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Perth and Kinross Matters: Short-sighted funding decision puts festival at risk

An artist at the festival in 1980
An artist at the festival in 1980

A shock funding decision could bring the curtain down on the long-running Perth Festival of the Arts.

In a bittersweet move, Perth and Kinross Council agreed to pay towards the event for this year and next, with hopes that 2021’s 50th anniversary show will be “extra special”.

But organisers have been told that this funding cannot continue.

For a city that’s future hinges so much on it’s art and culture, it seems like a strange, short-sighted attitude to take towards its premiere arts festival.

And its a decision that doesn’t quite add up.

When councils start feeling the pinch, seemingly trivial, less urgent matters like arts and culture are often first against the wall when it comes to funding.

But as designer Wayne Hemingway pointed out during his work on Perth’s City of Culture bid, every pound spent on culture gets a significant return. Done properly it can attract visitors, boost local establishments, regenerate economies and improve the area’s reputation.

It’s true that Perth Festival of the Arts wasn’t without its problems. It has struggled to garner much interest on the national stage, and ticket sales appear to have plateaued in recent years.

But there is great potential. The festival appeared to be transforming itself for a new generation. Securing superstar Lewis Capaldi was a major coup for the city, and it proved to be one of only a handful of sell-out shows at Perth Concert Hall in 2019.

Threatening to cut funding now is like stifling the festival at a time when it should be encouraged to flourish and expand.

The other reason the council’s decision doesn’t add up comes when you look at the event’s income and expenditure. While the council pays around £18,800 each year towards the £360,000 running costs, the festival team pays Horsecross Arts more than £60,000 for rental and production costs.

That’s the same Horsecross Arts that the council had to bail out to keep afloat last year. Surely it needs losing a major festival, with some guaranteed, annual income, like it needs a hole in the head.

Its not all doom and gloom. The festival continues to chase sponsorship and there’s a chance that by 2022 it will be ready to – as the council wants – stand on its own two feet.

The decision made on Wednesday was also suitably vague and leaves the door open for further council funding.

But with the off-stage drama consuming Horsecross, and the now urgent need to get more bums on seats, Perth festival proved it was entirely possible to bring huge stars like Lewis Capaldi to the city. That should give us all hope. And this is the thanks they get?





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