‘Obviously one brings things to the Edinburgh because it is a very important place, with a reputation for showing the best theatre in the world’. This is the opinion of Senior Pombo-Bravo ofthe Spanish Consulate in Edinburgh, who is delighted by the success of the Spanish theme in this. the 43rd year of the Edinburgh Festival.
The use of national themes as a focus for the Festival was one of Frank Dunlop‘s innovations on his arrival as Director of the Festival in 1984. Since then audiences in Edinburgh have been treated to France, Russia and Italy, as the main dish ofthe day, and next year will be able to see half the world on stage. Clive Sandground, the Festival Press Officer, announced ‘the theme ofthe 1990 Festival, 1 can now tell you. will be Asia and the Pacific, stretching from the Northern tip of Kamchatka all the way to the southern shores of California‘. Frank Dunlop has added Czechoslovakia to the list of ingredients to be included in both the Festival next year and the year after.
The choice of a theme centred around the concept of nation and culture is controversial. Frank Dunlop was aggressively challenged by the Tron Theatre, the only Scottish theatre company in this year’s Festival, about the lack of Scottish representation at the Festival during his conversation with Michael Billington at the Guardian Conference. He replied: ‘There should be creativity here in Edinburgh — I think that themes in the Festival are a short-term thing which will stop. I think they’re sensible in terms of programming; it helps us to focus, allows us to try and get some sort of depth. and allows the audience to find a coherence in the Festival — but of course I want to see more new Scottish work
Why is it that the Festival takes as its theme a different country each year? Does it have any relevance to what goes on, or is the international involvement mere window-dressing? Nicola Robertson also asks when it will be Scotland’s turn.
Donald Smith, Director ofthe Netherbow Arts Centre and Vice Chairman of the Edinburgh District Arts Council, questions the logic of Festival programming. ‘At the end ofthe day the Festival programme lacks coherence to my mind, maybe it’s not Frank Dunlop’s fault, maybe it’s all to do with money. If you look at the programme there are lots of good things but what really pins it together? If it‘s supposed to be the nationality thing I don’t think it’s a worthy cause. I don’t think theme should matter; what matters is the quality and I don’t think we have thatf
Paulo Vestri of the District Council, while agreeing that national themes ‘show that foreign governments are willing to support the Festival and recognize its importance,’ says, ‘I would like to see the Festival moving away from themes that are just nationalities towards things like “young people” or “ecological issues” ’.
So why has the Festival chosen to focus itself upon one country and culture each year? As Paulo Vestri points out ‘this year, although Spain is the theme it probably takes up less than a quarter of the programme’, and Clive Sandground is quick to counter any suggestion that the choice of a theme for the Festival is a limitation on bringing in art from other countries. ‘I don’t think there is any danger of the theme becoming a constriction on the Festival
because there is so much on the programme that has nothing to do with Spain.’ Ifthe chosen country is represented in less than halfof the Festival programme the reason for its appearance at the top of the bill is less than glorious. Funding is the obvious motive for choosing a national theme. This year, the Spanish Government has provided travel and transport costs as well as fees, which are considerable — a leading Spanish Prima commands upwards of£4(),()(X) a night.
The French government too, according to Clive Sandground ‘has been extremely helpful and a friend to British culture in helping us stage things in the final week ofthe Festival’. The Tartan exhibition at the Talbot Rice has ironically been sponsored by the Americans.
With only fourteen full-time workers (compared to the Salzburg Festival’s 80), and a scandalously low budget, Britain’s foremost Arts Festival, which attracts thousands of spending foreigners to the country, is relying on a good deal of its funding from the governments ofother countries. It’s a joke; people might complain about the quality of the Festival, but as Donald Smith correctly asserts ‘if you‘ve got cash you can buy and be assured that what you’ve bought will be there’. lfyou do not have adequate subsidy then it is difficult to make yourself into a show-piece for the best of British work, let alone for the rest of the world.
Using the resources of a country which is willing to spend money on its arts is not a phenomenon limited to the Edinburgh Festival. Glasgow will receive a large amount of money from the European Community for its 1990events, and in 1992 Japan is planning a nationwide exposition of its own art in Britain. The implications of this type of spending for home-grown art are profound, and the benefits of Britain becoming a stage for the exposition, by a paying government or big business. oftheir ‘national culture' are questionable.
Ian Brown of the Traverse Theatre is quick to echo the real fear of parochialism that resistance to international funding implies, ‘I think we all learn such a lot by what gets brought in and we see new ways of doing things, which is why I feel Scottish companies have to stand up against work from other countries. I’m against parochialism and I‘m all for internationalism.‘
Yet. in an increasingly Festival-orientated arts scene. where marketing. packaging and fund-raising are all part of Festival culture, competition is fierce and money scarce. If the Edinburgh Festival is to deserve its international reputation it must have the resources to initiate projects and work alongside events taking place in Scotland. particularly Glasgow’s cultural extravaganza next year. At the moment the Festival is treading water, just managing to keep aﬂoat financially and relying heavily on funding through sponsorship and foreign investment. It comes down to a lack ofconcern for the arts by the current British government — a lack reflected in the programming ofthe Festival, which gratefully uses national themes as a way of keeping itself in business.
The Listul.‘ — 31 August 1989 7