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Edinburgh Fringe chief: ‘Festival risks becoming unaffordable to artists’

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. Photo: Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. Photo: Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe chief executive Shona McCarthy has warned that the annual arts festival could risk becoming unaffordable if costs continue to rise, in a speech in which she argued against “disinvesting in success”.

McCarthy was speaking as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society launched the annual report for its 70th year and just a fortnight after it was removed from Creative Scotland’s network of Regularly Funded Organisations, losing £70,000 annually.

McCarthy said that while 2.7 million tickets had been issued at last year’s festival, and there had been participants from 62 countries and 814 Scottish companies, the fringe’s success should not be taken for granted.

The economic, cultural and social value that it brings to Edinburgh and Scotland, is “balanced on a delicate ecosystem”, she said.

“We need to take considerable care so that this festival continues to be affordable for artists, for the arts industry, for promoters and for audiences.

“If the costs of things like accommodation, subsistence and travel, venue rents and licensing continue to rise then there will come a point where this festival is no longer affordable for the people who give it reason, content, credibility and existence – without whom none of the economic or other impacts would be possible.”

Making a plea to those “who have influence over such things”, she warned: “We should be careful to provide a supportive landscape for the fringe – the world’s leading festival city would look vastly different without it.”

At the event, McCarthy set out the society’s plans for its 75th anniversary, in 2022, which includes a manifesto that features ideas to address accessibility and affordability.

However, she said: “We cannot deliver on these ambitions without renewed public and private support and investment. Disinvesting in success does not make sense. Now more than ever the Fringe Society needs your support and investment to realise our ambitions for a fringe that is relevant, rooted, far-reaching and even more remarkable in its 75th year.”

The manifesto also pledges to enhance the fringe’s position as a global marketplace for creativity, “where creatives come to exchange ideas, media come to review and critique and the global arts industry comes to discover and select work”.

It is also aiming to secure a public-facing year-round base. This will house all its services and be open to participants and audiences.

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