Edinburgh Festival boss: “We want to do more things outside the city centre”

A shake-up of the Edinburgh International Festival will see the showcase have a gender-balanced line-up and stage more events outwith the city centre in future.

Wednesday, 21st August 2019, 8:41 am
Festival revellers on the Royal Mile. Picture: TSPL

Organisers have pledged to open up the Festival’s recruitment processes, create initiatives to ensure every part of the city benefits and step up efforts to ensure “new voices” are heard on the Festival’s stages in the next few years.

Executive director Francesca Hegyi has signalled the changes – described as “evolutionary more than revolutionary” – as it emerged the Festival will have a majority of women on its board for the first time in its history.

She said priorities for the Festival, which has just completed an 18-month review, would involve examining “where and how we programme” in future years, ensuring the event is “better connected to the city” and maintaining its international profile and reputation.

Francesca Hegyi. Picture: TSPL

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In her first interview since her appointment, Ms Hegyi pledged the event would be “resolutely international and outward-looking, no matter what happens with Brexit”.

But she said efforts were likely to be stepped up to underline the wide-ranging benefits of the Festival to try to protect its public funding, warning that it was “paramount” in ensuring the Festival could still take risks and did not become “safe and commercial”.

Ms Hegyi, who has been in her newly created post since February, held the same role during Hull’s reign as UK City of Culture in 2017. New boardroom appointments include Leonie Bell, a former head of culture at the Scottish Government, journalist Yasmin Sulaiman, a former executive director of Creative Edinburgh, solicitor Marion Davis and Edinburgh University rector Ann Henderson.

Ms Hegyi said: “We certainly wanted to have an equal balance of men and women on the board. It was a factor in the consideration of the appointments. We’re really looking at gender quality more broadly. That starts right at the top.

“By having a female-majority board, we’re going be in a better position to become a gender-equal organisation all the way through. It’s not going to happen overnight but we are looking at how we achieve a better gender balance within the programme. I love that. Women are no less talented than men.

“If we’re about putting on the very best work from around the world, I don’t believe that’s made mainly by men. But there is a job to do in enabling women to stay in the industry, so they’re able to progress and develop. I’d say we are at the start of our discussions and debates on this but the commitment to gender equality is there. It’s about creating a balance, whether you’re programming, building a board or putting together a team.

“One of the things we want to do is programme more things outside the city centre. We are obviously down in Leith Theatre now and had our opening event at Tynecastle, where 70 per cent of the people in the stadium were first-time attendees. We want to do more things outside the city centre. The Festival is for the whole of Edinburgh, not just the city centre.

“We receive funding from the council. People contribute to that from right across Edinburgh, so people across the city should benefit from the festivals in some way.

“We want to ensure we’re touching every part of the city positively over the next few years, so that everybody can feel they are part of the Festival, in terms of community and engagement work, but also by increasing the number of performances.”