As festival month draws to a close in Edinburgh, the directors of the five main festivals – the International Festival’s Jonathan Mills and the Fringe’s Jon Morgan, both of whom were new to their jobs this year, as well the chiefs of the books and film events and the Military Tattoo – assembled for a rare joint appearance yesterday to lobby for greater public spending in support of the annual events.

According to the directors, Edinburgh is in danger of losing its status as the world’s leading arts festival city in the face of increased competition from other, much better publicly funded international events.

Mills has already threatened to resign after his first festival unless the local council and Scottish executive provide more financial support for next year’s event. He has noted that the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) was granted only £3.7 million in subsidy this year, compared with £16.9 million allocated to the Salzburg Festival, the music and drama celebration held each summer in the Mozart’s birthplace in Austria. The shortfall, says Mills, means he’s unable to adequately invest in original commissions.

The Fringe, which in itself qualifies as the world’s largest arts festival, has announced record-breaking figures for its 2007 event, which concluded this past Monday 27 August: 1.7 million tickets were sold (an increase on last year of 10.8 percent) to its 2,050 shows (an increase of five percent) staged by 18,626 performers across 250 venues. Morgan said the biggest challenge for his event was sourcing accommodation for all the performers, many self-funding their festival enterprises.

The concerns expressed by the directors echoed those raised last summer by the Association of Independent Venue Producers (AIVP), an organisation formed by the bosses of 20 leading Fringe venues - including the Assembly Rooms, the Pleasance and the Gilded Balloon – which between them account for 85 percent of ticket sales. AIVP warned that what is meant to be an international event is in danger of becoming Edinburgh-centric and lobbied for investment in more joint advertising and marketing support of the overall event across the UK and Europe.

According to the latest figures, from 2004, Edinburgh’s festivals collectively generate £135 million for the city and £184 million for the wider Scottish economy. While an impressive 3.8 million tickets have been sold to events this year, those are primarily sold to Scots and other British visitors, with only 16% of visitors hailing from abroad. Plans are in place for an international marketing campaign, to be launched in 2008.

The Edinburgh International Festival, parent to the Fringe, opened this year on 10 August and concludes this Sunday 2 September (See News, 10 Aug 2007).

- by Terri Paddock