Steve Cardownie: Festivals are just the ticket as disadvantaged get to greatest show on earth

The 2019 International Festival draws to a close with the traditional fireworks concert. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The 2019 International Festival draws to a close with the traditional fireworks concert. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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So, that’s it for another year, the summer festival season has ended with a bang as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra brought the curtain down in spectacular fashion, entertaining huge crowds with their concert from the Ross Theatre in Princes Street Gardens, accompanied by a fantastic fireworks extravaganza from Edinburgh Castle.

After the dust has settled there will be an in-depth assessment of the impact the festivals had on the city – warts and all. The economic impact, the financial contribution or lack of from the hospitality sector, the increased cost in hotel tariffs, traffic issues, the management of busy streets (particularly in the Old Town,) rubbish collections, the use of parks and open spaces and other associated issues will all be taken into account.

One thing that cannot be disputed, however, is their continuing success. The Fringe has already announced that this has been a record year for ticket sales, at over three million, with 855,000 drawn from across the city and an estimated 56 per cent of tickets sold in Scotland.The Edinburgh International Festival reported a one per cent increase in audience figures, taking it up to 420,000, and the Book Festival has recorded an attendance record of 265,000 at its venue in Charlotte Square. When you add the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh Art Festival into the mix the picture is rosy indeed.

Edinburgh has once again proven itself to be the envy of many cities throughout the world that can only look on from the outside at the greatest cultural festival on Earth, here in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital.

When I spoke to Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh, last week, she was happy to let me know what goes on behind the scenes and provided me with information on the work that they are doing in partnership with schools and local communities. But I also wanted to know what they are doing to make the festivals more accessible to the people who live in the city, particularly those who find ticket prices beyond their reach.

We discussed what had happened in previous years and she anticipated that when the figures are released for the 2019 summer festival season they would demonstrate an increased drive to extend their reach and become even more inclusive.

Last year the Edinburgh International Festival gave away more than 1,000 free tickets to community and youth groups to attend the youth ensemble concerts at the Usher Hall, plus 600 tickets issued to musicians under 18 via the Young Musicians Passport scheme. Across Scotland’s Year of Young People events, 2,500 tickets were given to young people, with approximately 1,000 going to areas of multiple deprivation. All told 46,095 tickets to the value of £569,750 were issued free of charge or at discounted rates to young people, seniors, customers with disabilities and groups identified as having a lower income – and it is hoped that this will be matched or surpassed this year.

Last year the Book Festival staged 152 free events, the Festival Fringe has seen an estimated 4,000 people visit the festival over the last two years via Fringe Days Out and it is committed to continuing with this initiative with the ambition to double the value of tickets from £50,000 to £100,000 by 2022.

This is just a snapshot of what the festivals are doing to engage the populace at large and in particular to target disadvantaged groups, not only in an effort to provide them with access to their programmes, but to leave behind a distinct legacy, whether that be greater involvement in the arts as a participant or the sheer enjoyment that these cultural events can bring.

Let’s hope that when this year’s ­statistics are made public the festivals will get the recognition that their endeavours merit.