Edinburgh in August is always a busy place, and this year, despite the recession and general malaise brought on by the weather (certainly in Scotland) and post-Olympic blues, is no exception. The driving force for this is the string of festivals that take place in the city. From humble beginnings in the 1940/50s the Edinburgh festivals are now world events, bringing in many thousands to the city and changing its character for good (or in the eyes of some, bad).
It is hard now to conceive of Edinburgh in a cultural sense without this August explosion and indeed the impact of the influx on the economic heart of the city has become a vital competent of the economy. If the festivals weren’t there then what would the city look and feel like and how would businesses be doing?
Yet you might expect Edinburgh in August to do well anyhow. Other festivals are used to “fill in” the gaps and create interest “out-of-time”. Celtic Connections in Glasgow in January is an example of an event attempting (and succeeding) to bring life and trade to a quieter, darker time of the year.
Now even these musings about festivals as both cultural and economic events will cause some to have palpitations. Surely festivals are about the cultural and social roles in a community (whether a community of place or of interest) and are not about the economic spin-offs that they may or may not bring? If they become too economically focused then do they lose their authenticity? But if there is no spill over benefit then why should we support or tolerate them? Competing views and balances.
There are many festivals across the year and across the country and they obviously vary in scope and ambition. Some have struggled to attract audiences and finance and festivals are by no means a sure winner on either cultural or economic measures (see the recent Kidwell-eFestival flop). Festivals are increasingly seen as one of the ways life can be brought back into places, at least for a time. This does however require a community of interest and engagement and clear-sight over the aims, ambitions, expectations and limitations of festivals.
All this of course is setting up a plug for a local Stirling festival. Bloody Scotland is Scotland’s First Crime Writing Festival – a weekend to die for on the 14-16 September in Stirling. I’m not involved so have no interest to declare (my writing dies its own death) and so simply hope that it brings interest, attention, life – and death – to the City of Stirling. We all need reasons to get involved in places and good crime writing strikes me as a more excellent reason than most. Let’s hope for some spin-offs; preferably cultural, creative and economic rather than a spike in the local murder rate.