Donald Wilson: The stage is set for Edinburgh's festivals

They say all the world's a stage and nowhere is that more evident than in Edinburgh during August.

Monday, 30th July 2018, 6:00 am
Pic Lisa Ferguson 07/08/2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 - High Street, Royal Mile, Street Act, Street Performers

Above and below ground, on rooftops and around every major street corner, that familiar festival buzz fills every available space as the five summer festivals get under way.

It is true that the main summer festivals are as popular as ever, and this should be viewed as positive news for our city and our people. In fact, according to the results of our People’s Survey, more Edinburgh people than ever (67 per cent) attended a festival event in the last two years, which means nearly 1.4m attendances by local residents – with 76 per cent of you believing the festivals make the Capital a better place to live. Their continued success is not by chance, but thanks to great leadership, programming, promotion and their enviable reputation for quality.

Last year’s 70th anniversary celebrations provided the ideal chance for all of us to reflect on their success to date, but for the council and city partners, it was also a moment to think about how we will help them flourish in the future.

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Edinburgh remains the undisputed world leader as a Festival City, and this is because the events continue to change and grow with the city itself. As old spaces close and new ones become available, festival performers move in. This collective understanding that the look and feel of the festivals will continue to evolve over the next 70 years is perhaps their only constant! And, as a city, we are evolving with them. That means managing their growth, in a way which is sustainable for the events and for the rest of Edinburgh now and in the years to come.

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It’s how we work together to manage the flow of people visiting and the impacts they have on the city that we are looking at, and we launched a “score card” approach earlier in year to keep track of how well we’re doing. This includes thinking about the seasonality of events in Edinburgh and broadening out the footprint of the August festivals.

So, this summer, expect to see more festival performances taking place outside of the Old and New Towns. The International Festival will be taking over the Leith Theatre, for example, for a series of gigs which will help to put this historic and forgotten venue back on the map. The Royal Botanic Gardens will also be in use as a venue, the EICC will once again be a major hub and community centres around the city will open their doors.  

In recognition of this, in the 70th year the council, Scottish Government and the Edinburgh festivals joined forces to create a legacy fund to bolster financial support for the festivals. This one-off five-year funding programme will be used to support new artists and projects, and I’m looking forward to progressing plans after the summer.  

The festivals are a crucial component of Edinburgh’s tourism offer, which currently supports around 35,000 jobs and contributes £1.5 billion to the city’s economy. It is also important to acknowledge that the city is a year-round destination attracting visitors from across the globe to major attractions such as the Castle and the Old and New Town World Heritage sites, and don’t forget the three bridges across the Forth.

And, while the major festivals anchor our cultural activity, there are many great events taking place throughout the rest of the year too. In recognition of the benefits they bring, I have spearheaded extending funding to local and community festivals too this summer. Celebrations like Diwali (the Indian festival of lights) and the city’s colourful Chinese New Year celebrations, and old Scots traditions like the Riding of the Marches and Pipe Band Championships are events which bring communities together and I believe these festivals deserve to be highlighted too.

Whatever events you decide to revel in this August, don’t forget to sample the best of the rest of the year too.

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