Campaigners slam Edinburgh Festival for being ‘90% white’ as they demand organisers book more female, disabled and BAME acts amid ‘lack of diversity’

  • Edinburgh International Festival accused of overlooking black and female acts
  • Campaigners demand that the festival ‘diversify’ or risk losing £4.5m funding
  • Festival has apologised for ‘failure’ and Scottish Government is enforcing policy 

The Edinburgh International Festival has apologised for the ‘lack of diversity’ in its August programme after less than 300 campaigners demanded that organisers book more female, disabled and black performers – or risk being defunded.

The 73-year-old festival, which was originally cancelled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, hosted an online programme two months ago which created work for more than 500 artists and crew.

However, an online petition claims the programme failed to ensure that Scotland had ‘a more representative arts sector’, alleging that nearly 90 per cent of performers were white.

Back by just 287 respondents, the petition called for the festival’s £4.5million public funding to be stripped and ‘redistributed’ among other arts organisations and events if it refused to ‘diversify’. 

Campaigners said the number of male performers was double the number of women, while disabled artists were allegedly overlooked completely.

They also branded the festival’s majority white line-up a ‘shocking lack of insight at a moment when Black Lives Matter has shone a light on the white supremacy eroding, silencing and murdering the voices of Black people the world over’.

The petition appears to have been set up after the killing of black man George Floyd in the US sparked worldwide protests and riots.  

The Edinburgh International Festival has apologised for the ‘lack of diversity’ in its August programme after just 300 campaigners demanded that organisers book more female, disabled and black performers – or risk being defunded (pictured, Edinburgh Castle)

Back by just 300 respondents, the petition called for the festival’s £4.5million public funding to be stripped and ‘redistributed’ among other arts organisations if it refused to ‘diversify’

Event organisers are understood to have ‘accepted’ there was a lack of diversity in the online programme caused by coronavirus ‘diverting’ attention away from its practices.

The Scottish Government has said it will monitor the festival in the future to ensure it makes improvements and meets official ‘obligations’ on equality, diversity and inclusion after formal complaints were made to Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Iain Munro, boss of Creative Scotland, the Government’s arts quango.

The petition stated: ‘The Edinburgh International Festival programmed almost 90% of it’s 2020 digital work, by white artists and creatives.

‘Not only is this number testament to an arts world ravaged by institutional racism, but highlights a shocking lack of insight at a moment when Black Lives Matter has shone a light on the white supremacy eroding, silencing and murdering the voices of Black people the world over.

‘The programme supported almost twice the number of men to women, and involved no D/deaf or disabled artists or creatives.

‘At a moment in time when Covid-19 has seen those most marginalised people losing their lives at a higher rate than anyone else, and as the arts crumbles under the weight of a global pandemic, this year’s EIF could have provided those most silenced voices with a platform to be heard.  

Scottish Ballet dancers Thomas Edwards, Sophie Martin and Barnaby Rook Bishop take part in the unveiling of the Edinburgh International Festival My Light Shines On at the Festival Theatre

Korean born cellist Su-A-Lee takes part in the unveiling of the Edinburgh International Festival My Light Shines On at the Festival Theatre

Scottish Ballet dancers Thomas Edwards, Sophie Martin and Barnaby Rook Bishop take part in the unveiling of the Edinburgh International Festival My Light Shines On at the Festival Theatre

‘In light of BLM it seems shocking this has not happened.

‘We are yet to see how the arts world will recover, but by providing a platform to white male voices, EIF are ensuring their survival into the future of the sector, whilst others are left facing the possibility of never working in the arts again. 

‘Moving the festival online was an opportunity for EIF to ensure a more representative future for the sector as a whole, and that opportunity has now been lost.’

EIF director Fergus Linehan and executive director Francesca Hegyi said: ‘Whilst we have made significant progress in some matters relating to diversity and inclusion over recent years, we know it isn’t enough.

‘In truth, the challenges posed by Covid-19 diverted our attention to core resilience matters, finding stability for the many people we employ throughout the festival period.

‘Whilst we are proud of our resulting programme and our ability to create work for more than 500 individuals, we acknowledge our failure to reflect the diversity of practice in our community and our responsibility to give voice to those whose voices have been marginalised.’

In its response to the complaints, the Scottish Government stated: ‘We agree with the EIF’s judgement that they must make improvements in future programming.

‘The Government’s policy is that it is committed to a fairer and more inclusive Scotland, and our culture emphasises how important it is for culture to reflect Scotland in the 21st Century.’

The Scottish Government has said it will monitor the festival in the future to ensure it makes improvements and meets official ‘obligations’ on equality, diversity and inclusion after formal complaints were made to Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Iain Munro (pictured with former BBC director-general Tony Hall), boss of Creative Scotland, the Government’s arts quango

The Edinburgh International Festival has apologised for the ‘lack of diversity’ in its August programme after just 300 campaigners demanded that organisers book more female, disabled and black performers – or risk being defunded (pictured, Calton Hill)

Edinburgh’s biggest university came under fire last month after it renamed a tower bearing the name of 18th Century philosopher David Hume over his alleged links to slavery.  

The David Hume Tower will now be known as 40 George Square, the university confirmed, following pressure from activists, despite a petition amassing less than 2,000 signatures. 

Dr Felix Waldmann, a former Edinburgh professor who is now at Cambridge University, called Hume ‘unashamedly racist’ after discovering a previously unknown letter the philosopher wrote encouraging his patron to buy a plantation.

This led to the petition demanding action from the university over its links to Hume amid his use of ‘racial epithets’.  

However, the university’s decision to rename the tower has led to fury, with academics and politicians leading the backlash. 

Neil O’Brien, the Conservative MP for Harborough, in Leicestershire, wrote: ‘Edinburgh University has cancelled / deleted the great enlightenment philosopher David Hume. What a cowardly, stupid, craven, pathetic, spineless, dumb thing to do. Shame on them.’  

Leading historian Sir Tom Devine, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘The current Principal of Edinburgh University [Peter Mathieson] should hang his head in absolute shame.’ 

The University of Edinburgh confirmed it has renamed its tower commemorating 18th century philosopher David Hume over his links to slavery

Protesters celebrate outside the building formerly known as David Hume Tower in George Square on the campus of Edinburgh University

Sir Tom said that if he was still employed by the university, ‘I would have fought tooth and nail against this decision’. 

He added history students are taught ‘never to indulge in the intellectual sin of anachronistic judgment – i.e. never to impose the values of today on those of the past’.

Sir Tom also said Hume was the ‘greatest philosophical mind Scotland has ever produced’.

‘In the year of David Hume’s reported letter on the plantations, there is no evidence that any groups in Scotland opposed chattel slavery in the colonies. In that sense, Hume was a man of his time, no better and no worse than any other Scot at the time.

‘By the criterion of this stupid decision, the whole of Scotland in that period deserved moral condemnation.’

Sir Tom Devine, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘The current Principal of Edinburgh University [Peter Mathieson] should hang his head in absolute shame.’

However, the university’s decision to rename the tower has led to fury, with academics and politicians leading the backlash

Asanga Welikala, a lecturer in public law at Edinburgh university and co-convenor of the Keith Forum on Commonwealth Constitutionalism, said: ‘I do not agree with this decision. 

‘David Hume’s thought has inspired me throughout a 20-year career working to further constitutional democracy in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. 

‘As an employee of Edinburgh University I was not consulted in this.’ 

Another critic added: ‘It’s not clear to me how cancelling David Hume – whose racist views are not what he is known for; views which are consistent with his intellectual milieu – is meant to improve the lives of black people today.’

A second added: ‘I am sceptical that the university of Edinburgh has much evidence of a building being named after the famous 18th century Enlightenment philosopher David Hume causing ‘distress’ to contemporary students. 

‘This sounds like an imagined projection of hypothetical distress. 

While philosopher Christina Sommers said: ‘My God. David Hume is cancelled. Shame on U of Edinburgh.’

The university said it is renaming the tower after an investigation involving its equality and diversity committee and its race equality and anti-racist sub-committee.

It said its work had been ‘energised’ since the death of George Floyd in the US in May and campaigning by the Black Lives Matter movement.

A statement read: ‘It is important that campuses, curricula and communities reflect both the university’s contemporary and historical diversity and engage with its institutional legacy across the world. 

‘For this reason the university has taken the decision to rename — initially temporarily until a full review is completed — one of the buildings in the central area campus. From the start of the new academic year the David Hume Tower will be known as 40 George Square. 

‘The interim decision has been taken because of the sensitivities around asking students to use a building named after the 18th-century philosopher whose comments on matters of race, though not uncommon at the time, rightly cause distress today.’

The university said the decision was taken ahead of a ‘more detailed review of the university’s links to the past’ and work is ‘considering many other issues beyond the naming of buildings’. 

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