A New Chapter for the Book Festival

Book - ECA from above

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has announced that the 2021 Festival, which takes place from Saturday 14 to Monday 30 August, will do so in the beautiful indoor and open, grassy outdoor spaces of the University of Edinburgh’s Edinburgh College of Art. Full programme details will be announced in June, but Book Festival fans can expect a range of live online author talks, workshops and readings as well as, if circumstances permit, some events for live socially-distanced audiences. 

For anyone unfamiliar with the new venue, the beautiful, accessible buildings and grassy, open outdoor spaces that make up the Edinburgh College of Art, reside on Lauriston Place in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. With magnificent views of Edinburgh Castle, the College is just a short stroll from the Grassmarket, with excellent transport links to the rest of the city.

While Covid19 has caused great challenges for the live events industry, it has also presented opportunities for the Book Festival to evolve. A new strategic partnership with the University of Edinburgh is one such development.

The many uncertainties around the pandemic, including whether we’ll be able to stage in-person events this summer, or if any of us will be able to travel, coupled with the growing unpredictability of the Scottish summer, gives us the chance to start a new chapter in a new location. It’s brilliantly equipped with a wide range of indoor and outdoor spaces, including accommodation for our broadcast studios so we can continue to produce a live-streamed programme of events. Importantly, the College’s facilities also meet the needs of our ongoing commitment to being a sector leader on issues of accessibility and the environment.

The sustainable theatre facilities, which are suitable for socially-distanced audiences (should that be possible), along with the Edinburgh College of Art’s airy green courtyard, will be transformed into the lovely haven Festival-goers love with relaxing outdoor spaces, a Festival bookshop, café and bar. It’s a big move, and one filled with emotion, but we will make our new home just as wonderful as our old one – a celebratory hub for conversation and debate

Festival Director, Nick Barley, explains this important move:

“While we are now experiencing a full lockdown in Scotland which is challenging for so many people on so many levels, we very much hope that the combination of this, together with the ongoing vaccination programme, will bring the virus under control by August. While 2020 proved extremely challenging for the Book Festival it also opened up some extraordinarily exciting opportunities.  Building on the success of our online Book Festival we can now announce that we will be entering into a new strategic partnership with the University of Edinburgh that will enable us to inhabit this innovative space in 2021 with facilities to create events for both digital and, if circumstances permit, physical audiences.

"Covid19 has created a huge tectonic shift in the way that live events, ourselves included, can reach their audiences. With in-person ticket sales impossible to forecast this August, we simply can't justify incurring the costs of the tents and infrastructure we'd normally put into Charlotte Square Gardens. It is highly probable that most events will take place online, and the need for broadcast studios is more likely than large venues for an audience.   

"In the grassy courtyard of Edinburgh College of Art we will, if rules allow, recreate the elements of the Book Festival that our audiences love – bookshops, cafes and open spaces in which to come together safely offering the ‘oasis of calm’ for which the Book Festival is renowned. The College offers excellent studio and theatre facilities for both online broadcasting and potential events with a socially distanced audience.

"We intend that this strategic partnership with the University will be a long-term arrangement, and the Book Festival will continue to occupy their spaces when a Covid-free Festival, with audiences able to enjoy live events in person, can be staged. However digital events will continue to be a key part of future Book Festivals, enabling us to reach truly global audiences as well as those closer to home who face barriers to attending the event. We are excited that our hybrid festivals of the future will engage with authors and audiences around the world in a more environmentally responsible way.”

It's a new chapter for the Book Festival. Look out for more announcements in the coming months, with full programme details to be revealed at the end of June.

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