The head of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has warned the annual Edinburgh Fringe event is under “existential threat” due to rising costs faced by companies and venues.
Speaking on Barry Fearn’s Leading Conversations podcast, Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said the lack of support had left the Fringe “cracking at the seams” before the pandemic.
She said: “Pre-Covid, the whole ecosystem was already creaking at the seams. Then Covid hit and our entire income went in one fell swoop.
“The Fringe came back last year, but with every single participant and organisation carrying a debt or deficit after surviving the previous couple of years.
“We’ve come into 2023 with a massive cost-of-living hike, serious political issues and the war in Ukraine.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this festival is under existential threat.
“My big fear for Scotland is that because we’ve evolved over 75 years, it’s really easy to just assume that we’ll be back next year. There’s definitely a level of complacency about it.”
Last month, the Fringe Society board admitted the festival’s long-running “self-sustaining model” was no longer viable for artists and venues. It is hoped that a £7 million pledge from the UK Government will unlock “essential support”.
McCarthy suggested one option for Edinburgh’s festivals, including the Edinburgh Fringe, would be to have them backed by multi-million-pound private investment. It would be mean the hosting of them would effectively be “put out to tender,” similar to the UK Olympics or the Commonwealth Games.
Ms McCarthy also told the podcast there are many misconceptions in the way in which the Fringe is currently organised, saying, “everything has a cost”.
She added: “If you were trying to put on the collective of our festivals and put it out to a competition or tender like you do with the UK City of Culture, the World Cup, Eurovision or whatever, every city would want to host it, but it would come with a £100 million investment package.
“We’re second in size to the Olympics in terms of ticket sales. Yet every year we’re going, ‘in our medieval little Royal Mile building, with our 20-30 people, how do we pull off this thing?’ I think we’ve got a real challenge on our hands.”
The Edinburgh fringe runs from August 4-28 in venues across the city.
It comes as the second biggest arts festival in the UK, Vault Festival, has lost its home for the 2024 festivals and beyond.
The Vaults venue, the festival’s landlord, has thrown out the festival to prioritise more commercial projects.
City A.M. has launched a campaign to support the Vault Festival into 2024 and beyond. The cast of Bridgerton have spoken out about the importance of the festival, as has The Crown’s Emma Corrin.
Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan said losing Vault Festival “would be a devastating loss for the theatre community.”
Emma Corrin added: “It’s incredibly important. It’s where a lot of new work originates, where a lot of new voices can be heard. I think that’s integral in keeping the fabric of theatre alive.”
Landlords with a history of supporting the arts have also joined our campaign, explaining how creating a sense of ‘place’ by letting artists stay in prime real estate ends up adding value to property for private landlords in the longrun.
Richard Upton, a landlord who has bankrolled cultural projects across London, told City A.M. that artists must always be given space to create work in central London. He said: “This idea of favouring more commercial work could be a tragic decision for developers as well as for culture in London.
“The wise developer allows the organic to grow from young seeds. That creates a better place. And, incidentally for landlords and developers, a more valuable and sustainable place.”
To donate to help Save Vault you can visit this website. So far Vault Festival has raised £23,000 of its £150,000 target.
Additional reporting from PA