THE Edinburgh International Festival is to branch out into children’s entertainment and family shows for the first time in an attempt to safeguard the future of the event.
The new artistic director revealed a number of dedicated performances would be in his debut programme when it is unveiled next month.
Fergus Linehan, who took charge of the festival last September, said the move this year would only be “toes in the water” but would be further expanded in future years.
He said he also wanted the EIF to lead the way in the development of events to which parents would feel comfortable bringing young children along, saying the festival was at risk if it failed to “look to the future”.
Linehan said he wanted the event to inspire a new generation of arts lovers, describing them as “critical” to the future of the festival.
He told Scotland on Sunday: “We do year-round education work, which is brilliant, but we are quite quiet about it. The question is how do we both expand on that and realise that within the month of August itself.
“There will be a lot of toes in the water in this year’s programme. There will be a number of performances specifically for families or children. We’ll see how it works but it’s an area I fully intend to develop in future years. It’s incredibly basic. You’ve got to get them young and get them used to going to the festival.”
Linehan, a previous director of the Sydney Festival and the Dublin Theatre Festival, suggested that the EIF would stage an international gathering of experts in 2017, which will mark the festival’s 70th anniversary.
He plans to instigate a wide-ranging debate on the “erosion of the arts in the lives of young people and in particular in the school curriculum,” which he described as the “greatest threat” to the future of the entire Edinburgh Festival.
Linehan said he wanted to take inspiration from the EIF’s founders, who took a huge “gamble” on instigating the event shortly after the end of the Second World War.
He said: “The 70th anniversary is an opportunity for us to ask the question as to who the festival is engaging with generationally and who is it going to be for, to ensure that its future is as healthy and secure as it can be.
“The festival was founded in response to very immediate and urgent issues in 1947. It is beholden on those of us who pick up this mantle to be equally of our time.
“When I first came to Edinburgh in August, I was knocked out by what I saw. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world gathered in one of the most beautiful cities on earth – to laugh, to cry, to converse, to contemplate, to become enraged, to learn and to share.
“We need to find new ways and new languages for people to share in the values that the festival espouses.
“I still find it astonishing to think, in 1947, when the whole country was really struggling to survive, what a gamble it must have been to create an international festival here in Edinburgh. It was a gamble on the future being brighter than the present.
“I would defy anyone to come and spend time in Edinburgh in August, engage in what this festival season means and come away feeling the future is bleak. Our festival has a rich and very proud history.
“The festival is predicated on young people growing up in an environment that supports and encourages participation in the arts.
“The future success of the festival and all the benefits that spring from it are predicated on the degree to which the arts are present in the classroom, in our libraries and in our public spaces.
“Organisations such as ours, the Book Festival and the Fringe can and already do important work in this area, but we cannot provide the infrastructure and support required to ensure that children and young people have regular access to music, theatre, dance, literature and the visual arts.”
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