2020: A year unlike any other
Edinburgh International Festival
Fergus Linehan, Festival Director: This year has without a doubt been one of the most challenging in the International Festival’s history. As we entered March, our team was busily preparing for one of the key moments of the year: the launch of our Festival programme. As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic began to unfold, we quickly realised some difficult decisions would have to be made. On 1 April the Board of the International Festival took the decision to cancel the Festival for the first time in 74 years. Where possible we honoured the commitments we had made to freelancers and suppliers, and offered a place in a future Festival to al artists and companies scheduled to appear in the 2020 programmme.
On 3 August we announced plans for a series of reimagined artistic activity that audiences could experience at home or outside in line with social distancing regulations. My Light Shines On was conceived with the intention of bringing joy to the Festival community and reminding the world of the unique experience of the Festival City every August. Our aim was to provide meaningful employment and help companies, artists and venues take the first steps in the return to live performance. This included reopening several venues and facilitating the first ensemble performances in music, theatre and dance since lockdown had begun. The International Festival was created in response the destruction and suffering caused by the Second World War with the belief that great art can be used to heal divisions by focusing on our shared sense of humanity. This mission is as relevant now as it was then and over the coming months and years we will do all we can to ensure the Festival continues to make a positive contribution to both local and global recovery. You can read the full Annual Review of 2020 here.
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Nick Barley, Festival Director: This film illustrates the challenges faced by the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2020 and great achievements made during a difficult year for the cultural sector. Narrated by the Chair of the Book Festival's Board, Allan Little and featuring some of the team who made the Festival happen, it tells the sotry of how within three short months the Festival was reimaginged and transformed into an online offering with a mission to Keep The Conversation Going.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive: It still feels unreal to say, but on 01 April 2020 we announced that, for the first time in its 73-year history, the Fringe would not go ahead as planned. While undoubtedly necessary, this was a devastating moment for everyone who makes up the Fringe ecosystem: artists, venues, programmers, producers, journalists, tech teams, front-of-house staff and many more, including of course the whole team at the Fringe Society. In a year where the arts sector was gutted by a pandemic that seemed to prey specifically on the things that make it dear to us – communality, the shared experience, laughter – the absence of the Fringe was another crushing blow. It's been a tough year, with more challenges still to come, but looking back at the past 12 months has left us determined to learn from our experiences while simultaneously feeling proud of what we’ve managed to achieve.
It is going to take time for live performance to be possible again and it’s going to take time for the Society and the Fringe to recover. But we will be ready and the future of the Fringe and the Society will be underpinned by our core values of equity, diversity, inclusion and sustainability. The role of the Fringe and Fringe artists in our collective recovery is going to be more important than ever in the year (and years) ahead. At the moment we’re all sharing in the unpredictability, fear and seeming relentlessness of the pandemic. But one day soon, live performance will be possible again and we’ll be able to meet and reconnect and feel joy together. We at the Fringe Society will continue to prepare for that, by talking to artists, venues and anyone with ideas to help us find our way through this. You can read the full Annual Review of 2020 here.
Storytelling International Storytelling Festival
Donald Smith, Festival Director: The first Festival took place in 1989 after a pilot weekend of events in 1988. The aim was to profile and encourage the almost forgotten, or at least hidden art of live oral storytelling, which has been and is one of the great mediums of Scottish life and culture. By the time of our Festival in October there was some opening up but a huge number of challenges: travel restrictions, safety regulations, frequent changes in regulations variously in different regions of Scotland, producing work differently for digital, securing new/different financial support, staff team coherence given home-working, including childcare, challenges of mental wellbeing amongst creatives and staff, the threat of bankruptcy to our home venue and studio base, huge and sudden loss of earned income, reduced number of Edinburgh-based and regional SISF partners. So we decided to create a digital festival as a way to keep SISF going, to sustain and if possible grow our audience, to keep our creatives in work and in flow, to mark VisitScotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, to use the adaptability and resourcefulness of our artform, and to demonstrate some Scots grit in the face of multiple challenges.
We split the core programme into three digital strands: participatory Global Lab workshops, open-floor Guid Crack sessions, live Open Hearth storytelling sessions and pre-recorded Voyage commissions with live Q&As. This gave us a mix of online content, which allowed for a varied audience experience. The eight Global Lab workshops explored themes such as environmentalism, Gaelic culture and Scottish myths. This year allowed us to programme storytellers from anywhere in the world and showcase their work without travel (and environmental) costs, whilst strengthening the variety of our programme. We used the shift to a primarily online festival as an opportunity to engage with audiences worldwide. While our international programming is always a big part of the festival, we were able to engage audiences who may not have otherwise been able to attend due to it being online this year. We were starting from no previous experience, and a desire to make everything accessible through the Covid crisis with all its associated inequalities. [This item is adapted from an inreview with our colleagues at VisitScotland and you can read the full interveiw here].