Venues may come and go but Edinburgh's Festival Fringe is indestructible

Edinburgh's iconic Festival Fringe, the greatest arts festival in the world, will never die, despite recent claims of its imminent demise.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 4:30 pm
The Fringe
The Fringe

'Fears grow for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's future as venue bosses plead for help over 2021 comeback...' is just one of the doom-laden headlines I've read recently, topping a story revealing that a handful of venue producers, having estimated it could cost up to £15 million to get the Fringe back to its level of 2019, want the event under-written by the public purse.

It's a sum that would no doubt have seemed obscene to the founding fathers of the 1951 Edinburgh People's Festival, set up as an alternative celebration of culture to the then elitist Edinburgh International Festival, which many credit as laying the foundations of the Fringe as we now know it. Backed by the local Trades Union Council, Miners' Union, and Labour and Communist parties of the time, what those early 'producers' would make of the commercial behemoth their event inspired can only be imagined.

​That said, in many ways the ethos of the Peoples' Festivals and the Fringe of today remains the same, to make culture accessible to the many not the few, and as long as that sentiment remains at the heart of August in Edinburgh the Fringe will not just survive but thrive.

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Consequently, when producers talk of 'fears for the future of the Fringe' what they are really talking about is the future of the big commercial venues, whose footprints on the event have grown exponentially since the late-Eighties, mostly to the detriment of the hundreds of smaller venues.

Whether or not the requested financial underwriting is forthcoming, the Fringe will continue to do what it has always done, evolve and change. It will remain an organic celebration of creativity with or without the Underbellies, Assemblies and Pleasances of the entertainment world, much as it was before they became part of the month-long jamboree – it has always been the case that as one venue or producer takes their final bow, another waits in the wings for their opportunity to step into the spotlight.

One prominent Edinburgh businessman, owner of three city outlets, has suggested it is time to stagger the city's festivals, running the Fringe and Winter Festivals on alternate years. While there’s an attraction to having every other summer and winter free to enjoy the town centre itself, it’s a drastic proposal. The real aim must be to use the current hiatus to reinvent the Festival landscape rather than just manage a return to the old normal, which realistically has gone forever.

The Fringe is basically indestructible but as I've said before Edinburgh must always be the star, its festivals the supporting acts. Do we really want a return to the levels of 2019?

It’s time to look beyond the easy lure of the millions the Fringe reportedly brings to the Capital’s coffers, for if that is now the measure of the success of the biggest and best arts festival in the world, then we have failed to live up to the ideals upheld by generations of Fringe performers and audiences who reveled in the creativity and comradeship of Edinburgh.

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