The Festival Fringe is Not a Punching Bag, It is a Rocket That Needs Our Propulsion

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013

Professor Joe Goldblatt

When the head of Event Scotland announced his recent retiral plans he listed his achievements and the majority included attracting to Scotland world leading sports events. Historically, sports events have surpassed cultural events in terms of government investment because some claim they are easier to measure in terms of tangible economic impacts. However, this is not always the case as demonstrated by the construction of the Royal Concert Hall as part of the 1990 Glasgow European City of Culture programme. Therefore, I was not surprised, although once again frustrated, when Creative Scotland rejected a funding bid by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

It seems that over and over again the Scottish Government on the one hand pronounces the Festival Fringe as our greatest example of Adam Smith’s invisible economic hand philosophy as year upon year the world’s most innovative artists pitch their colourful tents in Scotland’s capital city. However, on the other hand, with one hand praising, the other hand of government appears to time and again punish the Festival Fringe with disproportionate funding.

In 2019 the Edinburgh Festivals sold nearly 5 million tickets and most of these were the result of the world leading Festival Fringe that has been growing from strength to strength, albeit with both hands tied behind its back for over 75 years. The Festival Fringe has over time consistently become the public punching bag of neighbourhood associations, local and national governments, and social media hysterics who claim that it is the sole progenitor of a new phenomenon described as over tourism.

Although August is indeed chock a block with much needed and for most businesses greatly appreciated tourists, the remainder of the year could not be by any stretch of the imagination be considered to be a no tourist zone due to over crowding. In fact, in 2019 the board of Edinburgh’s tourism marketing agency resigned en masse to protest the City of Edinburgh Council rejecting their funding request to take the organisation strategically forward. This was the same year that the Edinburgh Festivals cumulatively sold 5 million tickets.

I recall that when I first arrived in Edinburgh the man then known as the Festivals Champion, Councillor Steve Cardownie, privately told me that the reason for the success of our festivals was the stability offered by the leadership of each event and the support provided by the City of Edinburgh Council. I fear that this stability described by Edinburgh’s first Festivals Champion is now rapidly crumbling like the ancient temples of Rome and Greece.

The way forward to save these cultural iconic monuments I believe is to immediately and at the highest level of Scottish Government convene a strategic review and planning task force to insure there is sustainable and in fact increasing funding for the Festival Fringe and her brother and sister festivals. When a nation is struggling financially, as is Scotland, it is important to prioritise our investment and if we desire to move from an economic to a well being economy, then we must place more focus upon our precious cultural assets that provide measurable well being growth year upon year.

When the next head of Event Scotland, at the end of their service to the nation, lists his, her, or their achievements, I hope there will be a greater presence of cultural programmes in their long list to demonstrate that as a nation that gave birth to the enlightenment we are now even more enlightened regarding the necessity of funding culture as well as merely claiming that it is one of our greatest assets. The rocket that has always been one of Scotland’s greatest achievements needs our propulsion to reach the stratosphere. We should aim for the moon. Even if we miss, we shall still land among the stars, where we belong.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. His views are his own. For more information about his views visit

2 thoughts on “The Festival Fringe is Not a Punching Bag, It is a Rocket That Needs Our Propulsion

  • April 3, 2024 at 1:44 am

    How beautifully put!

    • April 3, 2024 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks Marc! We miss you. We saw Eric and his beautiful family last year and we soo spoke warmly about Uncle Paul, Uncle Marc, your dad, Nils, your mum. It is time for you to visit us now!


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