Writing about the current crisis is particularly challenging. Many in the performing arts have seen their livelihoods vanish, their work indefinitely postponed and their companies liquidated. In these circumstances it can feel premature, even insensitive, to talk about lessons learned and silver linings. People need time to grieve for what has been lost and process where the future lies.

However, we do need to move forward and I have found it very helpful to listen to different colleagues’ perspectives on their current predicaments and their prognoses for the future. These are often characterised by when people believe the live performing arts are likely to resume. These predictions range from autumn 2020 to winter 2021. The former is a hiatus, the latter a complete paradigm shift. We currently have to plan for both.

In the aftermath of the crisis, a key question for policy makers will be the degree to which festivals and events should be levers to promote Scotland, reignite tourism and drive economic regeneration, and the degree to which they should refocus their attention towards local communities, in need of sustenance and cohesion. Both are, of course, possible, but with resources tightened, choices will have to be made.

Prior to the crisis, international festivals were preoccupied with environmental sustainability. With international touring indefinitely postponed, remote working becoming the norm and global tourism at a standstill, the current situation is an opportunity for our festivals to urgently consider what a carbon neutral future might look like. If we emerge with new thinking that allows us to continue to enjoy the benefits that our festivals bestow in a truly sustainable way, this time will not have been wasted.

Fergus Linehan FRSE
Director of Edinburgh International Festival