Edinburgh’s festivals mark their most successful year to date, but face a funding crisis as public and corporate support comes under threat

With a 17% increase in shows staged at the Fringe and ticket sales up 3% for the International Festival, Edinburgh’s melee of festivals have enjoyed their biggest year yet. The good news comes despite two years of prolonged recession in which public funding of the city’s festivals, in fact, reached an all-time high. Data from the city council and Creative Scotland, the new funding body that recently replaced the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, shows that the festivals were collectively given close to £15m during the past two financial years, with more than £6.4m already allocated for this year. This compares to approximately £5.4m in 2006/07.

Talk of cuts to Scottish arts is rife (AP223), and with Edinburgh City Council recently announcing a 12% budget slash across the board, the sector is vehemently fighting its case. Jonathan Mills, Director of Edinburgh International Festival (AP222), has used data from the city council’s 2004/05 Economic Impact study to remind funders that for every pound of subsidy, the festival pumps £61 back into the local economy. Of the £9m spent on running Edinburgh International Festival, half comes from public subsidy. This puts £275m back into the Scottish economy – a figure which is likely to be an underestimate this year. Mills nonetheless hopes that the solid evidence might protect festival funding from the harshest of cuts. The festival has already lost its sponsor for its annual fireworks display – which draws an estimated crowd of 250,000 and is the festival’s single most expensive event. Bank of Scotland, which has supported the end-of-festival fireworks for 16 years, has announced that it will not be offering any sponsorship next year. The team at Edinburgh International Festival, however, remain optimistic. A Festival spokesperson told AP: “City of Edinburgh Council has given us an indication of a 3.5% cut for 2010, but final figures are not yet confirmed. We are absolutely committed, especially in these straitened times, to maintaining the reach and ambition of the Festival and will work creatively and innovatively to do that.”
The Edinburgh festivals face a battle on two fronts to protect their funding; city councillors face the task of saving £90m from their budget, while Creative Scotland remains subject to a 10% cut in its government grant. It is yet to announce a long-term strategy with regard to the way reduced budgets will be administered to the Scottish arts sector. Chief Executive of Creative Scotland Andrew Dixon told AP that as “Creative Scotland will not know its budget until the Scottish Governments budget is confirmed in November,” it will hold on “[announcing] our formal plans after our board meeting in December”.
In the short term, the launch of Made in Scotland 2011 aims to present a continued commitment to new work despite an atmosphere of uncertainty. The programme, a joint initiative between Creative Scotland, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Federation of Scottish Theatre, is billed as a showcase of performances “to promote Scottish dance and theatre at the Edinburgh fringe”. As well as financial support, companies and artists are promised “access to training and advice to prepare for presenting their work” and have until 22 November to apply.