Edinburgh festival performers refuse sterling payments due to Brexit

Frances Perraudin
Photograph: georgeclerk/Getty Images

Increasing numbers of artists are asking to be paid in dollars and euros instead of sterling because of Brexit uncertainty, the director of the Edinburgh international festival has said.

The three-week arts festival opened on Friday and includes 293 performances by 2,600 artists from 40 countries. Speaking during its opening weekend, Fergus Linehan, who has been its director since 2015, said many performers had refused to be paid in sterling.

Linehan said organisers had taken the decision around November last year to hedge £1m – locking it into a particular exchange rate to protect against future fluctuations – to guarantee artists’ fees.

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“When a currency is very low but solid people don’t mind securing their fees in it,” he said. “But if they think [the value] is going to bounce around they want more security.”

The pound fell to its lowest level in 28 months on Tuesday as the government insisted it was prepared to leave the EU without a deal. Sterling hit a low of $1.2120 against the dollar, while also sliding against the euro, at one point hitting €1.0881.

Linehan said that the unstable pound meant that staging the festival had become more expensive at a time when public funding for the event was being cut. “There is a cost attached to hedging and we’ve also got this very low currency level at the moment, which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere but down,” he said.

“It’s not so much individual artists who are very expensive,” said Linehan. “It’s more about the scale of ambition which is obviously dented at a certain point. Every [extra cost] slices another bit of potential away.”

Linehan said the inability to plan ahead because of Brexit uncertainty was “the opposite of cost effective”. He said: “I’m sure it’s much worse for people who are running car factories and but conversations around planning and where we should be going have just been in hiatus for what seems like forever.

“Of course all of this pales into insignificance if we have a serious downturn in the economy. The real worry is if this starts to bite into people’s day-to-day lives in terms of jobs.”

This year’s festival, with its budget of just under £12m, opened with a performance from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by its conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. Highlights include a new version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring by Chinese choreographer Yang Liping and stage shows featuring Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry.

“It just feels great to have this counterpoint in terms of people from all over the world coming in and working together,” said Linehan. “It feels more important than it’s ever felt. It feels like more than a great big shindig.”

The Edinburgh international festival is not the only festival in Scotland’s capital to have suffered as a result of Brexit uncertainty. It was reported last week that the Edinburgh festival fringe was facing the loss of a $25m (£20m) five-year investment by the US circus company Spiegelworld.

The company, one of Las Vegas’s biggest variety producers, is staging what was supposed to be the first of five annual productions created and premiered in Edinburgh, but its producers said they were considering relocating their European base to Berlin or Paris because of uncertainties relating to Brexit.