Edinburgh Festivals ‘should focus on residents’

A performer draws a crowd at the Fringe. Picture: Ian Rutherford
A performer draws a crowd at the Fringe. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE Capital’s summer arts festivals need to do more to engage ordinary local people in the city’s biggest cultural events, a major gathering of arts leaders has been told.

Community arts organisations fear a “divided city” between wealthy visitors who can take part in the festivals and residents from poorer outlying areas who barely notice world-class arts events going on in the city centre.

The concerns were raised during a debate on the future of cultural policy in Edinburgh, attended by scores of artists and performers as well as festival top brass, including Festivals Edinburgh director Faith Liddell and Edinburgh International Book Festival director Nick Barley.

The Desire Lines event, which filled the Dissection Room at Summerhall last night, aimed to bring arts organisations together to give their views on how businesses and the council can better support creative initiatives.

Over the course of three hours, artists debated whether the Capital’s festivals should be held year-round, with Edinburgh-based tourism consultant Kenneth Wardrop suggesting an event between January and March could help boost tourism at a traditionally slow time of year.

The evening also saw those in attendance discuss how much funding festivals should receive from the council.

But some of the strongest views expressed were on the lack of engagement by arts events with deprived communities on their doorstep.

Virginia Radcliffe, director of Muirhouse children’s theatre group Licketyspit, said: “There are some art galleries that are very alienating. People don’t go because they can’t buy a cheap enough cup of tea, and tickets for the Festival are too expensive for most people in Edinburgh.”

Tony Reekie, chief executive of youth theatre company Imaginate, said: “The part of the year I hated most growing up was the Festival, because that’s [when] you have to go back to school.

“You could potentially have lots and lots of young people engaged in something, but you have the biggest arts festival in the world at a time when they have to be somewhere else. We as artists need to be engaging with people far more.”