New figurehead hired to lead revival of Edinburgh’s ‘fragile’ festivals

Drive to secure future of ‘irreplaceable cultural assets’

Edinburgh’s festivals have unveiled a new figurehead to leading efforts to secure the future of the Scottish capital’s “irreplaceable cultural assets.”

Lori Anderson, who is currently director of the Scottish arts network Culture Counts, has been appointed in the wake of warnings that Edinburgh’s flagship events have been left hanging by a “precarious financial thread.”

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She has been appointed by umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh after a worldwide search for a new leader to tackle the “fragile” ecosystem behind the festivals amid growing uncertainty over how they will be funded in future.

Lori Anderson will be taking over as director of Festivals Edinburgh in October.Lori Anderson will be taking over as director of Festivals Edinburgh in October.
Lori Anderson will be taking over as director of Festivals Edinburgh in October.

Key priorities are expected to include the festivals securing a significant share of new funding for culture, which has been pledged by the Scottish Government for the next four years, and ensuring that some of the money raised from Edinburgh’s proposed visitor levy scheme, which is expected to be introduced in 2026, is ring-fenced to support events.

The group - which represents the organisers of events like the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, the Hogmanay festival, the Tattoo and the city’s celebrations of jazz, film and literature - revealed new independent research last year which found that they were now £407m to the economy each year.

However the festivals have called for a rethink of their public funding, which comes to just £12m a year at present, claiming that they have suffered a 40 per cent “real terms” drop in their funding over the last 15 years.

The job description for the director’s role warned that they were facing growing challenges, including pressures on public funding and private sponsorship, rising costs faced by artists, festival workers and organisers, and changes in ticket-buying habits.

The Usher Hall is one of Edinburgh's best-known cultural venues.The Usher Hall is one of Edinburgh's best-known cultural venues.
The Usher Hall is one of Edinburgh's best-known cultural venues.

The job description stated: “While Edinburgh’s festivals have re-established their position as a magnet for artists, audiences, industry and policymakers, the ecosystem remains fragile.

"We require a concerted collective effort to sustain and develop these irreplaceable cultural assets.”

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Ms Anderson will be taking over as director from Julia Amour, who announced her departure in the spring after nearly nine years in the role.

Ms Anderson has been a leading figure in recent efforts to secure more public funding for the arts in her role at Culture Counts amid growing anxiety that leading arts organisations will lose their Creative Scotland funding with months due to a huge gap to meet demand.

Isabella OSullivan, Heiyi Lok, Alex Wishart and Summer Williamson from the group Oi Musica perform outside the Usher Hall ahead of their appearance in this year's Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Maxime RagniIsabella OSullivan, Heiyi Lok, Alex Wishart and Summer Williamson from the group Oi Musica perform outside the Usher Hall ahead of their appearance in this year's Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Maxime Ragni
Isabella OSullivan, Heiyi Lok, Alex Wishart and Summer Williamson from the group Oi Musica perform outside the Usher Hall ahead of their appearance in this year's Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Maxime Ragni

Writing to John Swinney after his appointment as First Minister she warned him that Scotland’s “reputation and ambitions as an international cultural leader are now at serious risk.”

She was previously development manager for the Scotland & Venice project, which saw Scottish arts and architecture represented at the city’s major international showcases.

Ms Anderson said: “Edinburgh festivals are amongst Scotland’s greatest cultural assets, recognised at home and abroad as bringing immense cultural, economic and social value to the country and its people.

"The fragility of our cultural landscape is all too familiar to me, but the agility of the festivals in responding to change has always impressed me.”

Simon Gage, chair of the Festivals Edinburgh board, said: "There are many challenges to be confronted in the coming years, but also many opportunities to be seized, and in Lori we believe we have found an exceptionally authoritative advocate to help shape our collective future.”

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