Edinburgh International Festival director admits it has 'huge amount of work to do' on diversity

The director of the Edinburgh International Festival has admitted it has a "huge amount of work to do" on diversity in the wake of criticism that this year’s online programme was dominated by white performers and involved almost twice as many men as women.

Fergus Linehan is director of the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Alistair Linford
Fergus Linehan is director of the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Alistair Linford

Fergus Linehan pledged that the EIF, which worked almost entirely with Scottish companies and performers this year, would be forging brand new relationships with arts organisations and artists for 2021 and beyond.

The EIF was targeted in an online petition protesting that an online programme where 90 per cent of the performers were white displayed “a shocking lack of insight” in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

It emerged last month that the EIF had been ordered by the Scottish Government to improve the diversity of its work and would be closely monitored to ensure it meets official “obligations” on equality, diversity and inclusion.

The Usher Hall is one of the main venues used for the Edinburgh International Festival each year. Picture: Clark James

Read More

Read More
Edinburgh International Festival ordered to improve diversity in its programming

Speaking in an online debate about the impact of the pandemic on Edinburgh’s festivals, Mr Linehan said the EIF had realised that its relationship with other arts organisations across Scotland was "not nearly as diverse enough as it needs to be".He admitted this had been "covered up" by its tradition of bringing in work from overseas, adding that it was not enough for the festival to “simply be diverse in terms of geographical spread” in future.

Addressing Mr Linehan, broadcaster Aasmah Mir, who chaired the debate, said: “The elephant in the room about 2020 was this huge outpouring of emotion and a lot of change that came from what happened with the killing of George Floyd and then the Black Lives Matter protests in America and in the UK, and there was a shift. The discussion around diversity became much more sharply focused.

“The EIF was, I'm sure you know, criticised for the lack of diversity in its online offerings. Why did that happen?”

Mr Linehan responded: “Everyone working in the arts is thinking deeply about this at the moment.

"One of the big things we learned from it is that normally we're doing an international programme. In a sense that kind of creates a plurality of voices naturally.

"But when suddenly we were looking at putting together a programme from just Scotland, we realised that our actual level of relationships with organisations throughout Scotland wasn't nearly as diverse as it needed to be, and that was perhaps being covered up by the fact we were so used to bringing in work from around the world.

"If you're an international festival, it's not really enough to simply be diverse in terms of geographical spread, you actually need to think about it locally.

"One of the things that’s really come out the summer is that we recognise we have a huge amount of work to do in that area.”

Ms Mir suggested the EIF would be closely watched by people in 2021 and that there would be “absolutely no excuse” for a repeat.

Mr Linehan added: “It's really about discussions, with individual artists, but also both communities and companies that we haven't had an ongoing relationship with. We recognise we really need to have a diversity of voices. There are a whole range of conversations that we're having, not just in Edinburgh but across the country, at the moment.”

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.