July 31, 2012 Arts head: Sorcha Carey, director, Edinburgh Art Festival The Guardian / Matthew Caines From the British Council to BBC break-ins, Sorcha Carey talks about directing the Edinburgh Arts Festival. Could you tell us a little bit about the Edinburgh Art Festival? We are Scotland’s largest annual festival of visual art, with an unparalleled offering of major exhibitions by leading Scottish international artists shown alongside the best early career talent, and a special programme of new commissions. There are visual art festivals the world over, but two things make our festival unique: the scope of the programme is such that it allows you to experience the best Scottish and international contemporary practice in the broader context of some of the most significant artists and movements of previous centuries. And of course the fact that we happen to take place in the festival city par excellence. What does an average day look like for you? There isn’t really any such thing as an average day – though most days will involve running around the city to plenty of meetings with everyone from partners and sponsors to artists and the media. Your last role was at British Council Scotland – have you taken anything from that job to inform what you do now? I was a complete newcomer to Scotland when I joined British Council Scotland (apart from a short stint at the Fringe back in my university days) so one of the most valuable things I took from my role there as senior arts adviser was the opportunity to really get to know the Scottish cultural scene. I worked quite closely with several of the other Edinburgh festivals on various projects during my time there, which also gave me a good insight into the challenges and opportunities of running a festival in Scotland. The British Council plugs you into an amazing international network which is an invaluable resource for anyone working in the arts. How difficult is it to direct a festival of such scale and length – you must face some tough challenges? The principal challenge is that we are a young festival at the heart of one of the world’s oldest festival cities, and we have had to work hard both to build a sense of presence and impact, but also to redefine some of the preconceptions about Edinburgh, festivals, and what a festival can and should be. So what have you done to overcome that? By focusing on the unique opportunities that this context presents for programming. For example, this year sees the second of our highly popular Festival Detours series, which invites performers from other disciplines and festivals to develop live performances in response to some of the exhibitions in the festival programme. We’ve also put a big emphasis on commissioning work that brings the festival out of galleries and onto the streets, to increase visibility, and we hope continue to develop new audiences for visual art. The festival features big international names alongside local talent – is that a system that works and how do they complement each other? I hope so, and our audience figures (over 240,000 last year) certainly suggest that it does. Art and artists all come from a local context but they are also informed by a profoundly international sense of art history and their place within it. Our programme allows you to consider the contemporary work – Scottish and international – in the broader context of the major artistic movements and figures of previous centuries. It helps emerging artists to reach new audiences; some visitors may initially be drawn by a name that they know well, but then go on to discover a whole programme of exhibitions by artists they know less well. Do you think Scotland is doing enough to secure its artistic and creative future? We are quite fortunate to have a government which recognises the importance of culture in general and festivals in particular to Scotland as a nation. There have been some significant changes over the last few years, and Creative Scotland is still a young organisation – I am enormously encouraged by the way in which they are actively inviting and listening to feedback from the sector. Have the arts cuts affected the Edinburgh Arts Festival in any particular ways? It’s a challenging time for everyone at the moment, although as a festival that was founded on a principal of partnership, we have a lot of experience of working together across the sector to pool resources and increase impact. What are your top three tips for any festival directors out there? • Coffee – lots of • Go into a festival well rested • Every festival is different, and it takes time to get to know yours Any favourite stories from the festival? It has to be discovering that the intruders who had broken into our festival pavilion after hours were in fact Kirsty Wark and the BBC Review Show. What are you looking forward to most at this year’s festival? Where to begin? Seeing some great contemporary artists shown alongside luminaries like Picasso (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), Guston (Inverleith House), Dieter Roth (Fruitmarket), Tim Rollins & Judd (Talbot Rice), and a major new venue on the scene, Summerhall.