Whose Festival Is It Anyway?

Jan 29 2021 | By More

Cockburn conference questions role of the Festivals in Edinburgh

The news this week that the Book Festival is to move from its original home in Charlotte Square to the Art College is a timely reminder of the impermanence of our annual cultural binge.

Of course, as the pandemic drags on and the likelihood of returning to anything approaching normality this year recedes, the festivals were bound to change. We know that, whether we like it or not, but the EIBF’s move makes it feel true.

Charlotte Square in 2020 on the opening day of the virtual book festival. Part of Thom and Peter Dibdin’s #NothingToReviewHere project. Pic: Peter Dibdin

Last August, my brother Peter and I went round a series of regular Fringe venues taking photos of me with my “reviewing kit” – basically my bike and a different loud shirt each day – for our #NothingToReviewHere project.

The idea was to document the empty spaces which are left when the fringe isn’t there. One of the most poignant was our visit to Charlotte Square – and jumping my bike over the failings was fun, too – but little did we think that the Book Festival wasn’t ever to return to that space.

I suppose everyone who loves, works in and goes to the festivals has a sense of ownership of them. But going round those venues every day, and telling Peter about all the different shows and companies I had seen in each of them over 35 years of fringe going, just underlined the transient nature of the wonderful thing which descends on our city every August.


The thing is, we all feel ownership of the Festivals. Even if the fringe, particularly, is purposefully owned by those who decide to turn up.

So now, in this year when the festivals will necessarily be different from how the have been and probably will ever be again, now is as good time as any to start thinking about how they might be in the future.

Whose Festival Is It Anyway? Click image for links to tickets.

The Cockburn Association’s conference on Saturday does just that, focussing the mind on what has been and what could be; what we thought the festivals were and what we want them to be; what they really were and what they can be.

Even the wildest of gardens need some kind of husbandry, so if we are to keep the cultural garden of the Edinburgh festivals alive, we need to do more than let it grow out of hand. Now is the time to talk about what that might be.

Tickets to the festival are free and available with further details of the day, on EventBrite here: Whose Festival Is It Anyway?

Whose Festival Is It Anhyway

Saturday 30 January 2021

Conference Programme Timings

Session 1: Whose Festival is it anyway? (11am-12.45pm)

11am-11.45am – The Festival City: Founding principles – future directions.
Chaired by Joyce MacMillan with panellists Dr Angela Bartie, Morvern Cunningham and Helen Martin.

12pm-12.45pm – Arts in the City: Local needs and global aspirations.
Chaired by Joyce MacMillan with panellists Andrew Crummy, Shauna MacDonald and Julia Amour

Lunchtime: 12.45-1.15pm.

Session 2: Sustaining festivals or sustainable festivals? (1.15pm-3pm)

1.15pm-2pm – Cultural Tourism and the Festivals: What will be the ‘new normal’?
Chaired by Stephen Jardine with panellists Prof Jane Ali-Knight, Donald Emslie and Prof David McGillivray

2.15pm-3pm – Festivalisation and Climate Change: Managing impacts on the city.
Chaired by Stephen Jardine with panellists Andrew Heald, Marianna Trusson and Dr Ben Twist

Plenary Session: Reflections on the day (3pm-3.30pm)
Our two session chairs, Stephen Jardine and Joyce MacMillan will be joined by our chairperson Prof Cliff Hague


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