Edinburgh Festivals 70th Anniversary, The Pleasance, and Raves At Work

EICC kicked off the Edinburgh Festival with a very special Innovation Nation event, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the Edinburgh Film Festival. In its Platinum Jubilee, the Festivals are still as young, fresh and innovative as ever, brimming with creativity. We were lucky enough to have Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs as our guest at the EICC to chair an illuminating discussion between all three directors of these longstanding and prestigious festivals.

No one can doubt the importance of the Festivals to Edinburgh and the world – it has changed the makeup of our city and drawn international artists across all genres to our small nation. It is culturally-diverse, culturally-innovative, edgy and most important of all, great fun. 

At our recent Innovation Nation event, Fergus Linehan, Festival Director and Chief Executive of the Edinburgh International Festival noted that he is often asked why the biggest arts festival in the world is in Edinburgh, a small city of half a million and it’s a valid question.

His answer? That it’s “a combination of inspiration and luck,” but also that Edinburgh “is a capital city that has always looked out to the world.” It’s the home of Scottish Enlightenment, which Barack Obama noted in his recent speech at the EICC and an increasingly international city.

The other reason that Europe’s biggest arts festival started, as Ken Hay, Chief Executive of Edinburgh International Film Festival, pointed out, was as a chance for Scots to recognise and contextualise Scotland’s talent. Within filmmaking, in the ‘40s Scottish filmmakers like John Grierson, the father of British and Canadian documentary film, were paving the way. Establishing The Film Festival in the ‘40s was a platform on which to show their work.

And the reason that the Edinburgh Festival started in 1947 was because a group of Scots decided that in the shadow of World War II, we needed to reconnect with Europe. This was before big comparable festivals were established in Cannes and Venice that continue to draw so much publicity and interest. Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, called starting the Festival “an act of defiance” and in some ways, it was a huge gamble.

But it has, and continues to pay off.

Ignoring cultural impact briefly, the Edinburgh’s Festivals are on a par with the FIFA World Cup and second only to the Olympics in terms of viewing – almost five million people visit the city within the month of August. 

The Festivals are also an economic powerhouse. In 2015, they generated £280m in Edinburgh and £313m throughout Scotland. They are a huge part of Scotland’s economy, as well as our culture.

The original idea of the Edinburgh Festivals back in 1947 was to provide “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit” as Fiona Hyslop noted in the discussion, and that still holds. This strikes a chord particularly with us at the EICC, as our new mission statement is around “creating an environment which inspires ideas that change the world”.

We are proud to be part of the world’s biggest and best cultural festival and have hosted international artists across all genres. In 2017 we strengthened  our partnership with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe by collaborating with The Pleasance to expand their venue space.

Opening up our venue to the festival on a larger scale allows the festival to show bigger acts, like Cirkopolis, a breath taking circus and theatrical act by Montreal circus group, Cirque Eloize.

We’re also hosting Trainspotting Live in an underground Victorian tunnel beneath the EICC – a first for us and indeed, the festival itself! It may only be the second week of the festival but the show has been hugely successful; I will always remember being encouraged to join in the rave element of the show with my fellow audience members! 

But there is more to come; it is only going to get bigger and better. Fiona Hyslop referred to the City Deal, which will allow Edinburgh’s reputation as a leading centre for the performing arts to be reinforced and the Scottish Government has invested £20m for a new world class concert hall in the city centre. The Festival has a great capacity to grow. One of the questions posed at the talk was what is the festival going to look in 2047 – at the EICC we can’t wait to find out!