Baroness Smith steps down as chair of Edinburgh Fringe

Baroness Elizabeth Smith of Gilmorehill has formally stepped down as chair of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, saying it is “time for some fresh thinking and for someone new to lead the board into the future”.

Smith announced her intended resignation in February. The last act of her 17 years in the position was to chair the Society’s annual general meeting on Saturday.

During the AGM, vice chair Pip Utton paid tribute to the way Smith had navigated “one of the most important transformations” in the fringe’s history.

Baroness Smith was appointed to the role months after taking up a place in the House of Lords in 1995. At the time, the fringe and Edinburgh International Festival shared the same dates. Since then fringe and EIF have moved apart and the fringe’s ticket sales have almost tripled from 679,147 to 1.8 million in 2011.

The low point in Baroness Smith’s tenure was the catastrophic failure of the fringe’s computer ticketing system in 2008, which nearly bankrupted the society and caused the resignation of its then director.

Kath Mainland, current chief executive of the society, said Smith’s tenure: “During her time as chair, the fringe has cemented its position as the most successful arts event of its kind in the world.

“The internationalism of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe seems to speak to Elizabeth’s own outward-looking nature and as chair she has helped to ensure that the fringe has grown without ever losing its vitality and bite. Elizabeth is a sane, shrewd and influential voice in politics, arts and public life in general.”

The fringe society has been headhunting a high-profile individual to take on the role and has said it will announce the new chair in October. The society’s constitution states that the chair has to a director of the society so the appointee will need to be co-opted onto the board at its next meeting.

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