Edinburgh International Festival box office receipts down by 3.3%
By BRIAN FERGUSON
Eunice Olumide and Cerice Wade prepare for a fashion show as part of the mela celebrations
THE Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) has suffered a 3.3 per cent drop at the box office since last year’s record-breaking event, organisers have admitted.
As the capital’s summer festivals drew to a close last night, a reduced line-up and “more challenging” programme have been blamed for EIF box office income dropping from £2.67 million to £2.58m – down to the same level as in 2009.
The box office fortunes of the EIF – which recorded a 3 per cent rise in 2010 – have been revealed after a mixed season for the capital’s flagship events, which saw a rise in the Fringe’s ticket sales, but a decline in the fortunes of the film and book festivals, as well as the Tattoo.
The £90,000 drop in the EIF’s box office receipts was the most significant since festival director Jonathan Mills took the helm of the event in 2006.
However, last night the Australian impresario declared the “calculated risk” of having a strong Asian theme had paid off and predicted the whole country would benefit from a legacy of new cultural links which had been established.
He insisted the festival – which featured Chinese opera and ballet, Indian dance and Korean productions of Shakespeare – had performed “extremely well”, saying a slight drop in ticket income had been predicted because so many acts were unfamiliar to the festival’s core audience.
Critics have heaped praise on shows such as the Peony Pavilion, by the National Ballet of China, and Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe’s Revenge of Prince Zi Dan, although many productions had widespread availability and tickets were still available for the end-of-festival fireworks display last night.
Although the event’s budget this year was up £300,000 to £9.5m, Mr Mills, who had controversially dropped early evening concerts at Greyfriars Kirk from the programme, said it had still managed to make a profit.
Extra funding was attracted from overseas governments and donors, while public funding from the EIF also secured £4.6m from the Scottish Government, Edinburgh city council and Creative Scotland.
Mr Mills said: “We do not simply measure the success of the festival in commercial terms.
“If we did we would be an also-ran festival, but the reputation of this event rests on us taking calculated risks every year, and that is what we did with the kind of cultural exchanges and collaborations we created.
“The audience numbers we got were in line with our expectations and that’s why we’ve managed to balance our books. We did extremely well at the box office and even some shows that did not sell as well as we’d hoped in advance picked up very well once word of mouth spread when they opened.
“We have built a whole new series of relationships with overseas companies and artists, which will have a legacy for the whole country for years to come, as well as for the festival, which was partly the aim in what we did this year.
“It was a challenging festival, one that asked audiences to take a risk and to join us on a distinct and remarkable journey.
“I am pleased that we are where we need to be financially, but I am particularly delighted that there has been such a terrific response to the programme and that shared aspects of our cultures and humanities have been so clear and accessible to festival audiences.”
Bad weather was cited by the book festival for a 10,000 drop in visitors to its site at Charlotte Square, as well as ticket sales income dropping two per cent. Although the Fringe saw ticket sales rise 2.6 per cent this year, the Tattoo failed to record a complete sell-out for the first time in 13 years.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival was forced to dramatically slash the number of events in its programme this year due to a funding crisis.
However, the capital’s multicultural festival, the Edinburgh Mela, which also ended yesterday, said it expected a huge increase in the 26,000 visitors who attended last year after benefiting from good weather over the weekend.
Director Steve Stenning said: “Our numbers were way up on last year, particularly on Sunday, thanks to the good weather, when we were getting pretty close to the site’s capacity and that’s something we’ll have to look at for next year.”
A major study published earlier this year found that Edinburgh’s festivals were now worth £261m to the economy, creating the equivalent of 5242 full-time jobs each year.
Steve Cardownie, the city council’s festivals and events champion, said: “As this year’s study suggests, the Edinburgh festivals bring immense economic benefits to the city, as well as instilling civic pride both locally and nationally.”