Edinburgh’s festivals at ‘real risk’ amid fears ‘less friendly’ UK will repel artists

L-R: French drumming duo S�bastien Rambaud and Yann Coste get some practice in, on Edinburgh's Calton Hill, ahead of their hotly anticipated Edinburgh Festival show. Pic: Jane Barlow
L-R: French drumming duo S�bastien Rambaud and Yann Coste get some practice in, on Edinburgh's Calton Hill, ahead of their hotly anticipated Edinburgh Festival show. Pic: Jane Barlow
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Edinburgh’s festivals are at “real risk” due to artists being put off coming to the UK over fears it is becoming a less friendly country that wants to close its borders, according to one of their leading figures.

Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh, the body charged with promoting the city’s main events to the rest of the world, said their international ambitions were in danger of being held back by growing red tape wrangles.

Speaking at a summit of European marketing experts in Edinburgh, she admitted to fears of the city’s festivals being “cut off” from parts of the world due to increasing problems in securing visas for performers and companies.

Ms Amour said the “rise of populist politics” could have a significant long-term effect on Edinburgh’s festivals and to Scotland’s global reputation.

She has spoken out weeks after Edinburgh MP Deidre Brock warned urgent action was needed to protect the city’s festivals due to growing numbers of musicians, writers and performers becoming “collateral damage” under a “hostile” approach to immigration.

Edinburgh International Book Festival director Nick Barley warned earlier this month that “irretrievable damage” was being done by the visa system which he said will be the same this year despite extensive lobbying of civil servants and politicians.

Ms Amour said: “All of our festivals came out of the creative communities of the city but were born international and are seen as leaders in their field. At the same time as we’re seeing more international interest in them than ever there’s also a risk that the UK is being seen as a less friendly place and one that wants to close its borders.

“A lot of us are dealing with that now with the rise of populist politics across the world. It’s a real risk for the festivals in terms of our global offer - particular for people coming from countries of conflict or from people of colour.

“It could have a major effect on us, and on the reputation of our city, and our country, and on in-bound tourism. Several of our festivals and our artists have already spoken out to ensure we’re able to remain an open, culture and curious nation, and build on that as never before.”

Interviewed later, Ms Amour said the city was “very proud” to currently attract artists from more than 80 countries.

She added: “Any risk to that would obviously make our products all the poorer. Many of our festivals have ambitions to become even more global, looking to Africa, the Middle East and South America.

“If the visa system is working only on questions on salary and people who are in established jobs that’s a huge risk to our artists who exist in a very different way. It’s going to cut off our ability to hear from them.”

The Home Office insists the UK still welcomes artists coming into the country to perform and “appreciates the important contribution they make to the creative sector.”