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The chair of the Edinburgh Fringe Society says “the entire culture sector could implode” if a sure-footed approach isn't taken to sponsors with links to the oil and gas industry.

Edinburgh fringe high street stock photo
Photo: 

Bob Douglas via iStock

The arts sector is at risk of “imploding” if corporate donors are forced to withdraw sponsorship due to criticism of their record on the environment, the organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have warned.

Responding to controversy surrounding the Edinburgh-based investment managers Baillie Gifford, lead sponsor of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Fringe Society Chair Benny Higgins said the sector “cannot afford to take extreme decisions when assessing corporate or private financial support”.

Baillie Gifford, which also helps pay for the distribution of free Fringe tickets to charities, has been targeted for its investments in companies that profit from fossil fuels.

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The company’s sponsorship of the Book Festival has led to environmental activist Greta Thunberg withdrawing from her scheduled appearance this year, while in an open letter more than 50 authors have threatened to boycott the event over Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship.

The letter, whose signatories included authors Zadie Smith, Ali Smith and Katherine Rundell, called on Baillie Gifford to stop investing in fossil fuel companies, and for the festival to find another sponsor for 2024 if it doesn't.

It also asks authors to boycott next year's event if the demands aren't met.

Book Festival Director Nick Barley responded by promising “to think about your letter carefully”.

He added: “Like all arts organisations in the UK, we wouldn’t have enough funds to operate without private sponsorship.

“We looked very closely at the work of Baillie Gifford and it seems to us that they are in fact investing in companies that are seeking to resolve the crisis.”

Ethical standards

Higgins, who was speaking at the Fringe Society AGM, said: “For me, ethical standards matter. And we take them very, very seriously. 

“But there needs to be a sure-footed approach to making sound judgements.

“It is a very, very difficult landscape for the arts at the moment.

“The level of jeopardy is as bad as it’s been for a very long time and it’s not set to get much better anytime soon.”

He added that “the entire culture sector could implode” if the plug was pulled on all sponsors with links to the oil and gas industry.

Fringe Society Chief Executive Shona McCarthy said: “In an environment where there’s been a 30% real-terms cut in arts funding in Scotland over the last decade and the cost of everything has escalated, it’s really important to have corporate partners that will step into that space.

“That’s not to say there’s not an ongoing conversation to be had. All of the festivals are on a journey towards becoming carbon neutral. None of us are there yet.”

She added: “I respect Greta Thunberg’s personal choice. But we've also got to make a judgement as people responsible for an event of this scale.”

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Comments

It would be good to see some acknowledgement in these statements from the Festivals that there are rules charities must stick to when it comes to accepting or refusing donations. It must be in the charity's best interest to do so, and ethics alone are not enough of a reason, as outlined in the Fundraising Code of Practice. I'm not sure what 'conversation' is needed, other than to ascertain how much of an issue this is becoming for each charity and if that meets the threshold.