Given the number of column inches in this paper dealing with festivals recently I took the opportunity to meet up with Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh, which is the umbrella organisation that promotes their interests and speaks on their behalf. I was particularly interested in what the festivals’ legacy was, what was happening behind the scenes (pun intended) and what impact was made on the city.
She stressed that the evidence demonstrates festivals are indeed supported by local people and that two-thirds of residents go to Festival events –totalling 1.7 million attendances between them – and that half of those residents don’t go to cultural events outside of Festival periods. So, the opportunities that the festivals create really do have an impact beyond “the usual suspects” and it is planned to extend the Festival’s reach even further.
The festivals have established partnerships with local organisations from Broomhouse, Gorgie and Dalry in the west, Restalrig and Leith in the north and Moredun and Gilmerton in the south, which is just the beginning of a longer-term relationship.
Festivals Edinburgh’s latest survey shows that the Festivals worked with more than 90 per cent of the city’s schools last year offering more than 50,000 learning opportunities in a city of 50,000 pupils.
The Fringe Society already provides resources for teachers looking to use the Fringe as a teaching aid with their pupils and has made links with more than 30 local community groups across the city to help them get involved for free. The Edinburgh International Festival recently completed a thre-year partnership with Castlebrae High School, which included arranging visits by actors such as Alan Cumming, and provided work experience in event management and hospitality. They have now started a similar partnership with my old school, Leith Academy.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival offers teenagers the chance to spend six months becoming a Young Programmer, choosing content for the Festival, and has established projects including the Edinburgh and Lothians Schools Film competition and a Media Day for senior school pupils about how the industry works.
The Festival City Volunteers scheme enables 100 local volunteers to use their knowledge, develop confidence and connections by helping visitors find their way through the city. They come from all backgrounds, ages and wards of the city and go on to further volunteering, community activities, education and employment after the peak August season is over. It is fashionable in some circles to denigrate and criticise the Festivals with unfounded accusations flying thick and fast but there is ample evidence that the Festivals do play an important role in the life and work of the city, particularly with young people.
Most of their outreach work goes unheralded but it is there for all to see if people would make the effort to look. No one is denying that more could be done, least of all Julia Amour, but while she is proud of the work being undertaken in local communities and schools so far, she is far from complacent and assured me that Festivals Edinburgh will continue to work to ensure that the city as a whole reaps the benefits and that more local groups and schools participate in cultural initiatives and projects.