Fringe Festival under 'existential threat' from rising costs

The annual arts festival has been 'cracking at the seams' for years according to the Society's chief executive.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe under ‘existential threat’ from rising costs, warns Society’s chief executive

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is under “existential threat” due to the rising costs of companies and venues, according to the event’s leading organiser.

Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society said the event has been “creaking at the seams for years”.

She suggested the festivals, which run in the city every summer, could achieve multimillion-pound investments if they were “put out to tender” like large-scale sporting events including the UK Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.

Ms McCarthy claimed lack of support has left the Fringe “cracking at the seams” prior to the Covid pandemic and has only been made worse.

Speaking on Barry Fearn’s Leading Conversations podcast, 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.”

She also warned about “complacency” in the assumption the festivals can continue to return year on year.

She said: “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.”

It comes after the Society’s board admitted last month that the festival’s long-running “self-sustaining model” was no longer viable for artists and venues.

The UK Government pledged support of £7m which expected to provide “essential support”.

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 Fringe runs from August 4-28 in venues across Edinburgh.

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