The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, along with all of the city’s August festivals, will not take place in 2020 because of coronavirus, it has been confirmed.
It will be the first time in the festival’s 73-year history that it will not go ahead, however organisers said they “collectively believe this is the only appropriate response”.
It follows advice from the City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish government. The Fringe Society has also been consulting with artists, producers, venues, residents and audience members over recent weeks.
Announcing the news, Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said the safety of participants, audiences and residents “will always come first”.
She said: “It’s heartbreaking the fringe and our sister August festivals will not take place as planned this summer. However, having taken advice and considered all the options, we collectively believe this is the only appropriate response.”
McCarthy also expressed sympathies with “the thousands of artists and participants directly affected by today’s decision”. She added: “We will do everything we can to support you over the coming months.
“Culture brings out the best in us. It gives the marginalised a voice, it shapes and reshapes how we think of ourselves and, crucially, it unites us. Since their inception in 1947, the Edinburgh festivals have existed to champion the flowering of the human spirit and, in the face of this truly unprecedented global emergency, we believe this spirit is needed now more than ever.”
McCarthy added that the society is working to mitigate the financial impact on artists and audiences, and committed to refunding all participant registration fees as well as tickets and memberships bought by audiences.
“We are also offering participants, who have already paid, an alternative, which is to roll their show registration forward to the 2021 fringe to cover an equivalent show listing. Our thanks in particular go to our sponsors and partners. Without their long-term commitment to the fringe none of this would have been possible.
“Financially, this has not been straightforward – as the small charity that underpins the fringe we receive very little public subsidy – but we believe that offering refunds is the right thing to do and will turn this around as quickly as possible. There will also be an option to donate all or part of your purchase to support artists and the work of the Fringe Society, but this will of course be entirely optional,” McCarthy added.
Edinburgh International Festival will also not take place this year, with director Fergus Linehan admitting he was “hugely disappointed” to announce the news, adding: “Given the current outlook we believe it is the correct decision.”
He said work on the 2021 festival would begin immediately, in order to deliver a season “that will boost both our spirits and our economy”.
Both EIF and the Fringe Society had previously said they were optimistic the events could still run as planned in August if efforts to fight coronavirus were successful.
Immediate responses came from venues including Summerhall, which had been due to stage its 10th anniversary programme this year.
General manager Rowan Campbell said: “The Covid-19 pandemic and health crisis has already changed the cultural landscape of 2020 drastically and as a leading Fringe venue we have to respond to that challenge.
“This has not been an easy decision for myself, or the team in our 10th year – and I would like to thank the brilliant team at Summerhall for their patience, and our audiences and companies for their understanding as we negotiate these unprecedented times.”
Scotland’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said she understood and supported the decision to cancel this year’s events.
“The cancellation of the festivals will no doubt be a major loss and they will be missed greatly in 2020. But in taking this difficult decision now, everyone involved in the festivals, from staff to spectators, will be able to fully focus on their health and well-being, which is critical during this time of great uncertainty.
“I am committed to looking into support for seasonal staff who will suffer some of the greatest impact. The Scottish government will work with the festivals and all partners to ensure they can build on their previous success and return to the stage in 2021,” she said.