Donald Wilson: It's our duty to nurture Edinburgh's creative heart

With less than two weeks to go, we're setting the stage '“ three stages, in fact '“ for one of the biggest and best festivals in the world: Edinburgh's Hogmanay.

Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 5:00 am
Councillor Donald Wilson is culture and communities convener at Edinburgh City Council

With less than two weeks to go, we’re setting the stage – three stages, in fact – for one of the biggest and best festivals in the world: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

Featuring a unique talent pool of Scottish acts and world-renowned artists, a send-off for Scotland’s Year of Young People and a celebration of the country’s enduring ties with Europe, the programme certainly feels like a fitting end to what has been another big year for Edinburgh’s festivals.

Looking back on the last 12 months it can’t be said enough how fruitful 2018 has been for all of the festivals and how important they are for our city. A unique cultural phenomenon, they continue to attract close to four million people, generate more than £313m for the Scottish economy and create the equivalent of 6000 full-time jobs each year.

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Less obvious, perhaps, is that participation in the festivals by Edinburgh citizens is also up across the board. The proportion of residents who have attended a festival in the last two years has increased to 67 per cent – the highest figure recorded in Edinburgh’s annual Peoples’ Survey – and these events remain the way that most citizens engage in cultural activity.

This is something I’m determined to see increase next year too. Through the council’s joint investment with the Scottish Government and festivals into the new PLACE programme, 2019 will be packed with festival projects which make the arts more accessible and with new events which engage our communities and local people. The Jazz and Blues Festival is a great case in point. Having celebrated its 40th birthday this summer, it will launch a new open access music hub next summer in the heart of Gorgie and Dalry, joining hands with an already active community centre to spread music from all corners of the globe into all corners of the city.

Also easy to overlook is the success in 2018 of up-and-coming “citizen-oriented” festivals such as Edinburgh’s Diwali and the Edinburgh Riding of the Marches. We now have a range of events taking place all year round, which cater to all interests, faiths and families, meaning there is almost always something going on in the city.

This greater spread of activity is one of the ways we have been looking at how we can sustainably manage events in the city in the years ahead. 2018 has been a year of much debate about how we strike the right balance when it comes to our cultural offering, and also whether a transient visitor levy could help Edinburgh benefit more from its own success, and this will rightly remain on the agenda into 2019.

And, with the uncertainty of Brexit, I’m a great believer that it is important to support and develop our tourism industry for the sake of Scotland’s economy as well as the cultural wellbeing of all our citizens. Building on Hogmanay’s message that “we still love you Europe”, we will continue to build links with our partner cities and resist any barriers for those who wish to enjoy Edinburgh and the festivals.

In August I attended the Edinburgh International Culture Summit which was hosted once again by the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace. It is incredible that a city of Edinburgh’s size is sitting at the same table as New York, London and Berlin as one of the world’s foremost experts on culture. From the discussions, there can be no doubt that cultural well-being is not just desirable but necessary for all, from child development to the fight against some of the afflictions in later life. Let’s not let this crucial element be forgotten in the debate that seems to pit residents against tourists.

So, in 2019, I’ll continue to fight for what I believe in: that it is the city’s duty to continue to nurture Edinburgh’s creative heart. Not just for the substantial financial gains the events inject our economy with, but for the mental and physical health of our own, too. Budgets might be tight but this Hogmanay, we must never forget the contribution our festivals and cultural services make, both to the economy and the lives of our citizens. It seems to me that a transient visitor levy is an absolute necessity in this regard.

Councillor Donald Wilson is culture and communities convener at Edinburgh City Council