Homegrown events have a far greater capacity to making a lasting impact over major events that are ‘parachuted’ in for political reasons, a leading industry expert has said.
Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, has voiced her support for creating grassroots events that have a connection with the communities they serve.
The Edinburgh Fringe, which has run for 72 years and attracts over 4m visitors, started with six local theatre groups and two from England, she said as a reminder to European destination marketers to avoid the “temptation” of bidding for the major events on the circuit that bring a high profile to cities but whose lasting legacy is arguably negligble compared to those that are cultivated steadily in places over time.
McCarthy, who ran the Culture Company, which was responsible for leading on Derry-Londonderry’s year as the inaugural UK City of Culture before joining the Fringe in 2016, said: “All of the Edinburgh Festivals – and the Fringe in particular – can absolutely assert themselves as playing a central role in their cities of culture.
“One of the things I really learned from the cities of culture process is because of the political involvement in there, it’s such a temptation to bring things in from the outside, to parachute the major events whether it’s the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, or the MTV Awards, it seems to be always what the politicians want.
She added: “But my experience, the things that stick, the things that stay, that really engage civic pride and provide a platform for cultural practitioners, are the things that are homegrown, the things that do speak to the DNA of a place. So, I genuinely think it’s why the Edinburgh Festivals 72 years on haven’t just thrived but deliver on all of those things that people want from a city of culture.”
McCarthy was speaking last week to an audience of 200 European cities marketers – who gathered at Edinburgh’s Sheraton Hotel for the latest tourism and events industry trends.
The event heard from the likes of Munich’s Oktoberfest, the ill-fated Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen in 2014 – which is still going through a protracted legal wrangle over a number of event disputes, both in the run-up to the contest and in the aftermath – and the equestrian 2017 FEI European Championships in Gothenburg, which also befell a series of unforeseen calamaties (the session was titled ‘Festival of Failures).
McCarthy praised in particular the Made in Scotland platform which showcases national arts and culture during the Fringe, and has thus far helped support more than 200 shows, exporting 87 productions to global audiences. She said that the Fringe has been ” inextricably woven” into the fabric of Edinburgh since its conception in 1947 and that it would not have survived to become the world’s largest performing arts festival had it not been “rooted” in the values of the city of its birth.
She said, however, that it faces considerable “challenges” in the years ahead, particularly around accommodation provision for visitors and artists – who are quite often priced out of the market – and also street performers who are finding it increasingly hard to get paid in an increasingly “cashless” world.
Innovations such as opening up the homes of people who are socially isolated – to provide accommodation to artists and company for those who need it – and also a ‘tap to tip’ card scheme to allow buskers to be paid for their performances are being developed and may help address some of these issues in the future.
Speaking later, McCarthy also paid tribute to Marketing Edinburgh – the tourism and events promotion agency for the capital – whose £890,000 budget is under threat following a council proposal to reduce it by 90% in the next few years.
She said: “I guess from my perspective Edinburgh is at the top of its game in terms of it being promoted as a destination. A key part of that success has been Marketing Edinburgh’s function so I just worry that at a time when you’ve reached a real point of success, the idea of dis-investing in one element of that success doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me.”