‘Uncharted waters’ warning for Edinburgh festivals

Fringe performer Able Mable in Edinburgh yesterday. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Fringe performer Able Mable in Edinburgh yesterday. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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ORGANISERS of Edinburgh’s ­festivals have been warned to brace themselves for “uncharted waters” over their public funding in the next few years.

The head of national arts agency Creative Scotland has told festival directors and event organisers they will have to make a much stronger case for subsidy of the arts.

Faith Liddell is saying goodbye to festivals and artists such as Selah Theatre, pictured. Picture: Scott Louden

Faith Liddell is saying goodbye to festivals and artists such as Selah Theatre, pictured. Picture: Scott Louden

Chief executive Janet Archer warned the festivals – which receive more than £10 million worth of backing – they should not rest on their laurels or be complacent about the future.

Speaking at a reception for the festivals, Ms Archer said it was “vital” people in the cultural sector spoke out at a time when “budgets for public spending are under increasing scrutiny”.

She spoke of a twin threat looming on the horizon in the form of “substantive” council cuts and the forthcoming Scottish Government spending review.

And she suggested politicians should be lobbied directly about the benefits of culture, saying the message was not getting through to MSPs.

Earlier this year it emerged that Creative Scotland had turned down more than £10m worth of funding requests from Edinburgh’s festivals, leaving events such as the International Festival on standstill funding.

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Both the Edinburgh Mela, Scotland’s biggest multicultural event, and the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival were turned down for funding, despite asking for almost £1m and nearly £700,000 respectively.

The Queen’s Hall, which hosts concerts for the jazz festival, Fringe and EIF, had a funding bid of almost £250,000 turned down, while the Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres suffered significant funding cuts.

Creative Scotland does provide long-term funding worth around £4.2m a year to the ­festivals – a figure matched by Edinburgh City Council. The Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund is worth a further £2.25m.

Ms Archer said the fact Creative Scotland had £212m worth of bids for a £100m fund “throws into relief the limitations of public funding we all need to operate within.”

Ms Archer was speaking months after consultants brought in to draw up a ten-year blueprint for Edinburgh’s flagship festivals – entitled Thundering Hooves – warned the city faced losing its “premier division” status if current levels of investment were not maintained.

She told the audience at the Out of the Blue arts centre in Leith: “We all know that the Edinburgh Festivals – all 12 of them – make an annual contribution of more than £260m to Scotland’s economy and are attended by over four million people every year.

“They provide a platform for tens of thousands of artists – that enables our homegrown creative talent to reach a bigger audience and brings international talent to our attention from around the world.

“We cannot rest on our laurels or be complacent – the Thundering Hooves report from earlier this year makes that clear and presents some real challenges. Nevertheless, we need to celebrate, recognise and continue to champion everything that’s been achieved, and continues to be achieved, by the festivals.”

The Thundering Hooves ­report found that radical “new thinking and innovative solutions” would be needed to deal with a predicted “fiscal cliff” in years to come – but also urged funders to protect core levels of investment.

Ms Archer added: “I think we’re all aware we’re entering uncharted waters in respect of future budgets. At a time where budgets for public spending are coming under increasing scrutiny, it’s vital that we – all of us – continue to speak out about why art, culture and creativity make a positive difference and why public funding for the arts is an important cog in the wheel of any nation’s life.

“MSPs tell me that very few people raise culture as an issue. We need to communicate – ­collectively and confidently – that arts, culture and creativity really matters. That voice needs to come too from the people your work benefits, as well as yourselves as cultural leaders.”