:: Monday, August 18, 2003 ::

Edinburgh People's Festival

Picnic in the Park

picnic in the park - Post Tension

The final day of the Edinburgh People's Festival saw 250-300 local kids and families gathering in the Inch Park in the south of Edinburgh to hear a lineup of local bands at our Picnic in the Park (pictures here). My personal favourites were Post Tension (pictured above) and The Rains.

The festival has certainly exceeded the expectations of the organising committee of which I am a member. Most events have been packed out and have provoked a lot of debate.

Check out the EPF website for links to press articles. Today's Guardian has a good one.

Most of the debate has been pretty constructive with notable exceptions coming from some who would consider themselves on the left such as Lesley Hinds, of the Labour council who slagged off the EPF at a community arts exhibition opening, only to be reminded by one of the organisers of the opening that she had slashed their funding. We also had Claire Fox of libertarian whackos The Institute of Ideas (formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party of Living Marxism notoriety) who turned up at the 'Whose Culture is it Anyway' debate to say that people in housing schemes should just get the bus to the city centre, then she fucked off back to London. Institute of not-got-a-scoobie more like. Finally there is of course Mark Brown, theatre correspondent of Socialist Worker who took space in the List magazine to defend the fringe and slag off the EPF. Mark didn't turn up to a single EPF event, or speak to anyone organising it.

This was my reply to Mark, sent to the List, should be in this week:

"The Edinburgh People's Festival has certainly caused a stir. It has put the fringe bosses on the defensive and upset a few professional arts commentators. "The last thing people in Niddrie need is a play" was the opinion of one critic.

The defenders of the status quo were joined by Mark Brown in his List article 'Long live the fringe' (List 474). He writes "It smacks of a dangerous type of parochialism (which could so easily play into xenophobia) to imply some sort of conflict between working-class people in Edinburgh and visitors from overseas."

Of course the opposite is the case. The EPF seeks not to shut down the Fringe and the official festival, but to open them up. We want to open up the festival to allow the working class communities in Edinburgh to contribute and to enjoy what is on offer. What Mark doesn't seem to accept is that many people are alienated from the festival. They don't see the relevance of a culture that is happening to them, not by them or with them.

Ticket prices are just part of the story. The venues in working class areas remain empty. But Craigmillar folk packed out the Jack Kane Centre for the opening night of the EPF. They applauded not just the brilliant local performers but also artists from Chile and the US. It was an entertaining and empowering night.

Mark Brown says "there is an important debate to be had about working class engagement in the arts". Well we're not just debating Mark. We're doing something. What the hell are you doing?

Mark's recycled arguments for culture from above stand in stark contrast with the aims of the Edinburgh People's Festival to promote working class contribution to the arts. Culture from below.

Alister Black
Edinburgh People's Festival"

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