Tiffany Jenkins talks about the origins of the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the powers-that-be who seem to be determined to strangle it with red tape:
In 1947, eight theatre groups turned up to perform at the newly formed Edinburgh International Festival, an annual event established to celebrate and enrich postwar European cultural life. The theatre groups had not been invited, and were not part of the official programme. So instead they created a spontaneous festival on the side. Growing year on year, with the theatre groups encouraging others to participate, this alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival eventually established itself, in 1959, as the Festival Fringe Society.
Today, Scotland is home to some of the top cultural events in the world. Many take place in Edinburgh during the August months, attracting high-profile authors, artists, comics and theatre companies from all over the globe. At the heart of this cultural firmament is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, an event now funded and supported by government and local councils. Yet, in a nasty twist, those very same central and local authorities, currently enjoying the prestige of being associated with a world-renowned festival of culture, are seemingly intent on stifling the spontaneous, do-it-yourself impulse that originally gave birth to the Fringe.
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From 1 April 2012, it will become necessary to have a ‘Public Entertainment License’ to undertake any kind of public art in Scotland. Previously a licence was only required for events charging admission. Starting next month, even the smallest local events being run for free — say in a café or a bookshop — will require one, which must be applied for six weeks beforehand. This will include exhibitions in temporary places, gigs in record shops, free film screenings, music in pubs. You know, even really dodgy stuff — like poetry readings to 10 men and a dog.
Apart from the form-filling and curtailment of spontaneity — you cannot just ring around a few friends and suggest a performance at the weekend — this will cost money too. In the past, fees for a ‘public entertainment licence’ have ranged from £120 to £7,500, requiring several months’ notice to be given to the council and three weeks public notice. Nothing will happen without long-term planning. Small venues, like cafes, which support artists and performers by hosting free events, won’t be able to cover the costs. And they shouldn’t have to. Art doesn’t need a licence, and nor do we to enjoy it.
What we are seeing is the hyper-regulation of everyday life where anything we choose to do spontaneously and between ourselves is seen as dangerous or threatening. The authorities want to monitor, codify and regulate the most normal, everyday interactions and behaviour.