Edinburgh cancels its five international August festivals

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Paul Genty

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City continues to support grants while losing revenue from over four million visitors

Coronavirus has taken its biggest arts victim yet with the announcement that Edinburgh’s five August festivals - The Edinburgh Art Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh International Festival and Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - have been cancelled for the first time in 70 years.

The festivals involve over 5,000 events across Scotland’s capital each summer, with audiences of 4.4 million and over 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries. Only the summer Olympics are a larger cultural event.

The city council’s cross-party leadership advisory panel took the decision at its inaugural meeting yesterday to commit to funding programmes supporting the cultural sector, and to this resource being repurposed to help towards mitigating the impacts of the shut-down.

The panel agreed to release 70 per cent of its £4 million in grant awards immediately, with the balance of funding - normally released in the autumn - to be kept under regular review.

Council leader Councillor Adam McVey, said: "This was a profoundly difficult decision, leaving a massive gap in our capital, but clearly it was the right one. Our thoughts are very much with all the fantastic artists, writers, performers and organisations who were working so hard to prepare for another busy festival season.

“The most important consideration is the health of our residents and the safety of everyone in the City. We’re all working closely together as a city and internationally with the common purpose of protecting each other, whilst taking up our shared responsibility for planning towards our recovery.

“We’re looking at every feasible option to help to sustain our key sectors, including the festivals, and have committed to honouring all grant payments due to our cultural partners for the current year, and to the repurposing of these, as required. By releasing the allocated grants to our Strategic Partners across the city we’re helping support them as far as possible through these exceptionally challenging times.

"We agreed at the Leadership Advisory Panel’s first meeting yesterday that this funding can be put towards mitigation of the impacts of coronavirus to help ensure the brilliant artistic ecosystem that exists in our Capital isn’t lost, without forcing events to take place as a condition of funding. 

"We’ll do everything we can to assist our world-renowned cultural sector to remain at the heart of the Edinburgh’s identity going forward.”

Depute leader, Councillor Cammy Day, added: “We’re incredibly proud to be known as the world’s Festival City and must never forget the positive contribution our festivals make to our lives, bringing art to Edinburgh in a way no other city on the planet enjoys. For our major festivals, attention inevitably turns to a renaissance in 2021”

Sorcha Carey, the arts festival director, said: “We will be back next year – as always working closely with our partner galleries, and alongside our extended network of sister festivals, to celebrate the work of artists with audiences and communities across the city.”

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, added: “Since their inception in 1947 the Edinburgh festivals have existed to champion the flowering of the human spirit and, in the face of this truly unprecedented global emergency, we believe that this spirit is needed now more than ever.”

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