Tell us about Edinburgh Art Festival
Founded in 2004, Edinburgh Art Festival is the platform for the visual arts at the heart of Edinburgh’s August festivals, bringing together the capital’s leading galleries, museums, production facilities and artist-run spaces in a city-wide celebration of the very best in visual art. Each year, the festival features leading international and UK artists alongside the best emerging talent, major survey exhibitions of historic figures, and a special programme of newly commissioned artworks that respond to public and historic sites in the city. The vast majority of the festival is free to attend.
On 1 April 2020, alongside the other major August festivals in Edinburgh, we announced the cancellation of our 2020 edition. We aim to return next year from 29 July to 29 August 2021 – as always working closely with our partner galleries, and alongside our extended network of sister festivals, to celebrate the work of artists with audiences and communities across the city.
What were the key reasons for creating a digital/hybrid event?
Despite the cancellation of the festival, it felt important to mark the dates of the 2020 festival – to support artists, to keep in touch with audiences, and to reflect on a period of unprecedented global change and upheaval.
Tell us about your digital / hybrid event
We invited 10 artists who have participated in previous festival editions to present work. The programme combined specially conceived responses, alongside archival presentations, chosen for their resonance in relation to the current context. Digital work was available via the festival website from 30 July to 30 August, with a small number of projects appearing in public sites around the city.
Our digital offering included online screenings, live performances and a twice-weekly broadcast by the following artists: Ruth Ewan; Calvin Z Laing; Tamara MacArthur; Rosalind Nashashibi; Rae-Yen Song; Shannon Te Ao; and Hanna Tuulikki.
Presented throughout Edinburgh, Peter Liversidge revisited his 2013 festival commission, Flags for Edinburgh, inviting organisations and communities across the city to fly a white flag saying HELLO; while Ruth Ewan, Ellie Harrison, Rae-Yen Song and Tam Joseph created work for billboards and poster sites across the city.
Did you come across any challenges?
The programme was pulled together in a comparatively short time frame, and while a relaxation in restrictions meant that we were able to combine digital programming with presentation of a small number of projects in the city, artists were necessarily limited in terms of access to production facilities. All of the participating artists were incredibly generous in the way they responded to the challenges, with many choosing to explore the possibilities of digital for their practice for the very first time, and/or to present existing work in a new unusual context.
There were expected challenges to presenting work in the city, due to the continuing impacts and restrictions of Covid 19. Peter Liversidge’s Flags for Edinburgh, for example, depended on contacting a wide range of organisations and businesses across the city – many of whom had staff that were furloughed or working from home. However, with time we managed to contact the majority of those that we had invited to be involved, all of whom were enthusiastic to take part.
This year’s online presentation of work was a completely new aspect for the festival and therefore had its own challenges and learning. Though much of the work existed on the festival website, for some artists, in particular those who primarily work in live performance, the format of the work online was required to relate to their wider practice, necessitating different modes of presentation. This required more tailored research into online platforms, rather than adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach to online presentations.
What was your approach?
In our online offering we sought to respond to the needs and interests of artists, to try out new digital tools that reflected and supported their practice. As an artist who generally performs in front of a live audience, Calvin Laing, was interested in the opportunities of the broadcasting platform Twitch TV to retain a sense of liveness to the experience of his performance Calvin and Jogging. Tamara MacArthur and Hanna Tuulikki were both interested in the performance potential of Zoom as a platform – Tamara, for the opportunity for direct audience interaction which the breakout rooms afforded; and Hanna for the unique opportunity to perform live with a collaborator in a different city.
In presenting work in the city, we explored opportunities to present work in contexts that would be naturally suited to social distancing, and that could reach local audiences in a range of public spaces across Edinburgh. We were pleased therefore to partner with Jack Arts to present artwork on billboards and poster sites across the city; and to work in partnership with the city to present Peter Liversidge’s Hello flags in over 35 community parks.
Did you earn income from your event?
The full offering was free to attend. Similar to previous years, we invited our audiences to donate to the festival when registering to attend online events or when visiting our online store. While a majority of the regular festival is always free to attend, this offering was designed to be as accessible as possible, created to share a greeting of optimism and hope to local audiences, as well as regular festival audiences across the world.
How did you promote your digital / hybrid event?
We worked with our PR agency, The Corner Shop PR, to promote the August offering, resulting in strong press reach of 88 online, print and broadcast features, including in The Times (Alba), The Metro, The London Evening Standard, The Scotsman, The Herald, and BBC (radio and broadcast), amongst others.
During the August offering our festival website was the main source for information and to access digital presentations. We were also featured widely in digital listings including The List, The Skinny and Art Rabbit.
We continued to promote and share events across our social media platforms, and encouraged individual artists and programme participants, such as those hosting flags for Flags for Edinburgh, to share content across their own platforms. Alongside our own offering in August, we also shared news of activity and re-openings of partner galleries across the city, as well as our partnership with the Black Lives Matter Mural Trail by Wezi Mhura.
- Digital programme totalled 23.6k views
- Total engagements with the physical programme were harder to a measure, but based on sample weekday/weekend counts we estimate that more than 22k people stopped to view Tam Joseph’s The Hand Made Map Of The World, part of our wider offering around the city
- More than 231k total impressions across social media
- Press engagement of 88 features across online, print and broadcast
- Online views across 84 countries around the world recorded via our website
- Our DIY Art series of home activity kits for children & families were downloaded 100 times by the public, and delivered to over 300 individuals through our community engagement programme
Was it a success?
The programme attracted very positive feedback, and critically, supported our ambition to sustain positive engagement with local and international audiences.
A particular highlight of social media engagement has been the sharing of Flags of Edinburgh by audiences and host organisations, attracting enthusiastic and widespread participation from uniquely local audiences, including those that may be new to Edinburgh Art Festival.
Beyond the success of press and social media, an important success has been the opportunity to continue to support artists, and more widely the sector. Through our offering we have been able to support emerging Scotland-based artists to create new work for presentation, and create opportunities for freelance creatives such as technicians, designers, and photographers. We also worked with four additional artists to deliver DIY Art activity packs for community groups across the city, which are also available to download for free on our website.
A majority of our learnings have developed from presenting work online for the first time. Through this first year we now have a more developed understanding of online programming and are continuing to explore how online engagement allows us to reach a more diverse audience. On a more practical note, we have also learned a great deal about the necessary equipment and resources, such as upload speeds and stable internet connections, to deliver a high-quality online programme of work.
This unique moment gave us the opportunity to explore the creative potential of online programming in a way that we had never done so before – and in doing so helped us to reach audiences from 84 countries around the world. This outcome has reinforced our view that producing work for a digital platform can help us to maintain Edinburgh’s international profile as a destination for experiencing exceptional visual art, especially during these more difficult times.
In the future we plan to continue to have an online offering within our artistic programme. We hope that through this we can continue to create new digital experiences for our audiences and participating artists, and as a result, expand our ways of working to increase resilience across the arts and festival sector. We also see the benefits of featuring an online offering for broadening our audiences, for instance to better support audiences with physical access needs or those who are reducing their carbon footprint through minimal travel.