Arts and Culture

Celebrating Edinburgh’s festivals

August 7, 2018 by No Comments | Category Culture, Festivals

As the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, I take pride in championing Scotland’s outlook as a welcoming and progressive nation. This is particularly demonstrated in the arts. The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) was set up in 1947 to bring people back together after the devastation of the Second World War. With artists coming from all over Europe and the world to perform at the festival, it made a bold statement of unity through the arts and collaboration across borders.

1947 also marked the birth of the Edinburgh Fringe, when eight companies and artists arrived uninvited to perform at the International Festival and subsequently set up what soon became one of the largest global art platforms and markets in the world.

Today Edinburgh is revered as the world-leading festival city, welcoming performers and audiences from every corner of the globe. Edinburgh’s Festivals showcase our country on the international stage, facilitating cultural exchange and collaboration. They bring the world to Scotland and Scotland to the world.

This international collaboration is brought into sharp focus as we get ready to celebrate the last edition of the festivals before Brexit negotiations conclude. The European Union and the EIF had similar origins – bringing together countries that had been at war with each other and embracing closer economic, political and cultural ties. In what can feel like an increasingly uncertain world, we should remember the lessons of that period in time. As the EU’s motto states, we should remain ‘united in diversity’ and remember that our differences make us richer and stronger – be it culturally, economically or politically.

Our festivals are, of course, one of the best and most tangible examples of successful pan-European and global collaboration. With over £313 million generated annually and more than 4.5 million visitors, the festivals make a significant contribution to our economy and attract international and local talent to Scotland. But they are not the only example of successful cultural collaboration between Scotland and our international partners.

This August internationalism in Scotland is even more prevalent, with the very first European Championships kicking off in Glasgow earlier this month, and the Edinburgh International Culture Summit at the end. Now in its fourth edition, the Summit continues to bring together ministers, artists, thinkers and arts leaders from Europe and around the world to share ideas, expertise and best practice. We are working with partners across Scotland and beyond to build on the successes of previous editions of the Summit and ensure its enduring value continues to promote Scotland’s role internationally and to benefit Scotland’s thriving cultural sector.

This year the theme of Summit 2018 is Culture: Connecting Peoples and Places,  providing an exciting opportunity for Government Ministers and policy makers to engage with artists and arts leaders and encourage discussions on the value of culture and the arts in building bridges between nations.

Beyond August, there are many other occasions to celebrate our international outlook all year round. From a focus on Scottish contemporary visual arts in Marseille to Rudolstadt Festival in Germany and Brittany’s Festival Interceltique de Lorient, where Scotland was celebrated as Guest Country of Honour in 2017, European cultural exchange has enabled our artists to grow and display their talent beyond our national borders, reaching new global audiences.

Scotland has long appreciated the importance of multiculturalism, openness and dialogue and this is clearly being recognised throughout Europe as our music, storytelling and heritage takes centre stage in 2018.

If we are no longer able to be a part of the EU then we will need a solution that enables us to continue to enjoy the benefits of EU membership, in particular freedom of movement.

Freedom of movement enables EU citizens attending our festivals and supports artists to bring their work to Edinburgh, further benefitting our nation’s vibrant outlook and lively cultural atmosphere. To date, artists from other European countries represent the single largest group of non-UK performers at the Edinburgh Festivals and we want to ensure they can continue to come to Scotland. Artists aside, there are the students, casual workers, tourists, skilled labourers and professionals who form the backbone of the festivals, many of whom are EU citizens.

We know that the UK’s current visa system already puts in place significant cost and administrative barriers for non-EU artists who want to bring their work to our festivals. Expanding those barriers to artists from the rest of the EU could have a devastating impact on both our economy and the vibrancy of our cultural sector.

Being open to our nearest neighbours in the EU and being open to the wider world are not mutually exclusive – we can and should be both.

However, Brexit has the potential to make cultural exchange and cooperation with other European countries more difficult, with no guarantees that closer ties with the wider world will follow. Isolation and detachment are completely incompatible with cultural growth and innovation, and entirely at odds with the character and spirit of the Edinburgh Festivals. This is why the Scottish Government will do all we can to protect cultural links with our European friends and to provide the certainty that our cultural sector needs in order to continue to thrive.

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