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Perth Festival of the Arts faces uncertain future as council threatens to withdraw funding

Lewis Capaldi, performing at the 2019 Perth Festival of the Arts
Lewis Capaldi, performing at the 2019 Perth Festival of the Arts

A long-running Perth arts festival which has hosted gigs by Lewis Capaldi and Van Morrison is facing an uncertain future after Perth and Kinross Council moved to axe funding.

The decision has rocked the organisers of Perth Festival of the Arts, who were preparing for a huge 50th anniversary celebration in 2021.

The group has secured council cash for this year and next, but have been told after that, funding “cannot go on”.

Chairman Peter Rutterford said it would be “very disappointing” if next summer’s show was the last to receive council support.

A pre-Bake Off Flora Shedden helps launch the 2015 event

Members of the environment and infrastructure committee approved its annual award of £18,800 for the 10-day programme in May, featuring musicians Nicola Benedetti and Jools Holland.

And they agreed an extra £25,000 to support an enhanced anniversary event next year.

Vice-convener Kathleen Baird said she hoped that the 50th anniversary would be a “special one” but added: “Maybe at that point, they will realise that this cannot go on.”

An artist at the festival in 1980

Councillor Roz McCall added: “We do need to accept that this is not going to continue ad infinitum, and we should really be seeing them standing on their own two feet.”

While the council pays just under £19,000 towards the event each year, the festival team pays Horsecross Arts – the council-funded organisation in charge of Perth’s concert hall and theatre – more than £60,000 for rent, production costs, catering, staff and box office.

It costs around £360,000 to stage the events, with the majority of money from ticket sales, trust donations and grants.

Festival chairman Peter Rutterford said: “Perth and Kinross Council have been supporters of Perth Festival of the Arts over many years, and it is through this and our sponsors that the festival has become a significant cultural event and a major success story for the city of Perth.”

He said the festival had “made a significant contribution to the life of Perth by bringing international artistes such as Nicola Benedetti and Lewis Capaldi, proving its diverse appeal”.

Mr Rutterford said: “With strong community roots, we also provide opportunities in the arts for hundreds of local children and young people each year, as well as showcasing a wide range of local venues through our events.

“The profile of Perth Festival goes beyond the city boundaries, bringing in significant revenue to hotels, restaurants and shops during its 10-day run.

“The ongoing success of the festival was a factor in giving the city the confidence to bid for City of Culture status, and it would therefore be very disappointing if 2021 were to be the final year the council felt they could support us.”

Councillors were told event organisers had struggled to attract significant sponsorship.

SNP councillor Grant Laing said the funding for 2020 and 2021 should be agreed “on the understanding that this is coming to an end”.

He said: “If you look at the figures, every paid ticket is subsidised by £26. That’s a lot of money to subsidise one person to see a show.”

Mr Laing said the festival committee should be more ambitious about its ticket sale targets, which forecast a growth of around 7%.

The event was launched as a showcase for opera and classical music in the 1970s, but broadened its scope over the decades with a range of stand-up comics and fledgling music stars.

Big names at Perth Festival

Among the national and international stars who have performed at the festival over the years:

Lewis Capaldi

Van Morrison

Calvin Harris

The Proclaimers

Nicola Benedetti

KT Tunstall

Edwyn Collins

Paul Merton

Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra

Dara O Briain

 

 

 

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