Edinburgh International Book Festival chief urges city to reclaim world culture crown as new venue is revealed

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Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, has called on the Scottish capital to send a fresh message to the rest of the world that it’s “the place to be” in summer.

He hopes plans to return the book festival this year, after a tentative return in 2021 under strict Covid restrictions, will play a key role in rebuilding Edinburgh’s ‘buzz’ in August.

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Barley said a long-term move to a new University of Edinburgh complex being created in the former Royal Infirmary building would give the festival crucial “breathing space” to plan for expansion and its long-term development.

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, at Central Hall, Tollcross, which will host its biggest events this year. Photo: Greg Macvean

However, he said his own event was already on track to return to its previous scale, when it regularly attracted 250,000 attendees, as he reported an “incredible appetite” for international writers to travel to Edinburgh for the event.

The festival will be based at the Edinburgh College of Art for the second consecutive year in August, when eight theaters and halls will be established. However, the biggest events will be staged at a new festival venue, nearby Central Hall in Tollcross, which Barley described as “one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems”.

Up to 750 book lovers will be able to attend each event in the two-storey church building, which dates back to 1901 and has previously hosted festival program launches and the Saltire Literary Awards.

Anticipation is mounting over the revival of Edinburgh’s sprawling cultural celebration, following the cancellation of all major events in the city in the face of the pandemic in 2020 and a scaled-down version emerging last summer after months of uncertainty over Covid restrictions. place.

Image: Blue Sky Photography

The International Festival, Fringe and International Film Festival are all celebrating their 75th anniversary this summer, with the latter returning to a slot in August for the first time in 15 years.

Speaking ahead of the launch of the book festival program next month, Barley said: “Before the pandemic, we were growing naturally year after year. It’s impossible to say at this stage if that will continue.

“But we are already on a very rapid return to the scale of the festival that we had in 2019.

“People all over the world want to come to Edinburgh. There’s an incredible appetite from authors around the world to come here to talk about their work.

Photo: Graham Armstrong

“They know that even though it’s been three years since the last large-scale festival, Edinburgh really matters. It matters a lot.”

Barley said the book festival will bring its giant TV screen back to the courtyard of the art college for broadcasting events to allow people to watch from the festival’s pop-up cafes and bars.

He said: “I have absolutely no doubt that with our big screen and improved hospitality offering, the art college is going to be a fantastic public space to visit whether or not they have a ticket to a event or not.”

“What really makes a festival is the buzz and that feeling you get when you’re not at an event.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival will be based at Edinburgh College of Art for the second consecutive year this summer. Photo: Lisa Ferguson

“That’s what we need to recreate this year, and it’s not just about the book festival.

“It’s our opportunity as a city to rebuild that buzz and a real feeling that Edinburgh is a ‘festival city’ in August.

“The reason so many people choose to live here is because of the incredible joy of being in a ‘festival city’. Our message, as a festival and as a city, must be that this is one of the places to be in the world in August.

“We really need to demonstrate that Edinburgh is the place to be in August.”

Barley said that although the festival planned to live stream many of its events this year, he and his team had been keen on finding a venue larger than the art school spaces.

“It’s a great venue, but not big enough for the large-scale festival we used to have in Charlotte Square.

Edinburgh College of Art held Book Festival events for the first time last year. Photo: Roberto Ricciuti

“We will have many more rooms indoors this year, but our biggest space will be a 380-seat room at Sculpture Court.

“We’ll have three theaters downstairs, another in the amphitheater upstairs, we’ll use the Wee Red Bar as a 100-seat venue, where we’ll have spoken word events and some pretty unusual stuff, a storytelling yurt for children in the courtyard, and two workshop areas.

“However, our largest venue in Charlotte Square had a capacity of 750 people and we needed a space of that size for the festival’s return this year.

“We have already launched the festival program in the central hall, so it has been on our radar, and it is big enough for events of this capacity this year.

“This is one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems, right in the middle of Lothian Road, which you wouldn’t even notice if you were walking past it. “Its entrance is tucked away in a corner, but inside it is opens onto a beautiful large theater. It has excellent acoustics, it’s one of the best auditoriums in the city, and it’s only a four-minute walk from the college of art site.

Barley said the festival plans to continue streaming most of its events online, except for writers who would prefer their appearances not be filmed.

He added: “We will again use a payment system according to your possibilities for our online events. We found that 50% of people chose to pay last year. Of these, they paid an average of £8.20 for each event. If it stays at that level this year, it will more than cover the cost of all the cameras we use and our studio setup.

Central Hall, Tollcross, will be the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s biggest venue this year after being used to launch its programmes. Photo: Greg Macvean
Edinburgh College of Art will host the Edinburgh International Boolk Festival for the second consecutive year this summer. Photo: Graham Armstrong
Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in the Sculpture Court at Edinburgh College of Art. Photo: Lisa Ferguson
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