The best festivals provide that desperately needed alchemy of quality, innovation, creativity, affordability, and accessibility that unites total strangers in a spirit of joy, through a shared passion for music, dance, drama, art, film, literature, and more. Along with these opportunities for joy, there are also perennial controversies about the real value of funding these cultural extravaganzas.
One example of how a nearby country avoided these controversies and grew its festivals from strength to strength is Salzburg, Austria. In 1920, following the horror of the First World War, five men, including the famed director Max Reinhardt, inaugurated the annual Salzburg Festival. This five-week festival of music and theatre was interrupted during the Second World War, but since then has grown dramatically in size and quality.
This year’s event had a budget of 67.5 million euro (£58 million), up from 66.8 million euros last year, when 224,933 tickets were issued and 96 per cent of their capacity was sold. According to festival officials, about 75 per cent of its revenue comes from their box office, sponsors, donors and renting out venues in non-festival months.
The city of Salzburg and Austrian government have now approved a sum of 335 million euros which, with additional fundraising, will be used to build larger year-round production facilities. And if this was not enough, a new visitors’ centre is being funded by a 12 million euro gift from juice manufacturer Capri-Sun and will open in 2025.
Another example of the results of full government support for cultural infrastructure may be seen in Oslo, Norway, where within three city blocks and in less than 15 years, a new public library, costing 2.2 billion Norwegian kroner (£165 million), an opera and ballet house (4.4 billion kroner), and the 12-storey Edvard Munch museum (2.8 billion kroner) have all been built. These three temples of literature and culture have brought more than £700 million in capital investment to this city of just over 600,000 citizens.
It is now time for Scotland to appoint within local and national government elected officials who are festival champions to draft legislation to improve funding policy, and further cultivate individual and corporate donations to support these essential programmes through demonstrating greater relevancy to education, health care, social care, and the overall quality of life of our city and country. Politicians should also press ahead with plans to collect a small levy from tourists that would generate millions per year for festival infrastructure and should also be used to improve the affordability of tickets for young people and others.
In my view, Edinburgh and Scotland must rapidly raise their game if we are to successfully compete upon the world cultural stage. The value of cultural spending and the importance of futureproofing our festivals have been demonstrated by other European cities.
Now we must use the intellect and innovation of our Scottish Enlightenment ancestors and reflect the hopes and dreams of the Edinburgh festival’s founders to reassure talented artists and audiences who come here from all over the world that, once again, our ambitions are truly boundless.
Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University. His views are his own and do not reflect those of any organisation. For more information, visit www.joegoldblatt.scot