IT’S a challenging role which will take courage, heart and a sharp brain. But Fergus Linehan, who has been named the new director and chief executive of the Edinburgh International Festival, certainly has those credentials in spades.
A former Sydney Festival boss, he’s being hailed as a wizard from Oz capable of conjuring up magnificent results for Scotland’s showpiece cultural festival.
His tenure Down Under saw the annual turnover of the Sydney Festival grow from £8 million in 2004 to more than £13 million in 2009 – and organisers no doubt hope some of his magic will rub off on the Capital’s showcase event.
The 43-year-old Irishman is to take over from Jonathan Mills from 2015, but will become director designate on May 1 to give him time to start planning. He said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be taking on this role. There’s a kind of freedom around production and direction in Edinburgh which I’m not sure any other festival has.
“For a city of its size, the city has an incredibly sophisticated audience – I’ll be stepping into more than six decades of festival-going experience.”
Fergus, who currently lives in Australia where his partner is expecting their first child in May, boosted the Sydney International Festival by securing a surge in ticket sales, commercial sponsorship and government funding.
He said: “We added on more elements every year, including a big celebration on the opening night where we pretty much shut down the whole city.
“When you are approaching a festival you really need to have a conversation with the city – the starting point has to be an understanding of the people who love it.”
Fergus began his career in Dublin, producing theatre shows before he went on to direct the city’s major arts event, the Dublin Theatre Festival. He has more recently been head of music at the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Fergus, who spent eight months living in the Edinburgh area in 2009, said he’s looking forward to moving back to the Capital, which he described as the “pre-eminent festival city”. “My excitement about the post is as much about living in Edinburgh as the festival itself,” he added.
Lord Provost and chairman of the Edinburgh International Festival Society, Donald Wilson, said he was delighted with the appointment. He said: “Fergus brings new skills, intellectual rigour and a highly successful track record to the festival and the city.”