The Lammermuir Festival, celebrated as one of the UK’s most prestigious classical music events, witnessed a phenomenal 80% of tickets sold this year, with more than 30% going to first-time attendees. Critics, such as I heaped praise on the festival’s program, hailing it as a triumph. It seemed that the Lammermuir Festival was reaching new heights, attracting both local audiences and visitors from across the country to the picturesque setting of East Lothian.
However, the festival’s triumphs have been overshadowed by a sudden and unexpected announcement made only days before this year’s opening. Creative Scotland, our vital supporter of cultural endeavours throughout our nation, chose not to extend its financial support to the Lammermuir Festival for its 14th edition, marking a significant departure from their longstanding partnership.
This decision has placed the festival in an urgent and precarious financial position, sending shockwaves through Scotland’s creative arts community. The festival, which has enjoyed Creative Scotland’s backing for an impressive thirteen years, now faces the daunting task of securing its future independently.
Financial Precipice: The Lammermuir Festival in Crisis
The festival, as with so much of our arts industry, relied on Creative Scotland’s funding. Now it finds itself in a precarious financial position. While Creative Scotland had previously invested approximately £400,000 annually in the festival, this critical support has been withdrawn. Facing an uncertain future, the Lammermuir Festival must now bridge a significant budget gap to sustain its operation. The entirety of East Lothian, the festival claims, stands to lose a whopping £750k in economic benefits, should it fail.
The festival’s financial challenge is just one piece of a larger puzzle. Creative Scotland is facing an avalanche of applications for Multi-Year Funding, with over 500 cultural and creative organizations registering their intent to apply, indicating an indicative annual request exceeding £113 million. With a budget of only £96 million for 2023/24, and existing commitments of £45 million per year, something’s gotta give.
A Plea from Prominent Figures
Scotland’s leading musicians, artists, educators, and even political figures have rallied behind the festival in a bid to reverse this decision. Internationally renowned violinist Nicola Benedetti, and acclaimed composer Sir James MacMillan have joined the chorus of voices expressing their support for the Lammermuir Festival.
New Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Benedetti emphasized the Lammermuir Festival’s unique role in bringing world-class music to rural areas and nurturing young talent. She noted that the festival’s impact extended beyond its performances, enriching the lives of young artists and engaging local communities in profound and meaningful ways.
“Being able to share the best, world-class music making with audiences not residing in our cities but in rural areas is a really important part of our nation’s cultural fabric,” said Benedetti. “It would be tragic for Scotland’s music scene if this festival wasn’t supported to continue this work which benefits so many.”
The Lammermuir Festival sends a letter
An open letter addressed to Creative Scotland has garnered the support of 362 musicians, composers, education workers, participants, supporters, audience members, and local businesses. The signatories, which include prominent figures like Steven Obsorne, Andrea Baker, and Sean Shibe, call on Creative Scotland to reconsider its decision and rescue this “precious jewel of originality and joy.”
A Broader Conversation on Scotland’s Creative Industry
The situation has ignited a broader conversation about the funding challenges facing Scotland’s cultural sector in 2023 and beyond. Creative Scotland, despite its ongoing advocacy, has faces limitations in its ability to support cultural organizations due to factors such as inflation, the enduring impact of the pandemic, and the need to address long-standing issues of low pay.
With the application process for Multi-Year Funding underway, organizations across Scotland are grappling with uncertainty and heightened competition. The rising costs of operation and the need to provide fair wages present formidable challenges for the sector. The cultural community continues to call for increased investment in culture and creativity to sustain the vibrant tapestry of Scotland’s arts scene.
The Lammermuir Festival’s future remains uncertain, but its story serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of cultural support in the face of adversity. In a time when the arts have offered solace and inspiration to so many, the fate of this cherished festival hangs in the balance, leaving the entire creative arts community of Scotland anxiously awaiting a resolution.
The Scottish Government have pledged to support Scotland’s cultural industry and mitigate the perfect storm of financial challenges the sector faces. Time will tell whether their actions will match these fine words.