Top Fringe venue director bows out for London job

The outgoing Summerhall venue director, Rupert Thomson. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The outgoing Summerhall venue director, Rupert Thomson. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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ONE of Edinburgh’s biggest Fringe venues has been dealt a huge blow after it emerged that its driving force is to leave for a new job in London.

Rupert Thomson has been artistic director of Summerhall since it opened for the festival in 2011 in Edinburgh University’s former vet school building.

It swiftly became established as one of the Fringe’s most important venues, particularly for theatre and visual art, winning a clutch of awards.

The building, which has since become a year-round arts centre, was transformed after being snapped up by arts philanthropist Robert McDowell.

Mr Thomson, 32, widely regarded as one of the most influential figures on Edinburgh’s cultural scene, is to become a senior programmer at the Southbank Centre.

His appointment was revealed just months after it was confirmed that Mr Thomson had accepted a role as a part-time theatre producer at The Lowry arts centre in Manchester.

Mr Thomson is the second major figure to leave Summerhall in the space just over six months, after visual arts curator Paul Robertson quit in the middle of last year’s Fringe after behind-the-scenes disagreements. But Mr Thomson is overseeing the programming of this year’s Fringe line-up before he takes up his new post full-time in May.

A former editor of The Skinny magazine, he was previously artistic director at the Capital’s Roxy Art House before it was forced to close suddenly when the charity which owned its building went into administration in 2010.

Summerhall has expanded massively since it burst on to the Fringe scene the following summer, with the venue becoming a major hub for the creative industries.

The sprawling venue features a host of gallery, workshop and performance spaces, studios for artists, and its own cafe, bar and brewery.

Last November, Mr Thomson expressed concern that the privately-owned venue would have to start seeking public funding for its growing range of work. He said at the time: “There are obvious organisational challenges involved in that kind of transition.”

Mr Thomson said yesterday: “Naturally I’m very much looking forward to getting started at Southbank, but I will miss Summerhall and the buoyant Scottish arts and culture scene.

“I’m hugely grateful for the support and investment Summerhall has had from artists, individuals and organisations over the past few years.

“I’ve been in Edinburgh for the last decade of professional life since I left university. I’ll have programmed five festivals at Summerhall after this summer, so it feels like there is a natural arc to it and that this is the time to do something different.”

Mr McDowell said: “We are very proud of all of our programming in our first four years, the quality of which is greatly to Rupert’s credit. He has a vision which we all share and will continue.”