The Royal Mile seems to have shrunk and Grassmarket has become denser, the whole town has a new tempo and the pulse beats its way up through the city skin. The festival month lies like a thick layer in the air, an atmosphere you almost can touch with the tip of your finger. August is an exciting month for Edinburgh with a compelling amount of theatre, music, dance and art.
FMG Arts took a closer look at the Edinburgh Art Festival, the UK’s largest annual celebration of visual art. With over 45 exhibitions during August, the festival can begin to feel a bit like being lost in the jungle. We at FMG Arts took the opportunity to interview the director Sorcha Carey to get a better insight into this year’s program.
FM: First of all, could you briefly explain what your role is, as Director of Edinburgh Art Festival and what it entails
SC: Our festival programme consists of major solo and group exhibitions developed by partner galleries; an associate programme selected from applications received each year; and a programme of new commissions with a particular emphasis on work developed for beyond the gallery. I lead on our commissions programme and the selection of projects confirmed through our open submissions process, as well as taking an overview of the festival programme as a whole, to ensure that there are meaningful routes through for our visitors. As director of a small organisation, my role involves everything from curating to fundraising, depending on what stage we are at in the festival cycle.
FM: How did you become involved with Edinburgh Art Festival?
SC: I joined the festival in 2011. I’d previously worked for the British Council in Scotland, and before that I worked on three editions of Liverpool Biennial.
FM: This will be the 11th year for EAF. Can you tell us how the festival keeps developing each year to attract new audiences?
SC: We work very hard to ensure that each year we bring our audiences the very best in visual art, contemporary and historic, established and emerging talent. Our interest in programming beyond gallery spaces as well as special cross art-form events such as Detours, is one of the ways in which we try to bring our programme to new audiences, as well as to give returning audiences the opportunity to discover something new.
FM: Is there something that distinguishes this year’s festival from previous years that could be interesting for our readers to know about?
SC: This year for the first time we are leading on a major exhibition of international contemporary art. We are collaborating with 5 curators and over 20 artists from Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK to explore the ideas and ideals behind commonwealth and the commons. The exhibition takes its title from a work by Shilpa Gupta,’Where do I end and you begin’ and will be presented on 4 floors of the City Art Centre as well as in several offsite locations, and many of the artists exhibiting are showing in the UK for the very first time.
FM: What would you say are the main highlights of this year’s programme?
SC: Where to begin? Isa Genszken at Inverleith House is a must, and there’s an amazing opportunity to reflect on the past 25 years of contemporary art practise in Scotland with lots of solo and group presentations as part of GENERATION – highlights include solo presentations of Jim Lambie at Fruitmarket, Katie Paterson at Ingleby Gallery, Dalziel and Scullion at Dovecot, as well an extraordinary survey show at the Scottish National Galleries.
FM: FMG Arts ethos is to develop opportunities and support for emerging artists and creatives. Are there any early career artists that are in this year’s festival that you can recommend?
SC: Our festival features artists at all stages of their careers, and we are always keen to ensure there are opportunities for our audiences to discover emerging artists. This year we are delighted to be collaborating with The Skinny to realise their Showcase as an exhibition featuring a selected graduate from each of the major Scottish degree shows. We are also collaborating with Talbot Rice Gallery to commission 6 emerging artists to make new work or performances for the festival. Our Film Club invites emerging spaces to curate an evening of artist film during the festival, and this year we have asked 4 international artist run spaces to contribute.
FM: Do you have any wise words for early career artists hoping to exhibit in an Art Festival?
SC: Festivals can represent a really great opportunity for early career artists to exhibit their work – I’d recommend subscribing to the relevant festival websites. Those festivals that issue open calls will generally do this through their website and social media channels. If you decide to apply to exhibit in a festival, make sure your application is clear and the images are strong – the selector can only assess on what has been submitted to them, so it’s really important to communicate your ideas and/or project in the clearest possible way.
FM: Do you have any wise words for young creatives who want to work within Art Festivals as an organiser or a curator?
SC: Like most of my colleagues, I started my career with an internship. It is such a valuable way not only to get hands on experience, but also to begin to understand where your strengths lie, and what particular aspect of exhibition making or curating interests you most.
FM: And finally, what value and impact do you think Edinburgh Art Festival has for the city of Edinburgh and its art scene?
SC: We’re very proud of the way in which some of our public art commissions and off-site projects have revitalised neglected areas of the city or allowed people to access buildings and spaces that are normally closed to them. The value of this is immeasurable – not only in genuinely improving the fabric of the city, but also in continuing to engage new audiences with contemporary art. Each year, more and more of our visitors tell us they are visiting Edinburgh in August specifically for the visual art programme we run – it’s enormously encouraging that we have been able to put visual arts centre stage, in the context of a festival city which has in the past been more usually associated with performing arts or comedy.
Edinburgh Art Festival is on from 1st August – 31st August.