Festival 2020 I The Week That Was06 Apr 2020
By Christina Jansen
Last week brought the official announcement that the world’s largest cultural festival – The Edinburgh International Festival, Book Festival, Fringe, Edinburgh Art Festival and Tattoo were cancelled due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. It wasn’t much of a surprise given that the combined events attract more than 4 million visitors and that social distancing is going to be in place far longer than we realise, to safeguard us all. The Directors said that cancelling was the correct and only thing to do, despite feeling ‘heartbroken’. The Guardian reported that ‘Edinburgh’s cancellation would not just be felt in the city but the world…This feels like cancelling Christmas..’
The Scottish Gallery has participated in every Edinburgh Festival since its inception, we are partners with the Edinburgh Arts Festival and this year we are also a Fringe venue. August is our most prestigious month of the year - exhibitions are often planned up to five years in advance – because there is only one Festival. The International Festival is the vehicle to showcase and celebrate Scottish trained or Scottish based talent and it is also an opportunity to reflect our international profile, particularly with applied arts. The last three weeks has seen us implement radical change across The Gallery and the cancellation of The Festival is yet another unforeseen consequence of Covid-19. We will adapt to the circumstances, we will continue to be creative, we will serve our artists as best we can and find new ways to engage with our audience and gallery friends. We will also continue to forge new partnerships, maintain our current ones and engage with the arts sector as a means of showing solidarity. The aims of the Festival began as a post-war 'platform for the flowering of the human spirit' and never more has that sentiment felt more relevant than right now.
For every person who is forlorn or affected directly by the cancellation, there will also be just as many who will regard the cancellation as an opportunity to allow Edinburgh to pause and reconsider the sheer scale of the combined Festival events. There has been increasing frustration at what many residents, environment and heritage organisations regard as the ‘Disneyfication’ of Edinburgh. The fear that the city’s public spaces have been sacrificed to tourism will be reconsidered as the city is effectively given back to the people of Edinburgh. I hope that this August, we see a kinder, gentler approach to celebrating the creativity, heritage and culture of this great city and rejoice in the beautiful, remarkable cultural spaces that already exist. I for one look forward to the excitement and the buzz in Edinburgh and perhaps a new world stage will emerge for the Festival in 2021.