the Fringe, while Greenside’s award of £133,779 will help pay for 24 new jobs to be created.

Just the Tonic will running a venue exclusively for female performers with the help of its £148,000 award. Laughing Horse, which has received £43,790, will be running mental health support sessions for performers and staff.

Pleasance artistic director Anthony Alderson said: “We’re really grateful for the money we hav e received.

"The costs of presenting work at the Fringe have increased dramatically in 2022, in particular for accommodation. The event continues to be at great risk.

"For us, it’s vital that we find ways to mitigate risks for artists and lend more support than ever before to ensure that the arts can continue to flourish even with increasing financial challenges.

The Gilded Balloon is one of Edinburgh's best-known Fringe venues.

"Without venues being able to build solid support structures, festivals such as this one cannot continue to provide great platforms for new works.”

Katy Koren, artistic director at the Gilded Balloon, said: “We’re incredibly grateful to the Scottish Government for providing this vital support to enable us to deliver a world-class programme of comedy, theatre, cabaret and family entertainment, and to make Fringe shows as accessible and sustainable as possible as the entire sector embarks recovery."

However William Burdett-Coutts, Assembly’s artistic director, warned that the level of financial support for the Fringe’s was not enough to ensure its recovery.

He said: “The resilience funding is a welcome boost to re starting the festival in August and Assembly is extremely grateful for the support it has received.

"However, venues and visiting companies needed greater help in this particularly difficult year.

"With the last full festival taking place in 2019, venues and visiting companies have effectively gone three years with no revenue; and support is needed not only to re establish the festivals, but to address spiralling costs.

"Along with increased infrastructure costs, we face daily issues with artists finding it difficult to make their budgets work with the most challenging element of this being accommodation. The cost has increased to the point of making the Fringe unviable.

"We’re extremely concerned that this will have a detrimental effect on the future of the event, and the knock on impact on both Edinburgh and Scotland’s economy.”

The Pleasance Courtyard is one of the most popular destinations during the Fringe. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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