Edinburgh warns that its global 'Festival City' status is under threat

The headquarters of the Edinburgh International Festival on the Royal Mile. Picture: Mihaela BodlovicThe headquarters of the Edinburgh International Festival on the Royal Mile. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic
The headquarters of the Edinburgh International Festival on the Royal Mile. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic
EDINBURGH is at risk of losing its crown as the world’s Festival City due to fears over the long-lasting impact of the coronavirus shutdown on the arts, according to an official dossier warning that it could take the city’s flagship cultural extravaganza “several years” to fully recover from the pandemic.

Festival organisers have raised fears that the city’s long-held status, which dates back to the aftermath of the Second World War, could be “fatally jeopardised” without long-term support for the culture sector.

MSPs have been warned that the nation’s cultural heritage is at risk of “immediate and terminal decline” in the face of an “existential threat” hanging over venues, arts organisations and performers as a result of the prolonged shutdown of festivals and events.

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Holyrood’s culture committee has been told that the cultural sector may need financial support for at least three years to help them withstand the impact of Covid-19, including new funding to allow events to go ahead while social distancing restrictions are in place.

The new concerns have emerged weeks after a previous report for the parliament warned that the loss of the 2020 festivals could lead to 7000 job losses.

The new ten-page dossier submitted by the Edinburgh International Festival said its mission of bringing “the greatest programme of performing arts” from around the world to Edinburgh was at being put at “significant risk”.

The EIF, which had finalised its 2020 line-up before this year’s summer festivals were called off, has admitted that next year’s programme was “likely” to be cut back.

Key concerns set out in its dossier include an “undoubted loss of audience confidence” over the safety of events and the risks in attending them in future, the prospect of social distancing measures making events “economically unviable” and a potential unwillingness of overseas artists and companies to travel to Edinburgh in the near future.

The EIF report states: “Sustained government support will be needed across the cultural sector if we are to respond while we await the arrival of a proven vaccination.

“We are dependent upon artists, cultural organisations, businesses and freelancers to bring the festival into being, many of whom derive a large share of their annual income from participation in the festival.

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“The absence of the festival means these groups will lose a substantial proportion of their income, putting employment and livelihoods at risk.

“As we look towards the running of future festivals, it is essential that this infrastructure is in place to support and make possible these events.

“Without the sustained ability of creative businesses, venues and artists to continue working in cultural production, it is inconceivable that we would be able to continue operating and delivering the festival as it is currently known.

“The existential threat to the cultural scene cannot be underestimated. We believe that an in-depth plan and strategy, examining how the cultural sector in Scotland can identify and implement a sustainable business model for the immediate and longer-terms is essential.

“Any scenario in which this infrastructure fails to gain adequate, timely and comprehensive support from governments across the UK could fatally jeopardise our hard-won position as the world’s Festival City and cultural centre.”

The Edinburgh International Festival, the Tattoo, the Fringe and the city’s celebrations of literature and visual art were officially called off in April weeks after an indefinite ban on mass gatherings in Scotland was imposed.

A previous report for MSPs, compiled by umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh, said there were “grave risks” over the ability of the city’s major events to bounce back in 2021.

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They were told that they were facing “potential market failure” due to lost ticket sales, a slump in sponsorship and the costs of bringing in new health and safety measures.

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