£1million Digital Boost For Edinburgh Festivals

API Zegami

The UK Government will fund two new projects to expand the digital potential of the Edinburgh Festivals with £1 million investment, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has announced. The challenge of moving to a combination of physical and online events, and the increased demand for British virtual cultural content around the globe, revealed the need to expand the Edinburgh Festivals’ digital capabilities as part of the cultural sector’s post-Covid recovery.

The UK Government is providing £1 million in funding for digital improvements that will enable more ways for people to virtually access the events across the country, increase opportunities for UK artists and ensure Edinburgh’s landmark events will continue to be major contributors to the UK’s economy and cultural landscape.

The 11 festivals in the Festivals Edinburgh event portfolio will be able to apply for a share of a new £500,000 fund which will support innovative virtual solutions to the challenges of commissioning, producing and promoting festival programmes in an increasingly digitised cultural sector. The funding will help encourage collaboration between events and develop hybrid events with live and digital elements.

Another £500,000 will be provided to create a new digital platform that will help national and international buyers and producers search for talent and content from the festivals’ hugely varied programmes, which showcase thousands of artists and performers every year, and promote the work of British artists and performers around the world.

Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary, said: “Edinburgh’s Festivals have long been a springboard for the very best of British talent and a vital part of culture in Scotland and the UK. The UK Government’s investment will promote it to a worldwide audience online, helping the UK’s biggest combined festival build back better from the pandemic.”

Sorcha Carey, Chair, Festivals Edinburgh, said:“While live events in Edinburgh will remain the backbone of our world-class festivals, it’s crucial that we enhance our digital operations and so we’re delighted with this incredible support from the UK Government which will help reposition our work, and the work of creatives, across the digital world.”

This digital investment from the UK Government builds on a track record of digital innovation at the Edinburgh Festivals.

One of the unexpected attractions of the Festivals in 1999 was a preview of the world's first mobile media phone - a Nokia 7110e using the Orange network to access the internet through WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) technology. Access was exclusively to the Festivals website event listings, with production models in October having fuller internet access. Vic Keegan of the Guardian commented at the time: “Orange claimed that its 20 assistants in Edinburgh fielded 8,000 inquiries on the first day. I'm not surprised. Even from a brief preview it is easy to see the huge potential of devices like this to change the way we communicate with each other.”

When the Festivals came together less than a decade later to create Festivals Edinburgh, one of their first ambitions was to explore the digitisation of their event listings to enable both media and independent developers to create new applications. The subsequent creation of the Festivals API [application programming interface], which remains one of the largest independent events listings APIs, also led to the staging of the first Culture Hack Scotland - one of the UK's first - which brought together 50 developers & designers and 50 arts professionals for 24 hours of hacking and making with a number of datasets.

A highlight from the Hack was a digital visulatisation [see below] of social media activity at festival venues throughout August by Rory Fitzpatrick - @roryf at http://twitter.com/roryf - which used our API, together with geo-tagged social media data, layered on an exported Open Street Map for the Edinburgh area .........to our eyes, a thing of beauty and a digital Jackson Pollock for the social media age. 


This digital innovation story was given a further boost in 2018 with the establishment of Creative Informatics - supported by the Festivals - as an ambitious research and development programme at the University of Edinburgh which aims to bring the city’s world-class creative industries and tech sector together to explore how data can be used to drive ground-breaking new products, businesses and experiences.

In addition to dealing with real world challenges, the programme uses the festivals a s a living laboratory and to mark the 2020 'cancelled' festivals, the team created ImprovBot: Edinburgh Festival Generated - an artificial neural network, compiling the world’s first AI-generated event blurbs for a virtual arts festival, tweeting out a new show description derived from the original show listings on our API. The response online was phenomenal – with a **** review from The Stage, the leading British weekly newspaper covering the UK’s entertainment industry, an article in the Guardian, and other news pieces from Australia to  Iran to Portugal to Indonesia, and beyond.

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