Edinburgh’s Mela festival set to have funding pulled for second time in 3 years

Edinburgh’s long-running Mela festival is set to have its public funding pulled for the second time in three years amid concerns over “instability”, bad management and poor handling of public money.

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 6:00 am
Edinburgh Mela launch with some of the performers taking part this weekend at Leith Links. Pic: Greg Macvean

The city council is to attempt to stage its own “genuinely multi-cultural event” this summer after delivering a damning verdict on the scaled-back ­version of the Mela staged over the last two years since the ­dramatic walk-out of its director in 2016.

An official report on the event has cited concerns over the number of “staffing disputes”, a failure to provide “reliable” information on the company behind the Mela and its finances and a failure to meet funding targets over the last two years.

Concerns have also been raised about some board ­members remaining in place for more than 20 years.

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First staged in Meadowbank Stadium in 1995, the Mela was expanded into Pilrig Park and then Leith Links.

However, the event was thrown into chaos by the dramatic resignation of director Chris Purnell in 2016 amid claims the event was being “destroyed from within”.

He claimed several board members had displayed a “reckless disregard” for the Mela’s own rules and warned that they had taken the event to the “brink of catastrophe”.

In his resignation letter, he said: “The board is controlled by a small group with no regard for the opinions of other board members, the advice of the staff or independent professional voices, however reasonable.”

Mr Purnell took the board of the Mela to a tribunal which has yet to rule on the case, while the council agreed to provide £33,000 a year – more than half its previous annual funding – to support a scaled-back event in 2017 and 2018.

However, in his report for the council, director Paul Lawrence said that funding was awarded on condition that a “fundamentally renewed event” was developed.

He added: “The new model was to include working with partner organisations in the Leith area to programme the event to deliver activity which reflects the city’s varied communities’ best in professional talent. Whilst it is acknowledged that Edinburgh Mela Ltd has made an effort to deliver an event on this basis, a number of factors have continued to present basic challenges to a continued funding relationship since 2016.”

A spokeswoman for the council said: “The committee is considering a new event model for the delivery of multi-­cultural arts in the city. It’s vital for an international festival city like Edinburgh to support diversity in the arts and deliver multi-cultural events.

“The proposed approach is to invite interested parties to submit plans to deliver an event. These could be individual arts events producers or companies, or co-operative partnership models.”

Geoff Palmer, chairman of the Mela board, said: “The council doesn’t understand the city’s multi-cultural nature of the city. If they’re going to try to replace the Mela they must produce evidence that this is what the community wants.”