Festival boss admits the city’s summer events haven’t done enough for Edinburgh residents


Fergus Linehan said although the city’s summer events prior to the pandemic had seen “huge spikes in demand” they also created “real problems”.

Mr. Linehan, who was appointed eight years ago, said he believes they have not given local residents a “sense of shared cultural or financial dividend.”

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He suggested that the infrastructure for the festivals was designed with economic recovery and tourism in mind, not Edinburgh residents

Mr Linehan, who was born in Dublin and worked at festivals in Australia before taking on the role of EIF, predicted the record attendance would be reached before the pandemic returned.

But he said Edinburgh “has to decide what to do with this success”.

The EIF has been running with the Fringe and the Film Festival since 1947. Its total attendance, along with other events such as the tattoo, jazz, visual arts and book festivals, had risen to more than 4.4 million by 2019, the highest level ever. More than 25,000 artists and performers took part in around 5000 individual events.

All summer festivals had to go online last year amid the pandemic but are expected to return in July and August, with the exception of the tattoo.

Speaking at a University of Edinburgh webinar on the impact of the pandemic, Mr. Linehan said, “We have seen what is probably the greatest boom in live performance in history.

“Instead of replacing live performances, the digital revolution has created an insatiable appetite to actually be in the room with the artists and a crowd. In Edinburgh we saw an enormous surge in demand for the summer festivals.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that people on the other end of the pandemic will be incredibly excited to attend live shows.

“But it created some real problems. In Edinburgh, the popularity of the festival season has not created a sense of a shared cultural or financial dividend.

Fergus Linehan has directed the Edinburgh International Festival since 2015. Fergus Linehan has directed the Edinburgh International Festival since 2015.

“I often feel that one of the things that happened during austerity was that the argument of the arts for itself was economic recovery or tourism. Much of our cultural infrastructure was built with them in mind.

“Maybe we’ll look at it now and say it’s not really built for the people in the city, but based on these ideas. They don’t receive a direct dividend or they certainly don’t feel like they should.

“The success of Edinburgh in August is that people find the city a wonderful place to visit and the festival a wonderful experience. I don’t see any reason why this is going to change. My prediction is that participation in performing arts events will return to pre-pandemic record levels.

“That will create a level of success that offers challenges and opportunities that existed before.

“It is a problem of success. Edinburgh has to decide what to do with this success and how to use and manage it.

“I would argue that when it comes to problems, it’s not the worst you can have. It’s a problem that many cities around the world would like to take out of our hands. “

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