NO one wants to be the voice of doom. But one senses a certain trepidation amid the celebrations at the nation’s – the world’s? – most important arts festival.
I had a lengthy and engaging pre-launch interview with Fergus Linehan, director of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), last week. He was notably upbeat, only days before the big reveal of his 70th anniversary EIF programme, but he became sombre at two points.
The first was when we discussed his position as an EU citizen in a time of Brexit. As reported in these pages, he said the uncertainty that is afflicting his own position, shared with millions of others, is more than disconcerting. He is contracted until 2019, but how will Brexit and the official position of EU citizens in the UK affect that role? He raised the issue and we reported it. If the Festival wishes to extend his role beyond 2019, can it, and will he even want to?
Loading article content
The second sombre moment was when we talked about money. Financially, Mr Linehan said there was “good and bad” news for the EIF. The bad news, he said, was not only restricted to the financial consequences of Brexit, although these are multiple: the hamstrung pound is good for tourists coming to the capital in August, he said, but bad for deal-making in dollars and Euros.
Then there is money from the public purse. Of course, the EIF is not alone in depending on public funding to survive – that applies to nearly every major cultural company, festival, theatre, orchestra and gallery in Scotland.
In particular, the Festival depends on funds from the City of Edinburgh Council. These have been declining. From 2011-2015 there were in standstill, at £2.389million. Since then the figure has declined, first in 2016 to £2.317m and then again this year to £2.22m.
This year there is project funding from the Scottish Government and other bodies. There is also major sponsorship deals from Standard Life, which help makes the opening events – which under Mr Linehan have become a key pillar of the programme – happen, and Virgin Money, which sponsors the Fireworks Concert. The Festival has also, I was told last week, sealed a new deal with Baillie Gifford, the investment managers. The support from Baillie Gifford is increased, and lasts for three years, specifically backing dance: it will support dance productions in 2017 and 2019 and a 2018 programme focussing on new talent. These are the kind of deals Mr Linehan says the festival is increasingly dependent upon. There are also ticket sales. But, he warned, the festival cannot maintain its current size and excellence relying on private sponsorship and box office alone. “Anyone reliant on the public purse now is right to be nervous,” he said and added: “A big swing towards raising more money from the public [tickets] and sponsors cannot continue indefinitely.”
Mr Linehan understands the financial pressures on the city’s governing body. But he added: “There is a point of reckoning...we are actually talking about the material withdrawal of funds – that just cannot go on. You cannot salami-slice indefinitely.”