‘Cultural Hold-All’: Using the Edinburgh Festivals as a Means of Exploring the Roles and Challenges of ‘Culture’ and the Place of the Arts in British Society, 1947-1967.

Angela Bartie
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Since their mutual beginnings in 1947 the Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama (EIFMD) and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have been a crucial site of cultural exchange, challenge and controversy, bringing together artists from all over the world for a set period of time within the context of a creative festival.

When it began in 1947, the Edinburgh Festival symbolised the new value given to the arts in the immediate post-war world – it was a means of spiritual refreshment, a way of reasserting moral values and also a useful new economic tool in the burgeoning tourist industry. The Festival defined itself as an ‘interpreter of the arts’ but faced cultural challenge, embodied most obviously in the activities of the Fringe which also began (though then was not a self-conscious ‘fringe’) in 1947. By the 1960s the 'Fringe' was mounting an effective cultural challenge as a creator of the arts. By using the Edinburgh festivals as a focal point, some of the concerns of the conference can be explored, particularly: the use of culture as a means of attracting tourists, the way in which the arts reflected social and cultural change (especially evident in the immediate post-war period and in the bubbling cultural ferment of the 1960s), and the continuing question of what role the arts should play in society. Overall this paper seeks to add a historical dimension to an innovative conference on the arts in society today, and should spark discussion on the purpose and aims of festivals, their use as a location of creative exchange and whether their place and function in the international arts calendar has changed.

Keywords: Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Role of Culture, Arts in Society, Festivals, Tourism, Cultural Challenge, Sixties
Stream: Festivals
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Angela Bartie

PhD student, Department of History, University of Dundee, Scotland

I am currently writing up a PhD on the cultural history of the Edinburgh Festivals between 1947 and 1967, with particular emphasis on the 1960s. My research interests include the new definitions and roles of ‘culture’ envisioned in post-war Britain, new and experimental trends in the arts (especially theatre), changing attitudes to religion and morality, and liberalisation in society. Within my thesis, these themes are examined in the context of the festivals and their importance as a site for exploring cultural and moral change. Until I began my research I had never visited the Edinburgh Festivals and had very little knowledge of the theatre. However, over the course of the last 4 years I have become a regular at the festivals and a theatre enthusiast, and hope to pursue further research in theatre and the arts, the 'cultural revolution' of the 1960s and social change (especially regarding religion and morality). On submission of my thesis (around spring 2006) I hope to establish a career in academia in the field of cultural history.

Ref: A06P0248