Professor Joe Goldblatt
For the past 74 years the Edinburgh festivals have experienced exponential growth. Alongside this growth there has been growing concern among local residents that the festivilazation of our city has brought as many, if not more, negative impacts as those that are considered positive.
I am happy to tell you, that based upon my forty years of studying the world renowned Edinburgh Festivals that this is what is referred to today by conspiracy theorists as “fake news”. In fact, numerous independently conducted economic, social and environmental impact studies have provided evidence that these national treasures have provided billions of pounds worth of significant positive economic impact locally and nationally and increasingly they are also providing significantly valuable social and environmental impacts.
However, perception is often reality and as a result of the Covid – 19 crisis in our city and country, the general public appears to be questioning when the festivals return how they should be re – designed to better align with the changing values of our citizenry.
Having observed how dozens of cities throughout the world are coping with this same dilemma, I have three observations and recommendations that may provide a future pathway for Edinburgh to discover a silver lining for its festivals from within the dark clouds of the global pandemic.
First, it is not a valid question for citizens to ask “If” the festivals return. They absolutely must return because of the priceless community spirit, commerce, and reputational advantage they provide our city. To lose this valuable jewel in the cultural and social crown of our nation would be a catastrophe. Therefore, now is the time to begin to carefully consider a phased approach to their return that will allow them and their constituents to enjoy early success from small steps rather than trying to simply pick up where they left off one year ago.
Secondly, our festivals could see the new age of live events as one of reimagining their manifesto, their mandate and their vision for a city that is, according to the City of Edinburgh 2050 vision one that is thriving, welcoming, fair and pioneering. Nearly 65,000 citizens responded to the consultation regarding the vision for Edinburgh 2050 and they identified these aspirations as critically important attributes for our city going forward. The leaders of our festivals and their constituents therefore should reimagine and reinvent their cultural offerings to support and advance opportunities for Edinburgh to thrive, welcome, become more fair and serve as pioneers once again, just as we did in the eighteenth century during the Scottish enlightenment.
Thirdly and finally, we have discovered and quickly embraced the use of technology for education, business and social communications during this dark time in our lives. In fact, the light of the computer or tablet screen has often been the only bright light during this horrific period. Let us not diminish this light. Rather, let us become pioneers by expanding it and creating a parallel universe for our festivals to be delivered simultaneously through both live and in person as well as on line using a consistent, creative and innovative approach to benefit many generations to come.
In order for us to find this silver lining from among the dark clouds we have experienced for far too long, we must now be prepared to accept that change is required in order for our city to thrive more in the future and that change may also promote a more thriving, welcoming, fairer and pioneering environment with our festivals at its very core and then and only then shall will achieve greater sustainability by aligning our festivals with the future vision of our citizens.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and is the author, co – author and editor of 39 books in the field of planned events. For more information about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot