Celebrating the spirit of the festivals 70 years on

Councillor Donald Wilson, the Council's Culture and Communities Convener, says Edinburgh’s festival spirit remains as vital today as it was in 1947.

A version of this article first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on 31 July 2017

"As we celebrate this milestone anniversary for Edinburgh, I have been reflecting on the last 70 years of our Festival City.

It is impossible today to imagine Edinburgh without it’s festival offering, yet none of our festivities would have flourished without the passion of a group of cultural visionaries in 1947. Few people today realise they were deliberately created to do a job on the world stage.

Following the turmoil of WWII in Europe, Austria’s Rudolf Bing believed culture could be used as an international language to promote peace. What better way to celebrate culture, heal international relations and bring joy than the creation of a Festival? A celebration which would bring artists from all over the world to set aside their differences and perform together.

Thanks to the support of Edinburgh’s Lord Provost of the day, Sir John Falconer, alongside Lady Rosebery, it was decided with the British Council that this Festival belonged in Edinburgh.

People at the time thought no one would come.  Divisions were still so raw. Yet Edinburgh and the world flocked to experience the first performance, a concert by the Viennese Philharmonic in the Council’s Usher Hall. The first seed was sown. Now audiences visit in their millions, 70 years of evolution and success later.

Celebrating the Festival’s beginnings, this August a fantastic programme highlights this very festival spirit. Through music, film, theatre and talks, The Spirit of ’47 with the British Council showcases international collaboration and how culture brought us together all those years ago.

It is this spirit which saw the creation of the Fringe, then the Film, Tattoo, and Jazz Festivals. They have since been joined of course by Edinburgh’s Book, Science, Storytelling, Children’s, Hogmanay, and Art Festivals.

It is also in this spirit that the Council continues its long-standing support of our city’s Festivals. This year, as much as ever, we must continue to remember and support what they stand for.

The Council has provided an additional £200,000 to back the 70th celebrations. Supporting key strands of the major festivals, we began the year with an extra-special Hogmanay fireworks to chime in the anniversary. We have since expanded our work with the International Festival to support the creation of a special online chronicle of memories and highlights from the last 70 years.

Delving further into Edinburgh’s past, we are assisting the Art Festival’s commissions programme heralding the bicentenary of Patrick Geddes’ influential publication, The Making of the Future. Like the first festival, Geddes’ work was born out of a need for change following global conflict, and a belief that artists could positively influence how we live. The Art Festival’s programme casting a spotlight on his work and the beautiful built heritage of Edinburgh is not to be missed.

In helping such initiatives, we contribute to ensuring Edinburgh’s festivals flourish now and for the next 70 years.  These are the festivals our young people will inherit – as audience members, artists and workers – which is why it is also important we grasp the opportunities of the 70th year to support and inspire Edinburgh’s young people.

For example, in its second year of development, the Children’s Festival’s ‘A Wee Night Out’ will see pupils from all over Edinburgh become curators and programme their own shows, using their own ideas and talents, which will then be performed and tour their communities in 2018.  We have also helped fund a new pilot with Festivals Edinburgh to encourage 70 young people to develop skills and access opportunities as the first ever Festival City Volunteers. They will take to our streets as Festival Ambassadors this August.

And so we see the festival spirit passed from one generation to the next. Edinburgh’s message to the world was that culture should be used to build community, shared understanding and reconciliation especially in times of division.  It seems to me that message is just as relevant today as it was in 1947."

Councillor Donald Wilson is Edinburgh's Culture and Communities Convener and a ward member for Sighthill/Gorgie.

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