Edinburgh Festival Fringe: New ‘alliance’ formed to fight for more financial support for event

Fringe Society chief says festival is ‘undervalued’
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Organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are stepping up pressure for new financial backing for the event amid claims it is being hugely undervalued.

Leading venues have formed a new alliance that will work with the Fringe Society to try to “secure the future” of the 76-year-old event. There were 3,825 Fringe shows registered this year, just 16 fewer than 2019’s record-breaking edition.

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The venues will be working jointly to “raise financial support for the Fringe community” after nearly 700 applications were made for 50 official bursaries, worth £2,000 each, which were available to help put on shows this year.

The cast of A Comedy of Operas get into character ahead of their Edinburgh Festival Fringe show at the Pleasance at EICC. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireThe cast of A Comedy of Operas get into character ahead of their Edinburgh Festival Fringe show at the Pleasance at EICC. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
The cast of A Comedy of Operas get into character ahead of their Edinburgh Festival Fringe show at the Pleasance at EICC. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Ahead of the festival’s final day, the Fringe Society warned the festival needed more support “more than ever” to ensure the event remains “relevant and sustainable in future". Chief executive Shona McCarthy has issued a public plea to “those that are in a position to financially support this globally-recognised event”.

Key aims of the 27-strong alliance include making the festival "more affordable and sustainable", promoting "best practice" across the event, and providing a voice – as well as campaigning for – venues, producers and artists involved in shows.

A priority of the alliance, which has pledged to “work with and support the Fringe Society”, will be to ensure new financial support secured for the event “reaches those operating in all parts of the Fringe ecology”.

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The Fringe Society was successful in securing a £7 million investment from the UK Government this year. However, the money is ring-fenced for a proposed new headquarters building.

Street entertainers perform on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the final full week of the Fringe. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesStreet entertainers perform on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the final full week of the Fringe. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Street entertainers perform on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the final full week of the Fringe. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The group, which has emerged from an Association of Independent Venue Producers, is being opened up to all theatre companies, venue managers and operators, promoters, directors, writers and performers involved with the Fringe.

The current membership includes Acoustic Music Centre, Army at the Fringe, artSpace@StMark’s, Assembly Festival, Bedlam, BlundaGardens/BlundaBus, C ARTS, Dance Base, Exchange Events/Theatre Big Top, Gilded Balloon, Greenside Venues, Hootenannies, Institut Français Écosse, Just the Tonic, Laughing Horse Comedy, Marchmont St Giles’, Monkey Barrel Comedy, Paradise Green, Pleasance, Quaker Meeting House, St Vincent’s Chapel, Scottish Storytelling Centre, theSpaceUK, The Stand Comedy Club, Summerhall, Underbelly and ZOO.

An official announcement from the new Fringe Alliance said: “The alliance has been founded in response to the external economic and political challenges facing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe eco-system.

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"Formed to represent those who make the Fringe happen, support the Fringe community, and safeguard the future of the Fringe, the Fringe Alliance marks an important step forward in ensuring the sustainability and growth of the festival.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy.Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy.
Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy.

"By fostering collaboration, advocating for those who take risks to make and present work at the Fringe, and promoting best practice, the alliance is poised to create a positive and enduring impact on the cultural landscape of Edinburgh and beyond.”

The Fringe Society is expected to launch one of the highest audiences in the event’s history later today. Writing in The Scotsman today, Ms McCarthy said the past few weeks had been a “return to a truly joyous Fringe”.

“It has felt fresh, brave and energetic, with a sense of ambition for a post-Covid era that is defined by creativity and care," she said. "Since 2019, the fragility of the Fringe has been discussed at length.

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"Covid, combined with the UK’s departure from the EU, and the current cost-of-living crisis, have put a renewed focus on the long-term sustainability of not just this festival, but the cultural sector more widely.

“With the arts often undervalued in both social and diplomatic terms, this year’s Fringe is a timely reminder of the importance of the arts as a space for conversation, connection and looking at old issues with a fresh lens.

"From a local audience to the 70 countries represented on Fringe stages, the cultural and international relevance of this festival for Scotland and the UK is undeniable. Along with our sister festivals, we are on the scale of a Fifa World Cup, but Edinburgh’s festivals deliver every single year. The Fringe is indeed a vital, integral part of the UK’s cultural economy and ecology.”

Edinburgh’s festivals have been campaigning for a rethink on their public funding which, although worth around £11m a year, is said to have lost 44 per cent of its value since 2010 due to the rise in costs over that period.

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They have drawn comparisons with the level of support for one-off sporting events like the recent World Cycling Championships held in Scotland, which were supported to the tune of £36m.

Ms McCarthy said: “When aligning the Fringe to a World Cup, it isn’t to shout about the number of people who come to shows, or the number of tickets issued, but to stress that the scale and support that is required to deliver the Fringe and August festivals every year should be commensurate to a mega event.

"This summer Scotland hosted the World Cycling Championships and last year Birmingham hosted the Commonwealth Games. Mega events by their very nature generate media coverage, tourism footfall, and drive economic and social impacts. Yet they appear to be more valued through significant financial investment, than their cultural counterparts who deliver the same results, and do so every year."

Anthony Alderson, artistic director of the Pleasance, one of the biggest Fringe venue operators, said: “This is a vast event with many moving parts; a specific organisation that can actively and directly support artists and venues is now more important than ever.

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"We also hope to make the support we need from the Fringe Society more efficient and cohesive and to streamline communication directly to the city council and government bodies in order to have a more consistent and collaborative approach to solving the challenges the festival faces.”

Summerhall chief executive Sam Gough said: “We exist, as a venue, in order to enable great work to be shown to audiences throughout the year but especially in august.

"This year we have independently launched several initiatives aimed at supporting artists financially and in terms of their professional development.

"We will, of course, be part of any discussion or ambition to further that support across the whole festival and will be work on behalf of the creatives that choose us to make sure we are advocating on their behalf to ensure that the fringe, in its genuine ambition, survive and thrives.”

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Ms McCarthy praised the writers, actors, creatives and risk-takers who brought work to the Fringe as “the beating-heart of what takes place”. She said the society was “actively fundraising” to try to provide more bursaries in 2024.

“Be the supporters that this unique festival needs to be sustained, to allow its evolution, and to exist,” she said. “Listen to its artists, its place-makers and its audiences. Hear their stories and recognise and support the Fringe into another 76 years of celebration.

“The Fringe Society is here year-round and we would welcome the opportunity to show you the impact your financial support could make.

"In 2022 we launched a future vision – to give anyone a stage and everyone a seat. Our collective ambitions are significant and focused, and in working with a range of partners we are in a strong position to achieve these. However, there is much to do, and we need support now, more than ever, to ensure that this joyous festival, quite unlike anything else on this planet, remains relevant and sustainable for the future.”

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