Edinburgh’s festivals need to retain the best elements of this year for their 75th anniversary – Brian Ferguson
Roughly half-way through Edinburgh’s main festival season, it is hard to resist the temptation to predict how much its current cultural revival will influence what unfolds in a year’s time.
The radical shift in the shape and scale of the “Festival City” between 2019 and 2021 has offered many of those involved a chance to take stock and reflect on what they want, or need, to see return in 2022.
Next year was always likely to be a landmark of some sorts for the festivals as it marks the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe and the film festival.
While their 70th anniversary in 2017 undoubtedly had the air of a month-long celebration, there is a real sense of momentum building towards 2022 being some kind of fresh start.
Exactly what form this will take is anyone’s guess at this stage.
However I imagine there will be a real desire to retain the best bits of this year as far as possible, while seeking to recover the most-missed elements of the pre-Covid festivals.
The online incarnations of the festivals last year and this year were frankly unimaginable in 2019, when you had to travel to Edinburgh to experience an event.
Festivals, venues, companies and performers have learnt so much over the last 18 months that it is hard to believe online will vanish without trace within a year or two.
The fact that filmed versions of book festival talks, Fringe shows and Edinburgh International Festival performers are being made easily available has done wonders for their accessibility.
The experience on the ground in Edinburgh is also far removed from the pre-Covid years.
Normally crowded parts of the city have been a pleasure to navigate and linger in, rather than no-go areas.
The lack of postering and flyering has not only left the city centre looking a lot better, but has dramatically cut the environmental impact of the event.
The festivals also seem to have coped well enough without printing mountains of programmes this year – a move aimed at curbing the risk of Covid spreading, but which has reduced their carbon footprint in a way that would have been unthinkable two years ago.
The feel-good factor definitely seems to have returned, thanks to the support of thousands of local festivalgoers, whose enthusiasm at returning to live events has apparently been tempered by caution understandable over indoor venues and physical distancing arrangements.
Much is uncertain about next year, particularly the extent to which overseas tourism market will have recovered, and whether events like the Fringe will return to anything like the summer of 2019.
Whatever happens, the Festival City will be transformed in 2022 thanks to the return of many venues which are still to reopen. The absence of the Assembly Rooms, the New Town Theatre and the Rose Theatre, and the relocation of the book festival, has left the New Town virtually bereft of festival activity. Two of the council’s flagship venues, the Usher Hall and the King’s Theatre, are normally cornerstones of the International Festival.
And major events look well-placed to return to Edinburgh Castle esplanade and Princes Street Gardens.
By the time the city’s fireworks spectaculars hopefully return, it will be intriguing to see what shape Edinburgh’s festival landscape is in by then.