The figurehead of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has accused the city’s long-running heritage body of “cultural snobbery” over claims that its shows were exclusive, private and “commercial” events.
Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe Society, which oversees the event, has hit back at attempts by the Cockburn Association to block the return of a major outdoor venue this year and suggestions that its recovery should not be supported due to its impact on the city before the pandemic.
The Cockburn has been running a social media campaign encouraging its supporters to object to plans to revive a circus “big top” on a site on the Meadows where Fringe shows have been stage for than 20 years.
The group has suggested that the venue will “privatise” part of the Meadows with a “commercial event with gated access.”
However the Cockburn Association has supported plans for the Edinburgh International Festival to stage most of its shows outdoors on three temporary sites this summer.
A new blog on the Cockburn’s website by chair Cliff Hague said the growth of cultural events since the launch of the Edinburgh International Festival had “splurged out to embrace stand-up comedy show and circuses”. It was published amid huge uncertainty over what form Edinburgh’s festivals will take this summer.
Mr Hague wrote: “Edinburgh attracts residents and visitors not primarily for its circuses and gigs, but because of its economic base in finance and public service, and its outstanding landscapes, public spaces and physical environments.”
In an exclusive interview, Ms McCarthy said: “I just don’t understand where this language that is creeping in all the time about commercial operators is coming from. It’s almost like doing business has become a dirty word.
“I’ve spent 30 years working in the cultural sector and have continually heard governments encouraging the sector to be more business-like and take an approach that is about ticket sales and earning a living and not be relying on public subsidy.
“The Fringe is a festival that largely does that and washes its own face. The word commercial seems to imply that is somehow tainted or a dirty thing.
“People forget that it is not a funded festival. I don’t know how many times I have spoken about the model at the Fringe, where everybody comes and takes their own risks on it.
“My big concern is that I don’t think anybody has yet woken up to the fact that this festival is really under threat at the moment. Most of the organisations that make up the Fringe are sitting on huge debts at the moment…
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