A magic woven every year in August - Joanna Mowat
I juggle a number of hats – City Centre councillor, board member of the Edinburgh International Festival and convener of the Licensing Sub Committee.
Things are different this year because there is talk of existential threats to all of the festivals as they battle constrained funding and increasing costs. There are changes in public safety, and what is expected to keep the public safe, which creates additional work and stretches tight resources. This year the new director of the international festival, Nicola Benedetti, has taken a question as the theme of the festival, “Where do we go from here?”.
This is a good question not just artistically and for festival-goers but for the city as a whole. A festival director who challenges us with big questions is welcome because questions invite dialogue.
It has long been a complaint of residents that they aren’t listened to when they raise concerns about how you live with the biggest cultural event on your doorstep for three weeks.
The origins of the festivals were in the community – it was Edinburgh’s response to a war-ravaged Europe to invite people to share in the arts to create dialogue and to heal. It was a good thing to do 76 years ago and continues to be the right thing to do.
In purely economic terms they are incredibly good value for money, every £1 of public money returning £33 in benefits to the city.
It will be interesting to see if the £35 million of public money put into the UCI cycling event returns £67m to Scotland which it would need to do to be as good value as the festivals.
Beyond the financials the festivals’ outreach work engages with young people across the city.
The project with young people at Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre in Liberton not only produced great songs and videos but built confidence which led to positive outcomes and several young people going into training and further education.
Last but not least the festivals are an opportunity for the people of Edinburgh to experience amazing artistic moments.
The performance of Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion on Saturday night in the Usher Hall was quite incredible – in a dreich corner of northern Europe we were transported to the foothills of the Himalayas.
The Festival Chorus forming sounds few western mouths are accustomed to as they sang in Sanskrit and the indigenous singers lifting the roof as they told the tale of Buddha using a western musical form.
That performance was not part of their world tour.
It existed for that night only, in that place only for that audience and those performers only, and that is the magic that is woven every year in August.
Jo Mowat is the Conservative councillor for the City Centre ward