Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital, and its second most populous city. It is well-known for its unique topography and historic architecture – together, the medieval Old Town and neo-classical New Town are designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city’s varied cultural offer famously includes 12 major Festivals – the Edinburgh Festivals – which take place across the city each year. Edinburgh’s history, architecture, topography and relatively small scale all make it a key participant in the overall Festival experience.
Taken together, the Edinburgh Festivals are one of the biggest ticketed events in the world, and the Fringe Festival is now the largest annual international arts festival. This benefits Edinburgh’s international profile and visitor appeal. The city is now the second most popular tourist destination in the UK, attracting over a million overseas visitors each year, and Festival visitors provide important additional expenditure to the Scottish economy.
“In summer you get to see all these performances outdoors. I haven’t seen anything like that anywhere else! This makes Edinburgh unique and special”
- Donald Anderson, Director PPS Group
Alongside the Festivals, grassroots cultural activity takes place across the city all year round. Edinburgh’s live music scene (excluding live music during the Festivals) is estimated to be worth around £40m per year. This strong presence of cultural activity is linked to the presence of the Festivals, as well as to a high percentage of people working in the CCI sector compared to the Scottish average – a pool of skills and expertise which benefits the local knowledge-based economy. Fergus Linehan, Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, sees an important role for culture in supporting employment and professional development, and considers the “weaving together of Edinburgh’s strong artistic heritage and the burgeoning IT sector” as one of the city’s biggest opportunities.
“Edinburgh has been seen as a knowledge-based city, impacted by creative activities. Edinburgh has become an entrepreneurial city. The size of the city…is great…for [doing] business”
- Hugh Rutherford, Chair of Edinburgh Business Forum
However, key challenges to be addressed include the potential consequences of the ‘fiscal cliff’ facing public investment. The City of Edinburgh needs to find £148m of savings over the next four years, while supporting the city’s growing population, and meeting health, social care and education needs. While financial constraints thus present a key challenge to realising the city’s cultural ambitions, commentators at the same time suggest that more needs to be done to engage the entire city in Edinburgh’s cultural offer. They suggest that while cultural provision in Edinburgh tends to be of a high standard – with renowned cultural providers such as the Traverse Theatre, National Galleries and Museums of Scotland – it does not always bring culture to everyone; for example pointing to a lack of large-scale venues for big, popular events. A further concern is that funding cuts may have a negative impact particularly on those cultural venues that may seem more approachable to less affluent inhabitants.
While a recent survey showed that a majority of residents view the Edinburgh Festivals positively, some commentators query how far the local population itself benefits from the large number of Festivals taking place within a relatively short timeframe during the summer months. This intense focus of activity is also seen by some to result in a lack of support for cultural organisations outside of the main summer and winter Festival periods:
“The support mechanisms required to support grassroots and small-scale cultural activity in Edinburgh outside the Festival and Hogmanay periods are simply not there”
- Morvern Cunningham, Festival Director at LeithLate
Addressing such challenges will require ensuring that the full value of cultural activity is better understood across society. Commentators feel that the cultural sector will need to look more towards private sector funding support, with success depending on the development of meaningful partnerships between the cultural and private sectors. As Fergus Linehan explains, “the private sector is seeking to work in meaningful partnership – the age of corporate sponsorship is coming to an end and social and environmental engagement will drive future business partnerships.” Stronger relationships with other sectors and cultural organisations across Scotland are also considered important, for example to increase joint capacity to retain and attract talent. Such approaches have already been shown to work, and can be built on:
“When they work, [events such as the Commonwealth Games] encourage cross-sector thinking and a much broader level of engagement”
- Fergus Linehan
Commentators suggest that going forward, the cultural sector– both during and outside the Festivals – should be placed at the centre of the Council’s decision-making. This would provide not only economic benefits, but also help to enrich the life of the city, and further Edinburgh’s international reputation. The City Council’s Culture and Economic Development services have recently been brought together in a single new department entitled City Strategy and Economy. Commentators hope that this will make funding decisions more transparent, help support more grassroots organisations, and provide further recognition within the City Council of the overall economic importance of culture to Edinburgh.
“The amalgamation of Culture […] and Economic Development could […] provide much needed recognition at the heart of the Council mechanisms of the overall economic importance of culture to the city of Edinburgh”
- Morvern Cunningham
Alongside this, a new Culture Plan was recently developed in partnership with the cultural community and extensive input from the public. This focuses on a number of priority areas including cultural participation, social and economic development, heritage and cultural exchange, and the sustainability of the city’s cultural and creative sectors. It also includes the priority of enhancing the Festivals’ programming to mark the Festival City’s 70th anniversary in 2017. The Plan acknowledges that tailored support is needed for artists and cultural practitioners at all levels – through support for creative businesses, cultural networking platforms as well as creative workspace development.
“The property market is stable and growing in Edinburgh, and this is an opportunity […] to build more affordable social housing in areas such as Leith, to encourage artists and creatives to occupy vacant space and to have a hand in policy creation”
- Morvern Cunningham
It envisions city partners working together to keep culture and creativity at the heart of Edinburgh’s success. For example, the Council is currently working in partnership with the cultural community to set up the citywide Culture Task Group, which will bring together leaders from various sectors to help meet the City’s cultural ambitions.
The Council has also been working in partnership with neighbouring local authorities on a City Region Deal bid to the UK and Scottish Governments for a £1bn investment over the next ten years to boost the regional economy and tackle inequalities. Culture is one of the three pillars of the bid, highlighting the recognition of its strategic role in the area going forward.
Perspectives on the city taken from World Cities Culture Report 2015
Interviewees: Fergus Linehan (Director Edinburgh International Festival); Donald Anderson (Director PPS Group); Hugh Rutherford (Chair of Edinburgh Business Forum); Morvern Cunningham (Festival Director at LeithLate); Lynne Halfpenny (Director of Culture, City Strategy and Economy, City of Edinburgh Council)