Richard Lewis: Culture of successs needed all year

Bill Paterson and Brian Cox star in Waiting for Godot. Picture: Contributed
Bill Paterson and Brian Cox star in Waiting for Godot. Picture: Contributed
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FRESH thinking is required to ensure that the Edinburgh arts scene doesn’t end on August 31, says Richard Lewis

IT was another record-breaking August for Edinburgh’s festivals. The Fringe sold almost one million more tickets than it did ten years ago and the Edinburgh International Festival’s box office was up 19 per cent under the helm of director Fergus Linehan. Across each of the festivals, the programming was widely hailed as a huge success.

Yet as they continue to thrive and grow (which is necessary to maintain our long-held reputation as the world’s festival destination) pressure is building for the city and venues to keep pace.

This year, the council will provide more than £4.2 million in financial support to 91 days worth of festivals which sits on top of resources to manage the city’s streets during this time. Without public funding, the festivals could not be sustained but there’s no escaping the fact that as a council we are facing ever-increasing financial pressures. It has become obvious that additional funding which supports the council’s financing needs to be explored. Just this Friday, we submitted our City Region Deal which looks to build on our strengths of knowledge, technology, and culture.

Throughout the year, the council plays a key role in supporting and developing the year-round cultural climate through providing grants to theatres, orchestras, galleries and community arts activities. We run 13 civic museums and galleries and operate the Usher Hall and the Assembly Rooms.

It is crucial that the ongoing 
success of the summer festivals goes hand in hand with the rest of the year. The festivals must complement the city’s year-round needs. After all, Edinburgh’s cultural scene does not and certainly should not end on August 31.

In The Scotsman last week there were calls made to establish an independent Festival Trust to manage voluntary donations towards the festivals.

The suggestion of an independent trust, ran purely by those with festival interests, would exacerbate a divide between Edinburgh in the summer months and Edinburgh throughout the rest of the year. Instead the issue of funding needs to be looked at in the round to allow the culture of the city to thrive in all areas. If we are to have a workable strategy for venues and for funding, let’s have a holistic strategy for 12 months of the year which also celebrates homegrown talent.

As someone who sits on six arts boards, I am conscious of the pressures which face Edinburgh’s cultural venues and organisations. The success of the Traverse Theatre this summer, which won an impressive 12 awards for Festival performances, highlighted the need for audiences to support home-grown creativity.

Adjusting to the new needs of culture in the Capital will require foresight, flexibility and fresh festival thinking but it’s an exciting time in the city.

We will be refreshing the Capital’s Cultural Policy following extensive consultation with venue operators, performers, residents and festival operators. The consultation, called Desire Lines, has enthused Edinburgh’s arts community and the council to strive towards an environment where all forms of culture can thrive all year round – but let’s not forget that the financial constraints remain.

I’m already booked into Waiting for Godot at the Lyceum, Peter Arnott’s rehearsed reading at the Traverse, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the Usher Hall. It has been a brilliant summer but you can be sure the next 12 months will be also be bursting with creativity.

• Councillor Richard Lewis is culture convener at Edinburgh City Council